DONEGAL’S triumphant and Trumpian Peter Casey told Donegal Daily four years ago that he wanted to stand for the Dáil in either Donegal or Dublin, with a preference for the former. He restated this ambition last weekend, but he will have a battle against Fianna Fáil and the parties in Donegal.
Casey’s global recruitment firm, Claddagh Resources, has its HQ in Buncrana, Donegal, but his business requires that he spend most of his time in Dublin. However, there are no obvious openings for an Independent candidate in Dublin, whereas he has a high standing in Donegal where he took a third of the presidential contest vote.
Independent TD Peter Pringle’s seat will be an obvious target for Casey, although the Killybegs TD has a large catchment area to himself.
Sinn Féin made a big mistake in 2016 by running three candidates in the over-ambitious hope they would take a third seat to add to those of Pearse Doherty and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn. The result was that Mac Lochlainn lost his seat – he was just 184 votes behind Pringle on the last count – and the party will not make the same mistake again. With SF on 27.5% of the first-preference vote in five-seat Donegal in 2016, they should take back the second seat, although it will be interesting to see if Casey can eat into their tally like he did in the presidential election.
Another interesting and sensitive point of conflict with SF could be Casey’s unpleasant attitude to Travellers. While Donegal gave Casey a large vote in the presidential contest, largely because of his anti-Traveller line, Mac Lochlainn was raised by two traveller women, his mother and grandmother, and is anything but ashamed of it.
FF, on 31% in 2016, should also retain their two seats, currently held by Charlie McConalogue and Pat the Cope Gallagher. However, FF will also be vulnerable to populist vote-getter Casey, whose country’n’western style would appeal to many FF voters in the constituency.
Fine Gael took 15.3% at the last election taking one seat, that of recently elevated cabinet member Joe McHugh, and his stint as a junior minister will help to ensure that he retains his seat. However, not all rural FG voters would be known for their compassionate attitude to those whom they suspect of discommoding their idyllic lifestyle. Casey will make inroads here, too.
What Casey may not realise is that both FF and SF have formidable election teams in Donegal and FG is not far behind.
Casey’s hard line against Travellers and social welfare recipients, as well as his demand that Ireland join NATO and spend billions on armaments, will not necessarily win him a Dáil seat.
Another option is Europe. The Midlands-North-West constituency loses counties Laois and Offaly in the new boundary review, leaving the four-seat EU constituency overwhelmingly rural. Some of these counties gave bigger presidential votes to Casey than his Donegal base, and Marian Harkin is retiring while Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan is regarded as vulnerable. Casey could be a shoe-in for a European seat, but he seems intent on the Dáil rather than the anonymity of the Brussels parliament.