Senior Fianna Fail politicians have poured cold water on the prospect of controversial presidential candidate Peter Casey joining their ranks and running for the Irish parliament in the next general election.
In the wake of his shock second place finish in the presidential poll, the businessman has been quoted expressing a desire not only to join the party but also to ultimately lead it back into government and become Taoiseach.
The Londonderry-born millionaire was initially an outside contender in the race to be president, but his vote surged late in the campaign following critical comments about the Travelling community and welfare recipients.
His support, which had been hovering around 1% in some opinion polls prior to the contentious remarks, rocketed to 23% in the election to secure an unexpected second place finish behind incumbent Michael D Higgins, who romped home for a second term with more than 55% of the vote.
Mr Casey’s strong showing, on the back of a campaign rivals branded “populist”, has prompted speculation about his next move in Irish politics.
He told the Sunday Independent: “I am joining Fianna Fail.
“I intend to run in the next general election in Donegal. And I am going to become a Fianna Fail TD – with a view to becoming Taoiseach at the head of a renewed and revitalised Fianna Fail.”
Fianna Fail TD Niall Collins gave the suggestion a cool response.
“Peter would want to realise that you just can’t rock up to political parties and think you can get your way,” he told RTE, noting that his party’s Donegal ticket for the next general election was already full.
Earlier, party leader Micheal Martin had claimed Mr Casey lacked a “coherent or cohesive” political vision.
Commenting on an article headlined with Mr Casey’s comments about joining Fianna Fail, party TD Timmy Dooley tweeted: “Ah we’re okay thanks”.
During the campaign, Mr Casey said Travellers were simply people camping on someone else’s land, and that Ireland’s recognition of the community as members of an ethnic minority is “a load of nonsense”.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had urged people not to vote for him – a move that prompted the candidate to demand an apology, though one was not forthcoming from the Fine Gael leader.
On Sunday, Fine Gael government minister Josepha Madigan insisted Mr Casey’s views on Travellers were not reflective of the majority of Irish people.
“The sort of rhetoric and the divisive rhetoric this candidate Peter Casey was putting forward really has no real traction in this country – it’s really a protest, anti-establishment vote,” she told RTE.
She added: “We have to make sure we don’t become a country where this divisive rhetoric that has been propagated around the world is replicated in this country.”
As well as Mr Higgins’ huge victory and Mr Casey’s late surge, the other main story from the election was the relatively poor showing by Sinn Fein.
Recording only 6% of the vote, party candidate Liadh Ni Riada gained less than half of the support achieved by the late Martin McGuinness in 2011.
Sinn Fein TD Eoin O Broin said there was a need to take a “hard and honest” look at how the campaign had been run.
“The result is very, very disappointing for us and I think anybody in the party who is being honest will be very, very unhappy with the result that we got,” he told RTE.