Peter Casey dismisses Travellers comment as reason for vote surge

Controversial businessman Peter Casey has denied his apparent vote surge in the presidential election was prompted by his criticism of Travellers.

Mr Casey, a former star of Ireland’s version of Dragons’ Den, is on course to come second in the poll, with around 20% of the vote.

This would represent a remarkable result for the Londonderry millionaire, whose support base hovered around 1% in opinion polls prior to his critical remarks about Travellers and welfare recipients.

Rivals have accused the Derry man of engaging in “populism”, with some comparing his campaign to Donald Trump’s bid for the White House.

Mr Casey faced calls to withdraw from the campaign after he claimed Travellers were simply people camping on someone else’s land and that Ireland’s recognition of them as members of an ethnic minority was “a load of nonsense”.

As votes were being counted in Dublin’s Convention Centre on Saturday, Mr Casey insisted his controversial comments were not the reason for the dramatic increase in his support.

However, he said if he had won the election, he would have advocated moving members of the Travelling community into Dublin’s vast Phoenix Park.

Irish presidential election
Irish presidential election

The businessman said his advocacy for “middle Ireland” – people who are struggling to pay bills and get on the housing ladder – was the reason his campaign resonated with the voters.

“The real reason I got a bump in the polls is because I spoke out and said middle Ireland, they are the people who are hurting, they are the people who got nothing out of the last Budget and they are the ones who are paying all the bills,” he said.

Mr Casey hinted that he might now turn his focus to securing another elected office, potentially in the Dail.

On his idea to relocate Travellers, he said: “If I am successful, I was going to suggest we invite all the Travelling community to move into Phoenix Park for a five-year period – unfortunately I am not in that position and I would encourage Michael D to do that and insist that schools are put in there for a five-year period so they can get education. Education, education, education.”