'I don't think it was necessarily about Travellers or social welfare’ – Pat Kenny to face off with Peter Casey in another televised debate

Pat Kenny will once again face off with Peter Casey in a televised debate.

Former presidential candidate Casey is now vying for a European Parliament seat in the Midlands North West constituency.

Pat Kenny’s Big Debate on the issue will air next Wednesday and Casey will be among the candidates in studio on the night.

He previously took part in Kenny’s televised presidential debate in October last year during which he doubled down on controversial comments on Travellers which he had made during a podcast on Independent.ie.

Casey’s support jumped from 2pc to finish at 23pc of the vote, and he came second in the running behind Michael D Higgins.

Kenny has defended the inclusion of the Independent candidate in the line-up for next week’s debate ahead of the European Elections on May 24.

“I’m always in favour of space for voices but the voices have to be challenged and that’s the key,” he says.

“If you start in some way to try to censor people or deny people the right to say things they will say it in some other forum or some other way.”

The broadcaster cites Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act, which came into effect during the Troubles in 1971, and instructed RTE not to broadcast anything that could be interpreted as supporting the aims or activities of organisations which “engage in, promote, encourage or advocate the attaining of any political objective by violent means”.

While the act was in force (it was ultimately repealed in 1994), Kenny said “there was always ways in which that view would be articulated on air” and those who were “not members of Sinn Fein or who weren’t in the Provisional IRA but agreed with those views would espouse them on air.”

He added, “You’d much prefer to talk to the relevant person rather than someone who’s there by proxy.”

Kenny believes Casey received the surge in votes from people who simply did not want to give Michael D Higgins a second term, and because the other candidates had effectively “evaporated” towards the end of the race.

“Peter was the last man standing who was making any kind of noise so I don’t think it was necessarily about Travellers or social welfare,” he said.

“It will be interesting to see now, in the absence of that Michael D Higgins factor, what kind of vote will he get, because if he gets a vote this time it will be about social welfare, it will be about immigration, it will be about Travellers, whereas the last time I think it was a bit confused.

“He raised himself above the crowd by making those remarks but he could have possibly done the same if he talked about, for example, the EU ravishing our fishersies.  He might have made waves if no one else was talking about fisheries.  He chose Travellers. And that was an accidental thing.”

The debate, which will air on Virgin Media One, will be live with a studio audience, interested parties in the audience, and voices in favour of, and challenging, the candidates.

“You’re likely to meet anyone from Jason Byrne to Peter Case in the line-up.  I always say you need a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down,” added Kenny. 

“In order to get people to watch a programme which, on the face of it, I mean, how engaged are people with the European Elections?  You’ve got to promise them something more than bland political declarations from the candidates. 

“They’ve got to be challenged.  You’ve got to get the blood up a bit.”

Kenny added that he previously gave President Michael D Higgins a “roasting” on the radio when he was running for the presidency for the first time.

“[Higgins] said, ‘As the great Eoghan Harris said to me one time, “There’s no votes in soft interviews”.’  And he’s right.  If it’s seen you’re a pushover for the interviewee it doesn’t work for either party.”

Ahead of Pat Kenny’s Big Debate next Wednesday May 15, The Tonight Show with Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates will also run a series of panels featuring candidates from the three constituencies of Dublin, Midlands North West, and Ireland South.

The first panel kicks off tonight with Midlands North West and candidates Brendan Smith, Matt Carty, Mairead McGuinness and others.

Co-host Ivan Yates said they will be very much like their presidential panels which were “a bit of ruaile buaile, a chaos of abuse” and he and Cooper will be challenging them on whether or not “they have a vision for Europe beyond just pork barrel politics for the constituency”.

Yates is also hoping to generate heated debate to boost ratings.

He added, “We find that when there’s a knock down, drag out fight amongst the panellists it rates much better so Matt and I will be trying to engineer as much mayhem and political bloodshed as possible,” he says.

The Tonight Show European Election Specials start tonight, Tuesday, May 7 at 11pm and continue on Wednesday May 8 and Thursday May 9.  Pat Kenny’s Big Debate will air on Virgin Media One on Wednesday, May 15.

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