An Cailín Rua
Last week’s editorial in The Mayo News on the Presidential election and in particular, the late surge in favour of Peter Casey, certainly provided food for thought. And now that the dust has settled, and Michael D Higgins has delivered his remarkable re-election speech, there are some further nuances to be explored.
It is quite right to suggest that the reasons behind the Casey surge should be thoughtfully analysed, not ridiculed or dismissed. We have seen the division that has swept the UK and the US, and we must be careful not to succumb to the same traps. Labels like fascism or racism only entrench views and disenfranchise those with legitimate grievances. However, there are aspects to the Casey vote that need to be very clearly called out, because critically analysed, this type of protest vote flies in the face of all logic.
In recent days, the most common rationale has been that Casey spoke for those who do not feel they are represented by the political establishment. This doesn’t quite stand up. A wealthy businessman, who pays no tax in this country, who punches down on the most vulnerable in society will represent the unrepresented more than a man who has spent his political career campaigning for social equality? Forgive me if I’m bewildered.
Firstly, we vote in our politicians. We get what we deserve, Secondly, there is little progressive or representative about Casey or his politics. He categorically does not represent the less well-off. In fact, men like Casey operate in a capitalist system, and he is an elite – one of the class for whom a different set of laws and protections applies versus the rest of us. It is people in expensive suits who have done more to oppress the people of this country than anyone.
Casey was also lauded for speaking his mind in a sea of ‘political correctness’. Let’s get this straight. Political correctness is not the anti-craic brigade raining on your parade for the sake of it. Language is powerful, ‘political correctness’ actually usually just boils down to being a sound and compassionate person who does not speak disparagingly about people less advantaged or less privileged than you. Freedom of speech also brings responsibilities, which generally include not inciting hatred (because heaven forbid we should run low on hatred). And like it or not, the Traveller community are also citizens of this country, represented by our President. To have a candidate so publicly denigrate fellow citizens is unseemly at best, and displays – once again – a thorough and wilful misunderstanding of the role of President by Casey. And really, since when has Michael D Higgins been afraid of speaking his mind? Far from the cuddly persona portrayed in the media, he is not afraid to bare his teeth, and has never had any problem in saying exactly what he thinks. The difference being that what Higgins thinks tends to not be intolerant of minorities.
Affluent white men expressing disdain for minorities and poorer people is not new. It is not ground-breaking. It is exactly the same rhetoric and oppression that has existed for centuries and there is nothing remotely rebellious about it – it is in fact the opposite. It is conformity in its most basic form. The divide-and-conquer strategy, which fosters begrudgery and mistrust. While he may have some business acumen, Peter Casey is no political mastermind. Inconsistent and indecisive throughout, he struck gold with some cheap shots, made hay as a result and made it up as he went. Would you stand for this from your doctor, accountant or builder? A fifth of voters saw this trait and incredibly, figured this man would be worthy of President. Are we not better than this?
Yes. Thankfully, Ireland, time and time again has shown itself to be compassionate, decent, and pragmatic – accepting that we live in an imperfect society and voting accordingly. The real story here is the landslide victory for Higgins, albeit in a poor campaign and a missed opportunity for political rivals. In his acceptance speech, statesmanlike, Higgins articulated a vision for Ireland that was decent, kind and inclusive. Values to which at the very least any civilised society should aspire. Peter Casey might do well to take note.
An Cailín Rua