Saturday 24 August 2019

Kevin Doyle: Just when it looked like 'swing-gate' had come to a halt, Maria Bailey gave it another push

Maria Bailey TD. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Maria Bailey TD. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Maria Bailey's fall from grace has been harder than any fall from a swing. In less than two weeks, she has gone from relatively unknown backbench TD to infamy.

The Dún Laoghaire representative has been the subject of radio sketches, online memes and pub gossip.

Her nemesis, the swing in the Dean hotel, is likely to be the most photographed object in Ireland this weekend.

There is growing sympathy both inside and outside of politics due to how the scandal has engulfed her career.

No doubt when the dust settles, Ms Bailey will reflect on the numerous opportunities she had to make it all go away.

Based on the evidence, it was a grave error of judgement to take the case in the first place.

Nobody disputes that she was injured - but she should have applied the logic her colleague Minister Heather Humphreys expressed in the Dáil this week.

"So if you trip or you fall you have to ask yourself why it happened and more often than not the answer is because of your own carelessness," Ms Humphreys said in a damning assessment of Ms Bailey's behaviour.

Ms Bailey had a bottle of beer in one hand and was "reaching" for a friend's bottle of wine before finding herself on the floor. Understandably she was "mortified" and jumped up immediately.

The next morning she was in severe pain and was brought to the private Beacon Hospital where she had a pelvic X-ray, but no bone injury was detected. However, it is claimed she was diagnosed with soft-tissue injuries, contusions and concussion. She went on to receive dental treatment and required intense physiotherapy.

According to the TD, all she ever wanted from the hotel was €6,000-€7,000 to cover her medical costs because "your private medical doesn't cover the entire medical costs".

Feeding the narrative that Fine Gael is out of touch with the common people, she added: "Everybody knows that." Ms Bailey engaged Madigan Solicitors to pursue a compensation claim. At the time, she was serving on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council with Josepha Madigan, a partner in the firm.

Both women were elected to the Dáil in February 2016 and seemed to be on a similar career trajectory - until they took opposite sides in the Fine Gael leadership contest.

Ms Bailey backed Mr Coveney while Ms Madigan went with Mr Varadkar. The latter was rewarded by being put on the fast-track to a Cabinet position.

One of the big outstanding questions in this controversy is whether Ms Madigan provided any advice on the case to her colleague before she stepped away from the business in 2017.

Ms Bailey obviously had some awareness that the case would attract media interest because she asked somebody on her legal team when the details would become public.

"I was told 'you have nothing to fear', and I distinctly asked 'when will this information become public?' so I can prepare myself for it being out there. And I was told 'this will not be public until you are before the courts'," she said.

It seems at that point the TD was not overly perturbed by the idea of getting some attention - but obviously didn't grasp the PR disaster that was being set in train.

Perhaps that was because somebody told her she had a "clear-cut case", part of which was a claim that the hotel was negligent because the swing was "unsupervised".

The Dean had other ideas and lined up CCTV as part of its defence.

When the Irish Independent first revealed 11 days ago that the case was listed before the Circuit Court, where payouts can be up to €60,000, Ms Bailey declined to comment.

The following day she made page one as details emerged of the hotel's claim that she was reckless or careless about her own safety. At this stage senior figures in Fine Gael intervened to try to get her to drop the case - but she went to ground. As the week went on and the stories gathered more interest, Ms Bailey largely disengaged from party headquarters.

Then on Friday with a lull in the election coverage, the Irish Independent began to investigate what Ms Bailey was up to in the weeks after the incident.

In the first week alone, she appeared on TV and spoke at two conferences. It wasn't actually very difficult to find this out because it was all on her Facebook.

Then we found that three weeks after the fall she'd run a 10km race in less than 54 minutes. "Not for me," was her response when it was put her that this was an impressive time. The revelation was the final straw for many in Fine Gael. Her claim had stated that she couldn't run "at all" for three months.

Finally, Ms Bailey moved into crisis management mode, starting with an interview in the 'Sunday Independent' where she outlined some details of what happened on that night.

Had she stopped there, the news cycle might have moved on to focus on the results of the local and European elections. But instead she popped up on RTÉ's 'Today with Sean O'Rourke' where she told the presenter: "I'm not a big social animal, I rarely go out... I'm quite happy to sit at home, pyjamas on, on the couch with the kids but I went out that night."

What followed was an unmitigated disaster. In Government Buildings the Taoiseach was caught totally unawares. Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty, who was lined up to be on the programme afterwards, had to respond on the hoof.

A "tremendous pity" is how she kindly summed up the now infamous interview.

Ms Bailey blamed the media, the internet, the lawyers and the Opposition - but never once admitted to having done anything wrong herself.

Colleagues have scapegoated her as the reason Fine Gael underperformed in the local elections. Close allies like Kate O'Connell and Simon Coveney jumped out of the way rather than to her defence.

And rather than a 'kick to touch' exercise, party sources say the internal review is a definite trawl for evidence of why she should be sanctioned.

Like many before her, Ms Bailey may well find a way back but right now it looks like a very long road.

Irish Independent

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