Thursday 22 August 2019

Taoiseach briefed on letter from Bailey to hotel before launching internal probe

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture: PA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture: PA

Shane Phelan and Kevin Doyle

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was briefed about correspondence between Maria Bailey and the Dean hotel before launching a probe into her compensation claim over a fall from a swing.

The briefing included references to how much compensation the TD was looking for in her now-abandoned personal injuries action.

In two interviews given by Ms Bailey since controversy flared over the case, she claimed the most she was seeking was €7,000 for her medical expenses. However, this has not been confirmed by the hotel. It has said it offered to pay Ms Bailey's certified medical expenses, but when she asked for what was described as "a substantial sum", the matter was handed over to its solicitors.

The Irish Independent has learned a Fine Gael official sought to establish certain facts in connection with the matter and the official's findings were passed to members of the party hierarchy and the Taoiseach's office.

The information included details of a letter sent by Ms Bailey in January 2016, six months after the fall, in which she returned a cheque for €600 to the hotel. In the letter, the TD is understood to have outlined what in her view was the likely cost of medical treatment into the future.

The briefing occurred prior to Mr Varadkar's meeting with Ms Bailey on Wednesday.

Shortly afterwards, Fine Gael announced senior counsel David Kennedy had been appointed to undertake an internal review "to establish all the facts".

One issue likely to be probed is why, given her insistence she was only seeking €7,000, Ms Bailey did not pursue her case in the District Court, which has jurisdiction to award up to €15,000.

Instead the case was taken at Circuit Court level, where personal injury awards can be up to €60,000.

The indorsement of claim filed on the TD's behalf also did not state she was only seeking her medical expenses.

It outlined how in addition to medical costs, she was seeking damages for personal injury, loss, damage and inconvenience.

Ms Bailey's standing in the party is at rock bottom after almost a fortnight of controversy. Sources say there was "no clash" when she met Mr Varadkar on Wednesday - but he is known to be privately furious about the case.

He has asked TDs not to make the situation worse by publicly admonishing their colleague and said they should show her "respect".

But over the course of the week a string of ministers, including Paschal Donohoe, Simon Harris and Heather Humphreys, tried to distance the Government from Ms Bailey's actions.

Despite saying in Monday's radio interview that she would be back in the Oireachtas this week, Ms Bailey failed to appear at two committee meetings she was due to chair.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy was quizzed at the first of those meetings, while Mr Varadkar was at the second.

A number of ministers told the Irish Independent the Government is feeling the heat over rising insurance costs.

The consensus is that Ms Bailey has totally undermined efforts to convince businesses that action is being taken.

"It's horrendous. Everybody is talking about the swing. What was she thinking?" one minister said.

But the intense focus on the TD has garnered some sympathy too. A Fine Gael senator said the online abuse she has suffered "is outrageous".

"It's gone too far. No matter what she did or didn't do, she doesn't deserve that."

The internal review ordered by the Taoiseach is expected to take around two weeks to complete.

It will be submitted directly to Mr Varadkar, who must then decide whether to take action himself or refer the findings to Fine Gael's national executive.

Sources said senior counsel Mr Kennedy has been asked "to make all necessary enquiries".

This is likely to include conversations with Culture Minister Josepha Madigan as to whether she had any knowledge of the case or ever offered advice on it.

Ms Madigan's family's law firm, which she stepped away from in 2017, submitted the court papers on behalf of the Dún Laoghaire TD which inaccurately stated she was unable to run for three months after the fall.

Irish Independent

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