As the votes were tallied and the early counts revealed, I couldn’t help but wonder how they felt. How threatened, isolated they must have felt as the rank outsider emerged from the back of the pack to make second place his own, all off the back of a few choice words against them and their people.
How terrifying it must have been to see his popularity increase tenfold, to know that one out of every three voters in Limerick county voted for him, this man who had so stridently opposed them, to be our next head of state.
I have little first-hand experience of the travelling community, can’t claim to know any of its members intimately, my interactions with them limited to terse doorstep conversations and collections for the wren on St Stephen’s Day. But that hasn’t stopped me forming an opinion on them, being afraid of them. Years of anecdotes will do that to a man. Years of being told to avoid them at all costs, of being warned how dangerous they are, how ruthless, feckless and lawless, will put the fear of God into anyone.
Thankfully that fear, however misplaced, hasn’t yet turned to hate. I take umbrage with their treatment of animals but, for the most part, I view the travelling community with a sense of curiosity, an interest befitting an ethnic minority which, despite living in our midst, maintains a culture all of its own.
Maybe if I had more dealings with them, more meaningful interactions, my views would change, maybe they’d mirror those of Peter Casey and the thousands of people who voted for him, or maybe not, who knows?
But as bad as it must be a Traveller right now, as persecuted, excluded and loathed as they must feel, I refuse to believe that this is all about them, that Peter Casey rose to such heights purely on the strength of those comments.
Granted, that may offer only the slightest of consolation, a sliver of hope to this perennially embattled race, but this goes deeper than the travelling community, deeper even than Peter Casey, the newly-crowned, self-appointed herald of Irish politics.
Some people voted for Casey because of his anti-Traveller sentiments – a cursory glance on social media confirms that. However, it’s what happened afterwards that cemented his popularity.
So often in the current climate, in this age of the permanently offended snowflake, those who sin, who commit public faux-pas’ are wheeled out for the cameras, contrite, remorseful, as they mumble their way through an apology, beg for a second chance, an opportunity to make amends and resurrect their career. Casey did none of that. He stuck to his guns. And in today’s society that earns you second place in a presidential election.
Because people, normal, working-class people, are sick and tired of being told what they can and can’t think. They’re sick of being shouted down by hysterical protestors, of being branded fascists, bigots, Nazis or whatever unsavoury term you’d like to insert here simply because their views aren’t palatable to those who control, or like to think they control, public discourse. They’re sick of going unheard, of having to moderate their views in case they fall foul of the thought police and get set upon by the accompanying hate mob.
We’re not talking about people like those Ku-Klux Klan idiots in Newtownards here, hate-filled white-supremists intent on violence against those who oppose them. No, these are just ordinary Irish people whose views are a little old-fashioned, a little out of step with this ‘woke’ generation. Perhaps they’re anti-immigration or believe that social welfare rates are too high. Maybe they voted no in the gay marriage referendum and did the same in this year’s one on abortion. It could be the case that they think mansize tissues are fine as they are and that it’s okay to kiss a sleeping princess even if she is, in fact, asleep. Does that make them bad people? I don’t think so.
I didn’t agree with what Peter Casey said about Travellers, nor, for that matter, do I agree with a lot of what Donald Trump or Nigel Farage say. But I’ll tell you one thing, I will fight for their right to speak their mind, to express their opinions in a fair and rational environment without fear of censure or reproach. Obviously there’s a limit to this, and the potential for radicalisation is never far away when the above characters are involved, but like it or not, these people, these politicians and public figures, represent a large swathe of the populace. Their opinions matter, regardless of how repulsive you might find them.
In the aftermath of our presidential election, and following Casey’s surprising showing, the liberal left denounced all who voted for the Derry man, calling into question not just their intelligence, but also their moral compasses. They couldn’t, for one second, understand how anyone could have sided with the former dragon over our lovable, progressive poet, Michael D Higgins.
But rather than question why so many felt the need to side with Casey, they chose to condemn them, to belittle them, to take the moral high ground and brand them repugnant right-wingers, a scourge on humanity who must be silenced.
It’s that very attitude, this inability to listen to an viewpoint which contrasts with their own, which adds weight to the cause of men like Peter Casey. How refreshing, how enthralling it must have been for these ordinary Irish people to see someone stand up and say the things they’ve wanted to say for so long but were afraid to do so. How heartening to see Casey’s numbers grow, to realise that you are not the only one, that thousands of others feel the same.
The irony in of all this is that Casey himself is but a mere conduit, a medium through which this disaffected portion of the population were able to voice their displeasure. A vote for Casey was, ultimately, something of a protest vote, an up-yours vote. It was a vote against all those who said you shouldn’t vote for him, you can’t vote for him, including our Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. Even those who did vote for him must accept that he would have made a terrible president, that he would have embarrassed the life out of us every time he stepped onto the red carpet.
Try telling Casey that though. At the moment he’s like that mate who finally gets the shift and immediately comes to the conclusion he’s god’s gift to women. One minute he’s joining Fianna Fáil, the next he’s leading Renua, completely oblivious to the fact that most of us, including those who voted for him, have long since moved on.
The truth is it will take someone with far more gumption than Peter Casey, far more know-how and expertise, to fully exploit the now obvious disquiet among the Irish electorate.
Cruelty to animals comes in many different guises
At some point during the last decade Halloween underwent a makeover.
Having originally been about the children and their insatiable appetite for sugar, the focus switched to the grown-ups. Adults, men and women, began living out their fantasies, dressing up as comic-book characters, movie villains and gothic boogeyman of yore.
These elaborate ensembles, put together at no little expense, planned and prepared months in advance, were brought to life on one big boozy night out, the one night of the year when it was okay to leave the house with a laser-gun in your pocket.
And it was great craic, the girls looked hot, even the ones dressed as nuns, the boys found out what it was like to wake up with mascara stuck to the inside of their eyelids and everyone got to dance with at least one superhero.
Those who deemed themselves too old, too mature or too boring to play dress-up, took to living out their fantasises through their children, decorating them in gaudy paints and pigments, turning the brightest of angels into the most terrifying of demons.
That was fine too, because kids love that kind of stuff.
But then it went too far. Someone decided to include the animals in this pageantry of the paranormal. Now it wasn’t just adults and kids who got dressed up for Halloween, it was dogs, cats and whatever else we could get our hands on.
Pet owners began trussing up their furry balls of fun in increasingly extravagant outfits, squeezing chubby bulldogs into superman costumes, forcing grim-faced cats to waddle round the house dressed as pirates, dandifying these poor, helpless creatures into living dolls for social media audiences.
But whereas a child can protest if it doesn’t want to spend an entire night dressed up as Freddy Krueger, a dog or a cat can’t. They’re forced to grin and bear it, to strike a pose as their gormless owners put them through their paces all for a few likes on Instagram.