Tuesday 20 August 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'She tried to shoot the messenger - but this story was in the public interest and the facts spoke for themselves'

 

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

Kevin Doyle

There are two types of story: Ones that are in the public interest and ones that interest the public. The idea of a Government TD taking a personal injuries case against a business because she fell off a swing while on a night out qualifies under both headings.

I have known Maria Bailey since before she was a TD. She is a lovely woman and a hard-working member of the Oireachtas.

It's almost inevitable though that all politicians will, rightly or wrongly, find themselves engulfed in controversy at some point. How they handle that moment in the limelight can be career-defining.

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Last Monday, the Irish Independent revealed Ms Bailey was suing The Dean hotel as a result of a fall in July 2015. At that stage we knew very little detail about the case except it would be listed among motions due to come before the Circuit Court County Registrar that day. It made page seven of the newspaper.

Ms Bailey was given an opportunity to explain the background but chose not to.

She forcefully asked that the story not be run.

On Monday, one of my colleagues was able to establish that Ms Bailey's solicitors were arguing the hotel was negligent partly on the grounds that the swing was "unsupervised" and there were no signs telling patrons how to safely use it. The hotel intended to contest that she was holding items in both her hands when she fell. Naturally, our intrigue grew and the story was placed on Tuesday's front page.

The former justice minister Michael McDowell was the first politician to speak out.

Using privilege in the Seanad, he said: "We live in a strange world where civil liability can exist in such circumstances."

Others, including Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, followed. Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin reckoned: "Most people expect that once you are over the age of four you can hold on to the ropes and don't need adult supervision."

Amid growing disquiet in the business community and on doorsteps, senior Fine Gael figures were trying to get Ms Bailey to drop the case. But she remained stoically silent.

We kept digging and the hole for Ms Bailey grew bigger. It emerged the hotel had offered to pay €600 in medical expenses. By the time ballot boxes were opened on Saturday, we had established Ms Bailey ran a 10km race three weeks after the fall. This matters because court papers claimed she couldn't run "at all" for three months. For the Fine Gael hierarchy who had put up a defence during the week, this was a revelation too far.

Even before this case came to light, the rising cost of insurance for business was a hot political topic.

In recent months there have been Dáil debates, TV features and copious amounts of newspaper stories on businesses being forced to close down.

Ms Bailey sought to shoot the messenger in her RTÉ interview, claiming we were "judge, jury and executioner". The facts spoke for themselves - and the public made up their own minds.

Irish Independent

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