Saturday 24 August 2019

John Downing: 'This car-crash radio performance would suggest TD has surely left a potentially bright political future behind her'


Maria Bailey TD pictured outside Leinster House. Photo: Tom Burke
Maria Bailey TD pictured outside Leinster House. Photo: Tom Burke
John Downing

John Downing

It could hardly have come at a more difficult time. Maria Bailey's controversial compensation claim clearly was a drag on Fine Gael in the vital latter days of a tricky local council election, especially in Dublin.

Many Fine Gael heavy-hitters, from the Taoiseach down, have acknowledged that it "was coming up on the doors" for their canvassers.

News of the case came just as businesses are closing due to crippling insurance premiums, and a debate rages about this country's alleged compensation culture.

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At teatime last Saturday, just as votes were being counted, Ms Bailey told the 'Sunday Independent' that she was withdrawing her controversial case. Many in Fine Gael hoped that would end it. Then Ms Bailey popped up yesterday on RTÉ radio's 'Today With Seán O'Rourke', and did an interview which is right up there with epic car-crash radio and television performances which will linger in people's minds. She showed a complete lack of self-awareness and sought to blame the news organisation which diligently reported the facts, alleging she was the victim of some malign campaign of vilification.

Soon afterwards, two senior ministers and party colleagues, Regina Doherty and Simon Harris, struggled to contain their dismay. Ms Doherty said it was a pity Ms Bailey allowed her case to go ahead and the radio interview was especially ill-advised.

Mr Harris said the case was "an unfortunate claim" and Ms Bailey's decision to withdraw acknowledged this.

"The interview seemed to be in a space of blaming lots of other people," the Health Minister said.

Mr Harris said Ms Bailey was due to meet the Taoiseach on the matter - the pity was that she went on radio before that meeting.

Last Tuesday, the former attorney general and justice minister Senator Michael McDowell used Seanad Éireann to raise concerns about Ms Bailey's case and how it might square with her party's sworn attempts to tackle public liability insurance. Among the other politicians to question the principle of the case have been Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan and former Labour leader Joan Burton.

Yes, these comments came in the teeth of European and local elections. But it is a very long time since such heavy-hitters had anything to say about an Oireachtas colleague's ongoing civil court case.

Often in matters such as this there is a deal of sympathy and private support across the parties. By now Ms Bailey has seriously damaged her political credibility and that of Fine Gael.

It is, however, hard to see what party rule she has breached, and Dáil numbers are exceptionally tight. But realpolitik suggests that she may have a bright political future behind her.

Irish Independent

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