Regular readers of An Sionnach Fionn are likely aware of my vociferous opposition to political censorship and my belief that free speech is something that cannot, and should not, be curtailed. However, stout defenders of civic freedoms must also be ruthless guardians of those self same freedoms. They must act with care to ensure that the right to express genuinely-held opinions is not taken advantage of, that it is not used as a mechanism to subvert and undermine democracy itself. As distant observers, we have seen in the very recent past how the media’s inadvertent decision to “mainstream” such political mavericks as Nigel Farage in the United Kingdom and Donald Trump in the United States has led to catastrophic outcomes for those nations. We cannot allow the same thing to happen to this island nation.
Whatever the anomalous levels of support for Peter Casey during October’s presidential election, we must not permit the businessman and his populous right-wing utterances to become a normalised part of our national discourse. His views must remain where they belong, on the edges of acceptable society, sentiments unrepresentative of the citizenry as a whole. RTÉ’s decision to invite the Derry-born entrepreneur onto The Late Late Show, a prestigious and storied light entertainment show, gives his political views undue and dangerous respectability where none is deserved.
It goes without question that Casey should be subject to interview and discussion in the country’s news and current affairs programming, both on television and radio. His unfounded and divisive claims should be challenged and debated. But these are not apt subjects for a congenial venue where he can act the amiable star. To grant him undue notoriety or celebrity, to soften his sharp edges, is to fall into the same trap that Farage and Trump laid for the unwary press in the UK and US, and which Ireland’s own Fourth Estate and its associates seem ready to jump into in relation to the Derry man.
As a defeated candidate for the presidency, the former American resident may require a platform of some sort, reflecting his strong electoral showing. But RTÉ and the media in general must select such platforms with studious care. A cosy, laid-back TV chat show with a friendly presenter and an invariably generous audience is no place for a promulgator of victim-blaming, whether the victims are picked by community or class.