ANTI-TRAVELLER and anti-social welfare recipient, presidential campaigner Peter Casey has been negotiating a pact with TD Mattie McGrath’s Rural Independent Group (RIG) to form a new, rural-based party. But the canny McGrath knows that Casey always has his own agenda and that another crack at the Áras is Peter’s real goal – that and a Dáil seat along the way.
McGrath’s RIG appears to have more support among the country ’n’ western, anti-Green Party Dáil TDs than Michael Fitzmaurice and his putative allies, Marian Harkin and Michael McNamara. Some members of the latter grouping would be more oriented to Fine Gael, while the RIG would have a greater affinity to Fianna Fáil (who says Civil War politics is dead?). Other issues concern the two big beasts of the groups, McGrath and Fitzmaurice, neither of whom are likely to cede leadership to the other.
However, Casey’s arrival at the RIG presents a whole new set of issues for Mattie’s group. Casey’s bombast can be stimulating and it attracted alienated, right-wing support at the last presidential election. But while it brought Casey to the forefront in a meaningless contest for who came second to Michael D Higgins, it failed him in the subsequent EU election in the Midlands-North-West.
As Goldhawk predicted, Casey taking a seat in Donegal in the 2020 general election proved far more difficult (see The Phoenix 5/4/19). Casey took 1,143 first-preference votes in that election, coming 11th out of 13 candidates. And he came 10th out of 12 in Dublin West, with just 495 votes, when simultaneously standing in Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s constituency. This followed clownish boasts that as FF would not have him as its leader, he would form his own party and take on Varadkar.
If Peter Casey can accept the discipline of his new party and not simply use its members as cannon fodder and a broader support base for his Dáil and presidential ambitions, then unity will be possible. But Peter doesn’t do unity and, when the chips are down, his own agenda will dwarf any RIG solidarity. Significantly, Casey also said some weeks ago, before he met McGrath for talks on a party pact, that he wanted to support rural TDs, whether that be McGrath or Fitzmaurice.
One largely unnoticed move that Casey made in the 2019 EU election was to nominate his wife, Helen Casey, as his first substitute, meaning that if he had won the EU seat, Mr and Mrs Casey would control that seat while Mr Casey went on to take the Donegal Dáil seat. If only.
There are other issues, however, that could provoke serious theological disagreements and concern some touchstone, right-wing principles that McGrath in particular holds dear. McGrath was prominent at the pro-life anti-choice rally last weekend, where some pretty disreputable far-right characters were also conspicuous (see p8).
However, while Danny Healy-Rae, McGrath and other RIG members are conservative Catholics in outlook, Casey, somewhat surprisingly, has a somewhat less-illiberal side to him on certain social issues. Speaking to the Sunday Independent recently, Casey said on the “challenging” transgender issue that there is a “need to be tolerant”.
He added: “I don’t think we should be teaching a 12-year-old that maybe they are transgender.” However, he went on to concede: “I think they can work it out for themselves when they are a little bit older.”
When the pro-life campaign questioned presidential candidates in 2018 on where they stood on abortion, Peter Casey responded by saying he was opposed to “liberal abortion” but would sign the abortion bill into law.
Oh to be a fly on the wall at future RIG meetings and debates on these issues.