Bailey demotion potentially damaging to Varadkar within FG

Analysis: Decision not to strip TD of whip seen by some TDs as missed opportunity

In explaining the rationale for his decision, Fine Gael sources said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had chosen a “combination of natural justice and human mercy”. Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

In explaining the rationale for his decision, Fine Gael sources said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had chosen a “combination of natural justice and human mercy”. Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

 

In making his decision to demote Maria Bailey from her position as chair of the Oireachtas committee on housing, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will hope to draw a line under the controversy that damaged his party’s standing with some voters.

Yet the nature of the Taoiseach’s response may have damaged his personal standing among some of his own.

Many TDs feel that Varadkar’s decision not to strip Bailey of the whip in the Dáil – which a number of sources at the top of the party indicated late last week was set to happen – is a lost opportunity to both stamp his authority on Fine Gael and send a signal to the public.

One senior party figure described the decision to only take the chair from Bailey as a “major error on his part”.

“He had a real opportunity here to show a different type of leadership and to also show he takes seriously exaggerated insurance claims which are shutting down businesses across the country and he chose not to do so,” the source said, adding Varadkar’s move was “hard to understand”.

“He has gotten this one wrong. People wanted to send a message to their constituents that we care about the cost of insurance and that we will root out our dishonesty when it appears in our party.

“Instead we have a ridiculous convoluted inquiry which none of us get to see and the minimal sanction possible. She cost us council seats and this could cost us Dáil seats. This was a huge chance for Leo to show his mettle.”

Byelections

Others took a different view, and said the Taoiseach, leading a government in an extreme minority position with four byelections on the horizon in the autumn, could not risk one TD being estranged, and possibly voting against Fine Gael in the Dáil in the coming few months.

Yet against that, another deputy argued that the European elections saw three Opposition TDs leave the Dáil.

“Three Opposition seats being absent until November gave us an opportunity. Not a challenge.”

In explaining the rationale for his decision, Fine Gael sources said Varadkar chose a “combination of natural justice and human mercy”.

“She’s been punished a lot already,” said one. “Beaten up badly by media, legal and medical bills, her dad died and lived through it all. She’ll have a battle to get re-elected.”

The Taoiseach will hope the Bailey controversy, and his handling of it, will have faded from the minds of the public and his party after the summer recess.