Presidential Election: A Poor Campaign And A Disturbing Result

People Before Profit acknowledges the achievement of Michael D Higgins in winning a second term as President. However, the Presidential campaign and its result is no cause for celebration, quite the contrary.

Overall it was a dismal campaign with an appallingly low level of political debate. There was a striking failure of any of the candidates or the media to address seriously any of the main issues facing Irish society or Ireland’s role in the world.

There was virtually no debate on the housing and homelessness crisis, the health crisis, education, poverty and inequality, separation of church and state, Brexit, the rise of the far right internationally or the threat of catastrophic climate change. Neither the candidates nor the media presenters raised these issues . This was shameful and was reflected in the very low turnout – the lowest ever.

Then there is the disturbing result achieved by Peter Casey. The simple and unpleasant fact is that Casey’s vote rocketed from a well merited 1% and last place to 20+% and second place on the basis of his attack on Travellers.

This was a cynical and disgraceful move by a multi-millionaire businessman to attract support by trading on and stirring up prejudice against the most disadvantaged and marginalised community in Irish society. It has caused major hurt and dismay among Travellers confirming their sense of isolation and discrimination. As always in such circumstances People Before Profit is proud to proclaim its solidarity with the Traveller Community and its total opposition to all racism and scapegoating.

Some points need to be made here:

  1. Casey criticised the recognition of Traveller ethnicity as if this grants Travellers special privileges. This is the reverse of the truth: by any objective measurement  of health, life expectancy, housing conditions, income, mental health or suicide, Travellers are the most disadvantaged group in Irish society. It is a classic racist device to attack the poorest, most oppressed and most vulnerable –for example refugees and asylum seekers and migrant workers – as if they are somehow ‘privileged’ and ‘favoured’. This is done to deflect responsibility and anger from where it belongs with the rich and powerful  and onto the vulnerable.
  2. Some people, mistakenly, credit Casey with ‘having the courage’ to ‘say what everyone is thinking’ and ‘challenging the establishment’. This is false. Casey has not shown courage; he has benefitted directly from his calculated racist intervention.Also some people talk as if ‘challenging the establishment‘ is good in itself, regardless of the message. The establishment does indeed need to be challenged on many grounds but that does not make racist bigotry acceptable anymore than Leo Veradkar saying domestic violence and child abuse  is wrong makes these things alright.Moreover, Casey is not in any shape or form a genuine anti-establishment or radical candidate. Apart from being a multi-millionaire,  he is also pro-NATO , went on to attack welfare recipients ie the poor, and got his highest votes in conservative rural areas.
  3.  In this whole saga the media has played a dreadful role. The TV presenters were complicit in the failure to focus on the real issues and complicit in feeding and amplifying Casey’s racist intervention, giving it massive publicity. In a world where the far right are on the rise it is grossly irresponsible to treat racism as ‘livening up the debate’ or to ask, as Pat Kenny did, ‘Would you want Travellers living next to you’.
  4. For the Left Casey’s vote is a serious warning. With a less than 50% turnout a 20% vote is less than 10% of the population bit it is still a cause for concern. It shows tjhe danger of opportunist right wing politicians exploiting racist sentiments that are clearly out there.

As Galway People Before Galway representative, Joe Loughnane ,says:

“We should be concerned about a multi-millionaire using racism and class prejudice  to woo the protest vote, especially where a deeply ingrained racism towards the Traveller population is concerned. Casualisation of anti-Traveller sentiment over decades has allowed a tax-avoiding multi-millionaire to deflect attention away from government austerity and increasing privatisation.”

We must therefore redouble our efforts to combat racism in general and specifically to tackle racism against Travellers.

As Memet Uludag, Convenor of Unted Against Racism says ‘We must stand should to shoulder with our Traveller sisters and brothers’.

At the same time we must ensure that the Fine Gael/Fianna Fail political establishment are challenged  from the left and by People Power on the basis of unity and solidarity not division and scapegoating.