Miriam Lord: Peter Casey likes to remind us ‘he hasn’t gone away’

The presidential hopeful is apparently looking at a run for Europe, and maybe the Dáil

He hasn’t gone away, you know.

Peter Casey, the initial no-hoper who confounded commentators and critics by coming a strong second to Michael D Higgins in the Presidential election, was strolling around Leinster House on Thursday evening in the company of independent Senator Gerard Craughwell.

Casey's presence did not go unnoticed as he dined with Craughwell in the Members' Restaurant before the pair repaired to the bar. At one point, he joined the Fianna Fáil table, swapping yarns with Timmy Dooley and a curious Mattie McGrath who came over for a chat.

The businessman’s controversial comments about Travellers, along with his musings on the various ills of Irish society – he decried the “sense of entitlement” among many people drawing state benefits in what he called our “welfare-dependent state” – ensured he became the story of the campaign and his opinions hit the mark with a significant number of voters.


He took 23 per cent of the vote and dominated the lounge-bar chat and dinner-table talk of middle Ireland.

There is no doubt that Casey wants to spend a lot more time in Ireland, and preferably in Leinster House

The Derry-born businessman – who now divides his time between homes in Atlanta and Donegal – became friendly with Senator Craughwell when he sought his advice for what proved to be an ill-judged attempt to win a Seanad seat and they kept in touch during Casey’s presidential tilt.

The voluble Senator scotched rumours on Friday that he was planning to fight the European elections in the Ireland North-West constituency as Casey’s running mate. “You have it half right,” he told us. “I certainly won’t be running. I’d be divorced.”

But millionaire Peter “Voice for the People of Ireland” Casey (according to his website) is rearing to go. In the Dáil bar on Thursday, he was telling people that the bookies won’t take money on his European election chances because they know he will win a seat comfortably.

Craughwell has no doubt that Casey is going to declare. “You can definitely bet the house on Peter running for Europe, and you can also bet the house on him running for the next Dáil.”

The sociable entrepreneur, who was in fine spirits during his visit, will not be making any announcement about his intentions until the middle of next month, after St Patrick’s Day. He is returning to America for family reasons, including the wedding of one of his sons.

But there is no doubt that Casey wants to spend a lot more time in Ireland, and preferably in Leinster House.

“He likes the place and he likes going in there to remind them that he hasn’t gone away,” said his chaperone, Craughwell.

The politicians’ Six Nations

Despite all the off-pitch noise, the annual parliamentary rugby match between the Dáil and Seanad versus the commons and lords last Saturday was a very sporting affair. Some observers may have been hoping for a vicious grudge match, but unfortunately everything passed off peacefully.

The politicians' Six Nations curtain opener has been a fixture on the Leinster House/Westminster sporting calendar since 1992, but the result at Old Wesley was awaited with more interest than usual this year, given the awkwardness of Anglo-Irish relations these days.

Unlike our gilded internationals – who promised much but were soundly beaten by England in their first game of the championship – the Irish politicians thrashed their opposition. The home side ran out convincing 34-10 winners.

Fine Gael Senator Tony Lawlor, former TD for Kildare North, powered over the line from the back of a rolling maul to score the opening try. Eoghan Murphy, the Minister for Housing, who was playing in the centre alongside his department colleague, Damien English, bagged the next two tries along with the Man-of-the-Match award.

The visitors pulled one back through the Labour MP for Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Paul Farrelly, before Senator Neale Richmond, captain of the Irish selection, went over another Irish try.

However, Richmond injured his shoulder in the process, causing serious selection concerns for team coach Senator Maria Byrne ahead of this weekend's visit to Scotland.

More tries came from Oireachtas committee clerk Malcolm Cooney and the Irish captain's brother, Graham Richmond. Mark Pawsey, Conservative MP for the aptly named Rugby and Bulkington, saved the visitors' blushes with a score in injury time. Sinn Féin senator Fintan Warfield, playing at full backstop, sent over a number of conversions.

Meanwhile, bruiser Tony Lawlor went against prevailing Irish and EU policy for the duration of the match by putting up and maintaining a hard border in the face of the English marauders.

Afterwards, the players raised more than €2,500 for the injured players’ charitable trust at a lunch sponsored by Beauchamps Solicitors. Remarkably, Brexit was only mentioned once in the post-match speeches when an unnamed guest managed to set off a fire alarm.

