Peter Casey on Brexit, broadband…and why he believes he can win a seat in the European Parliament
Peter Casey, the man who rocked the establishment in the 2018 Presidential election, is so full of easy charm that you have to remind yourself of all the criticism and vitriol he received just a few months ago.
Casey stormed through that election campaign, a rampaging maverick with no regard for political correctness, a straight-talker who ruffled feathers, infuriated and upset many people, but who ultimately connected with a substantial ‘constituency’, finishing as runner-up to Michael D. Higgins and garnering over 20% of the public vote. In Roscommon, he comfortably topped the poll.
It’s Monday evening and Peter Casey is sitting in Gleeson’s in Roscommon Town. Personable, charming and down to earth, he’s on the election trail again. His wife Helen has a friendly word of welcome, and then takes a chair by the cosy open fire in Gleeson’s. Two long-time Fianna Fáil stalwarts are present, but they won’t be backing either of the Fianna Fáil candidates in Midlands-North West constituency in next month’s European elections. Former FF councillor Martin Connaughton and long-time FF strategist Tom Leech have both defected to ‘Team Casey’.
Peter Casey is a Derry-born businessman who came to wider public notice as a star of the TV show ‘Dragons Den’. He initially wasn’t taken that seriously when he joined fellow Dragons Sean Gallagher and Gavin Duffy in running for Áras an Uachtaráin. By campaign end, he was taken seriously by everyone.
He says he’s running for Europe, rather than the Dáil, because he feels he could have more impact in Brussels. He cites his vast business experience, pointing out that his companies have done business in “six of the seven continents, and in almost every country in Europe”.
Asked what his campaign will focus on, he keeps bringing it back to three Bs – Brexit, business and broadband. On Brexit, he says he’s pro-Europe, but doesn’t see leaving Europe as the end of the world. As for Britain, he thinks the current chaos is likely to end with a second referendum. At all costs, Casey asserts, a hard border must be avoided. He expects Britain to end up leaving the EU. “It won’t be the end of the world when they do, but we must not lose out; we must protect our farmers, our fishing industry, our small businesses. 75% of our farming and fishing business is with Britain”.
On broadband for rural Ireland, Casey says the current saga is farcical. He wants the National Broadband Plan scrapped. 5G mobile technology is the answer. He complains of the spiralling costs estimates (on the NBP) and says that astute business people would not tolerate the wastage that politicians permit or even cause.
Casey’s reputation is as a straight talker, an ideas man who is anything but conventional. He shakes his head in disapproval at much of what he sees. Big jobs announcements by big companies in our cities? “They are not new jobs at all, they are people in one big company being offered €20k a year extra to switch jobs to another big company. It’s musical chairs!”
He is big into new ideas, creative ways of approaching long-standing problems. And he’s “very optimistic” about the long-term future of rural Ireland.
“I believe the future of rural Ireland can be very bright, almost by accident. Dublin has a housing crisis, people can’t afford to live there. As Dublin gets busier, our economy will have to be rebalanced. But we need creative thinking…I want to see companies incentivised to set up in rural Ireland by being offered tax-free status for the first two years and capital gains free status if they sell their business within 15 years”.
He points out that young people could be incentivised to stay in Ireland too. Pointing to the cost of College fees and accommodation, Casey says the Government should subsidise some of these costs provided College students sign up to remaining in Ireland for at least three years after they’ve graduated.
Another big issue for Peter Casey is the environment – he wants Ireland to become a world leader in banning single-use plastics.
Does he expect to win a seat in the four-seat constituency?
“Well, I’m a fan of Paddy Power and Paddy Power has me in for a seat” he quips. Some observers think he may end up in a head-to-head with Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan. They met for the very first time last week, and it was a rocky start, as Peter tells it.
“I wasn’t impressed by Ming’s performance on television the other night (the Tonight Show with Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates). I was in the Green Room chatting to Marcella (Corcoran Kennedy, Fine Gael TD) and Ming breezed in and walked past. Then when the show started, he kept shouting. I was sitting to the right of him, he was in my ear all the time. During the ad break, I said ‘Ah Ming, can you stop shouting?’ He didn’t!”
He’s “very unimpressed” with the current Government, thinks Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin is “very decent” but has left it too late to withdraw from Confidence & Supply, and was taken aback by Sinn Féin’s poor performance in the Presidential election – he thinks they will “get a shock” in upcoming electoral outings. He’s not ruling out a Dáil bid in the future, but will concentrate for now on Europe. Whatever happens, he’s committed to a future in politics. He will definitely consider running for President of Ireland next time around.
Accused of racism during the Presidential election campaign, Peter Casey vehemently rejects such a charge. Asked about the recent controversy over plans (since shelved) to locate asylum seekers in Rooskey, he says Ireland has a responsibility to look after people who are legally entitled to refugee status.
“Either they are legally entitled to refugee status or they aren’t. If they are, they should be able to work here; if not, they should be asked to leave. If you are a genuine asylum seeker, the first country you go to is where you should get your status. We have a responsibility to look after people who are genuine victims…but either they are or they aren’t. You cannot be a little bit pregnant”.
He is “totally opposed” to drink-driving but is also totally opposed to everything Minister Shane Ross is doing. Again, he calls for creative thinking, suggesting that the Government could subsidise comprehensive insurance for non-drinkers who could then transport people from pubs. He is damning about politicians who don’t think outside the box. “We have 27 fixed hanger aircraft” he says with some disdain, “we should reduce that number and invest in many more air ambulances”.
Today, in Roscommon, he’s in election campaign mode. The previous day, Sunday, the keen golfer (he’s a member in Greencastle in Co. Donegal) relaxed at home and watched the final round of the US Masters.
“Wasn’t that something! Brilliant. I actually have the same fusion problem as Tiger, but I’m playing my best golf at the moment!”
Maybe Peter Casey just has the Midas touch. He had Tiger backed to win, at 7/1. Now he’s hoping for his own winning flourish in the ‘European Masters’ next month.