Monday 16 September 2019

Questions for Madigan as FG struggles with Bailey saga

Pressure: Questions over the advice Culture Minister Josepha Madigan gave party colleague and TD Maria Bailey remain unanswered. Picture: Tom Burke
Pressure: Questions over the advice Culture Minister Josepha Madigan gave party colleague and TD Maria Bailey remain unanswered. Picture: Tom Burke

Hugh O'Connell in Donegal

The Glencolmcille valley provided a picture-perfect backdrop for the Taoiseach and Ministers Shane Ross and Brendan Griffin to confirm that the Ryder Cup is coming to Ireland.

But Leo Varadkar seemed a little displeased that the Maria Bailey swing-fall saga, which he has tried to spin out of the rough in recent days, was being raised again.

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With Minister Josepha Madigan's role still under scrutiny, the Irish Independent asked Mr Ross, Ms Madigan's constituency rival, whether he believed Fine Gael's internal report into the matter should be published. The Independent Alliance TD uncharacteristically stonewalled, describing it as an internal matter for Fine Gael.

At that point the Taoiseach piped up: "I might add to that by saying something that I said before but maybe it needs to be said again."

Ms Madigan, he insisted, was bound by solicitor-client confidentiality just as he was and continues to be bound by doctor-patient confidentiality from his time in the health service. Therefore, according to the Taoiseach, Ms Madigan cannot discuss when she became aware of Ms Bailey's now infamous swing-fall in The Dean Hotel, what advice she gave her then backbench colleague or answer other pertinent questions that several party leaders are asking.

Ms Madigan had earlier ignored journalists as she arrived at the special cabinet meeting in the Donegal Gaeltacht. She has said previously she is "very pleased with its [the report's] findings insofar as it relates to me". One source close to her went further at the start of this month, claiming Ms Madigan had "done nothing wrong and acted in a wholly appropriate manner".

The Irish Independent reported last week that Ms Madigan did process Ms Bailey's application to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. Mr Varadkar has since confirmed Ms Madigan gave Ms Bailey "initial legal advice, guidance and assisted" the PIAB application when she was a backbench TD, presumably sometime between February 2016, when she was elected to the Dáil, and 2017 when she stepped back from the firm.

Now Fine Gael and the Taoiseach appear determined to ignore outstanding questions and move on - with Mr Varadkar's press adviser trying unsuccessfully to prevent this newspaper asking the Taoiseach whether he would seek to have the report published.

Had he asked David Kennedy, the senior counsel who carried the inquiry, to go back to those he had given an undertaking of confidentiality and ask them to waive it?

No, said the Taoiseach.

Would he? "No, this is an internal investigation, it's a party matter. When David Kennedy carried out this inquiry, which is not a public inquiry, he asked people to co-operate on the basis that it would remain confidential and he gave that assurance in writing and I don't think it would be right to breach that confidence after the fact," Mr Varadkar said. In a similar vein, he said he had not asked Ms Bailey if she would waive her client privilege.

Independent Alliance Minister Finian McGrath earlier broke ranks by saying "in an ideal world" the internal Fine Gael report would be published. Bizarrely Mr McGrath described the report as "excellent" before admitting he hadn't read it and saying he "had a kind of preliminary kind of synopsis of it". Nonetheless he was satisfied that the matter had been handled in a "comprehensive and fair way" and "humanitarian".

Some question why Ms Madigan should breach her obligation to her client, arguing it would be like a journalist being asked to reveal a source.

But there is a strong public interest argument when it involves two TDs, and a now withdrawn personal injuries claim that has caused major public anger and untold damage to Fine Gael and Ms Bailey.

Irish Independent

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