Maria Bailey and the swing: Just because we can doesn't mean we should

Laura Kennedy: TD’s case against hotel which she has now dropped raises issue of personal responsibility

 

Fine Gael TD Maria Bailey made news last week when it was reported that she was suing the Dean Hotel on Dublin’s Harcourt Street, but has since dropped the case after intense public criticism and derision.

Bailey, who represents Dún Laoghaire, visited the hotel with friends in 2015 at the height of its Instagram trendiness. There, she proceeded to fall backwards off a swing, apparently hurting her hip, lower back and head. Those who haven’t been to the Dean will naturally be confused by the concept of swings in a hotel, at least outside of Amsterdam. If you are guffawing into your cereal at the heights Dublin notions can reach, hang on. There’s more.

I am very familiar with the swings at The Dean from visiting for the elaborate launches of various beauty products. They sit outside Sophie’s – the hotel’s rooftop restaurant and bar. While last year, every Irish social media figure and influencer was shoving competitors out of the way to take a selfie in the then-new Ivy bathroom, back in 2015 and 2016, the place was still the Dean.

As you emerged from the lifts, you would have to arrange your face as you walked past small crowds of exiguous young women taking turns sitting on the swings for a photo, heads thrown back in a terrifying contortion of faux laughter as they kicked one leg primly toward the ceiling and held onto the ropes with both hands. Later that day, you would see the resulting photographic masterpieces on Instagram, always captioned with the sort of hashtags that made your soul tired – “live laugh love”, or, heaven forfend, “swinging into Monday like.”

Public booboos

It appears Bailey thought she would have a go herself. The fact that she allegedly got hurt is not at all funny. I can empathise with embarrassing public booboos – I think most of us can. Allow me to caveat the following by saying that I don’t drink, so that you can absorb the public embarrassment with the purity it deserves. I once ran directly (as in, forehead first) into a wall and concussed myself in front of about 30 people. That was at school, but still. I fell into a ditch in front of a number of elegant beauty editors, who are known for their general perfection and comportment. I sat on a strange man’s hand on the bus, to the deep embarrassment of us both. I ate the fancy butter pat on the table at my friend’s wedding, thinking it was white chocolate. Everyone at the table stared in scrunch-visaged horror as though I had eaten a napkin. I swallowed the butter. There was nothing else for it, and it wasn’t even salted.

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway for the benefit of all humankind and Bailey’s lawyers, that I have no understanding of or wish to comment on the legal situation in which she placed herself. Thankfully, though, as a philosopher I am plenty equipped to explain why these sorts of actions make the world we live in just that little bit worse. Even if there were solid legal grounds for Bailey to receive the €60,000 she hoped the Dean could swing (sorry) for the claim. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.

In circuit court proceedings, Bailey accused the hotel of negligence; suggesting that the swing was “unsupervised” and there were no signs to instruct patrons how to use it safely. Difficult though it is, let us set aside for now the hilarity of an Irish politician insulting herself so thoroughly – the hotel maintained that Bailey sat on the swing while both her hands were full.

However, in a society with an increasing claims culture, the idea that adults should be supervised on swings and given written instruction on how to use them is infantilising and outsources personal responsibility at the cost of personal freedom. It’s a good thing Bailey dropped the case – we should protect our right to fall off things; I’ve been doing it for years.

After all the furore, the Dean might do well to consider putting a sign up next to the swings after all – “Bailey’s Law”, it should read – “ Just hang on”.

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