High drama way out west

There was high drama in a west Dublin industrial estate on Wednesday night when a guest due to appear on the Tonight show with Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates got lost in a car park next to the Virgin Media studios.

John Brassil, Fianna Fáil TD for Kerry, was making his debut on the political panel and made sure to allow plenty of time for his journey from Leinster House to the station, which is located way out in Ballymount Business Park, off the M50.

“I left nice and early because I heard people got lost before trying to find the place,” he told us afterwards. “I saw the gates and drove in before realising that I had gone into an industrial estate called Fashion City. I drove around and around but couldn’t find any way out. The show was starting in about 15 minutes and I realised I was locked in and there was nobody about.”

Yes I understand that, I understand what you're asking: that there is a question. But I'm not going to answer it

Brassil discovered the following morning that the gates automatically lock at a certain time in the night and he had entered just before the cut-off point.

There were anxious phone calls from the studio and a man was dispatched to find the lost TD, who was penned in behind a 3m spear-tipped steel railing. A truck driver, parked up nearby for the night, heard the shouts from the two men and drove his vehicle to the gates to see if he could help. Brassil, meanwhile, parked his car against the perimeter, stood on the bonnet and somehow hauled himself up and over with the help of the others.

“It was dark and pouring rain and I was sure I was going to be impaled on the bloody thing.”

Following a mad dash to the studios, where the TD was quickly dried off and had some make-up fired onto his face, he was pushed out to join the rest of the panel as the opening, recorded interview with outgoing MEP Brian Hayes aired.

To make matters worse, one of the guests was Michael Healy-Rae, his constituency rival. There is no love lost between the two. It would not be wrong to deduce that Healy-Rae derived great enjoyment from his colleague’s discombobulation.

After the show, Fine Gael Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan drove his Fianna Fáil colleague home. Brassil returned by taxi at 6am the following morning to retrieve his car.

However, gleeful reports from some quarters that the Kerry TD “tore the arse out of his trousers” have been dismissed as untrue by Brassil and other witnesses on the night.

Winston Churchtown and the Independent Alliance

Is there no end to Shane Ross’s talents?

He was out and about in his Dublin-Rathdown constituency early last Saturday morning, walking among the people and doing good works. He pitched up in an icy Marley Park to perform marshalling duties at the weekly 5km run.

As the runners passed, the Minister for Sport, aka Winston Churchtown, bellowed on continuous loop: “Watch out – there’s a slippery patch ahead!”

Winston must be psychic. Or maybe Simon Harris was taking part.

His Cabinet  colleague Katherine Zappone became the first Independent  minister to take Leaders' Questions in the Dáil when she stood in for Tánaiste Simon Coveney on Thursday, which is the day when deputy leaders or their stand-ins get some time in the limelight.

Apart from revealing that her father used to sell health food and vitamins, the most interesting aspect of her contribution was her more detached approach to the children’s hospital controversy compared to that of her Fine Gael cabinet colleagues.

When twice pressed on whether she believes it credible that senior officials failed to inform their Ministers about serious cost overruns in the children's hospital building project, the best she should could manage to say to Labour's Brendan Howlin, with her arms tightly folded, was: "I don't know what was going on in their minds but I do understand your question 'was it credible?'. Yes I understand that, I understand what you're asking: that there is a question. But I'm not going to answer it."

Meanwhile, the happiest member of the Alliance these days has to be Minister of State, Finian McGrath, who finally got his wish to represent Ireland in Cuba as part the annual St Patrick’s week ministerial airlift. It would explain why he was happily posing for photos in the Members bar recently with a box of Cuban cigars.

Ace of Spads

Fine Gael's ministerial advisors had a special meeting away from Government Buildings on Friday where they worked on how they could do an ever better job than they are now doing for their political masters. There's an awful lot of them, so there must have been a very big room in the Irish Aviation Authority headquarters in the old Irish Times building on D'Olier St.

It was organised by John Carroll, the former CEO of the Public Relations Consultants Association who is now Special Advisor to the Taoiseach with the title "Head of Policy and Programme Implementation".

Lunch would be laid on, he informed the Spads, but they would each have to do some work first by preparing answers to three questions: the one specific thing they want Fine Gael to achieve in government; what are the three “frustrations or challenges” preventing them from doing their job effectively; and what do they think are the “three big political risks we are facing.”

Maybe they should have booked a second day.

* This article was amended on February 9th, 2019. Katherine Zappone is not a member of the Independent Alliance, as orginally stated.