‘It destroyed me’: Maria Bailey on ‘swing gate’ controversy

Ex-TD says her decision to issue proceedings against Dean Hotel was ‘a bad one’

Former Fine Gael TD Maria Bailey has said that the "swing-gate" controversy "destroyed" her and that she became fearful of doing her weekly shop or bringing her children to the playground.

The former Dún Laoghaire TD took a personal injuries case against the Dean Hotel on Harcourt Street arising from a fall from a swing type seat within the hotel in 2015, which she later withdrew.

Ms Bailey was de-selected by Fine Gael prior to the last general election after the case came to light in May 2019 and eventually announced she would not be standing as an Independent candidate.

She told RTÉ Radio's Brendan O'Connor show on Saturday that the controversy "blew up out of nowhere at a very vulnerable time in my life and my family's life", as her father was diagnosed with rapid motor neuron disease and subsequently died in July 2019.

“To be honest, it destroyed me,” she said. “I was a very outgoing person, but as this went on I was fearful of doing a weekly shop, fearful of bringing my kids to a playground, that if I was seen pushing them on a swing it would be blown up out of all proportion and ridiculed. My safe place, my important place, which is my family, was exposed is the way I felt.”

Ms Bailey said she received “toxic” and “vile” abuse online, some of which referenced her father and that her decision to issue proceedings against the hotel was “a bad one”.

“Hindsight is a great thing and when you’re in a role as a politician you make a lot of judgement calls and this was obviously a bad one,” she said.

“When the incident occured, I wasn’t a national politician, I was injured, taking legal action was not my first port of call. There was about five or six months of going back and forth before that happened.”

The former TD also said that she had been “deleted” by Fine Gael when she was deselected by the party in November 2019 ahead of the general election in February 2020.

‘I was deleted’

“I wasn’t deselected, I was deleted. I think that word says more than anything. I had already been sanctioned, I had apologised countless times,” she said.

“I asked for a valid reason for that deletion and I still to this day haven’t been given a valid reason. I had done polls, I knew I had been damaged but I was still in with a shot of getting a seat and unfortunately by being deleted the choice of the people was taken away.”

Ms Bailey said she is currently not working and that if she was to consider a return to politics, “there would be a lot I would have to take into account first”.

When asked if her family placed her on “suicide watch”, Ms Bailey said “my family were afraid to leave me on my own and whilst I never had those thoughts and I don’t know if this makes sense, I could understand how somebody would have those thoughts”.

She said: “I could recognise the loneliness and the isolation and bearing in mind I’m surrounded by incredible people and I still felt that loneliness and isolation. I was fortunate that that help reached out to me and I didn’t have to do it the other way.”

Ms Bailey said the death of TV presenter Caroline Flack by suicide in early 2020 hit home with her.

“I could understand the hole she probably felt she was in but it was an interview that I heard where somebody said: ‘You know it had been very difficult for her, in the space of a month there had been 100 articles.’ I remember going in the space of 11 days I was up at nearly 130 articles and front pages but nobody is calling that out here, it’s like, ‘it’s only going on in the UK, we’re not as bad here. I just thought that was stark,” she said.

Ms Bailey also said the interview she had done with Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio in May 2019 was “my decision and my mistake and I accept that”.

"I was afraid to go anywhere. In the first 11 days there was 128 articles, numerous front pages. Theresa May had stood down, I was front page. There was numerous things like that, really serious things happening in the world and I was still front page," she added.

“I couldn’t comment on the case because it was a live case. Yes I had issued proceedings but I hadn’t gone to court yet so I couldn’t comment. But when you can’t comment, I was told a page still needs to be filled.”