Thursday 22 August 2019

Fine Gael TD would 'prefer' if Maria Bailey didn't stand in next general election after swing-gate controversy

Concerns: Maria Bailey and her legal claim against the Dean Hotel, where she fell off a swing, caused much criticism to be directed at Fine Gael. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Concerns: Maria Bailey and her legal claim against the Dean Hotel, where she fell off a swing, caused much criticism to be directed at Fine Gael. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Maria Bailey TD at the Gibson for the All Ireland Winners Banquet in 2017

Cormac McQuinn and Hugh O'Connell

A Fine Gael TD has said Maria Bailey should not stand in the next general election in the wake of the swing-gate controversy.

Louth deputy Fergus O'Dowd has broken ranks and become the first Fine Gael politician to publicly call on Ms Bailey not to stand for the party at the next election following weeks of controversy.

Mr O'Dowd has confirmed to Independent.ie his belief that Ms Bailey should not stand for Fine Gael in Dun Laoghaire at the next general election. "I'd prefer if she didn't stand," he said.

Earlier he told LMFM that people in the party are "deeply concerned" and are wary that it might affect Fine Gael's standing in the polls.

Ms Bailey has said she regrets taking a now withdrawn case against The Dean Hotel after she fell from a swing in July 2015.

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Fergus O’Dowd TD

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was bombarded with messages criticising Fine Gael in the wake of Ms Bailey's personal injury claim.

Mr Varadkar's office received more than 140 items of correspondence raising concerns over the now-dropped legal action in less than a month after the case became public.

And many of the emails that came in the lead-up to the May 24 local election saw the writers tell Mr Varadkar that Fine Gael had lost their support.

The case taken by Ms Bailey against Dublin's Dean Hotel was revealed just four days before polling day.

Mr Varadkar almost immediately received emails from members of the public telling him, and in some cases other Fine Gael politicians copied into the communications, they would not be voting for the party.

The writer of one email on May 21 said "Fine Gael has potentially lost a lifelong supporter", while another sent the same day said they would register their protest by not voting for Fine Gael candidates in the Midlands North-West constituency of the European election.

Some of the correspondence appears to have been based on a template. They all say that they would not be voting for Fine Gael in the local elections, and ministers including Josepha Madigan, Charlie Flanagan and Regina Doherty are copied in on the emails.

Ms Bailey announced that she was dropping the case on May 25 as counting was taking place in the local elections.

Mr Varadkar sought to draw a line under the controversy last week when he released a statement on the investigation of the case carried out by barrister David Kennedy on behalf of Fine Gael.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Maria Bailey TD at the Gibson for the All Ireland Winners Banquet in 2017

Mr Varadkar said the inquiry stated that Ms Bailey's claim was not fraudulent but also that she over-stated the impact of her injuries on her running and she made "numerous errors of judgement".

He demoted Ms Bailey from her position as chairperson of the Oireachtas Housing Committee - a role that comes with a top-up of €9,500.

Mr Varadkar stopped short of removing the Fine Gael whip from the deputy, saying he is "conscious of the devastating effect this saga has had on Deputy Bailey and her family".

He added: "She has endured considerable negative publicity, public criticism and is now personally liable for significant legal and medical costs."

Ms Bailey issued a statement the same day saying she noted that Mr Kennedy found that it was not a fraudulent claim and that "it would be unlikely that a court would conclude that there was any attempt to mislead on my part".

She said she regretted taking the case and the "difficulties this issue caused for the Taoiseach and my colleagues during the recent elections".

But there was some sympathy for Ms Bailey among the correspondence to Mr Varadkar.

One person urged Fine Gael to take a "Christian" approach to Ms Bailey's situation, suggesting that Mr Varadkar "step in and save Maria". The writer added that she "only needs to make a 'Mea Culpa' statement" and said: "She can recover. She's not toxic."

Mr Varadkar also received correspondence from business people, highlighting rising insurance premiums and the claims culture.

One person whose family business employs 64 people said their insurance premium had risen from €115,000 in 2017 to more than €500,000 in 2019, blaming the level of damages being awarded by judges. 

Irish Independent

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