Fine Gael TD Maria Bailey has said the disclosure of her 'swing' case details in a national newspaper had been methodically pre-planned to "cause the maximum damage."
The Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown TD said she did not think she would be thrown out of her party over her decision to sue the Dean Hotel for injuries she received after she fell off a swing.
In an interview with RTÉ radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show, Ms Bailey said she was not seeking compensation, she just wanted her medical bills covered.
Her interview has been described by Minister for Health Simon Harris as “unfortunate” and by Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty as “a tremendous pity”.
Ms Bailey dropped the case in recent days which she brought after she fell off a swing in the Dean Hotel, Harcourt Street, Dublin, in 2015, claiming she suffered serious and lasting injuries.
Ms Bailey alleges she suffered injuries to her head, back and hip after falling off a swing in the premises on a night out in 2015.
It later emerged she competed in a 10 kilometre race in the weeks after the incident.
The hotel lodged a full defence of the claim and alleged Ms Bailey (43) had items in both hands when she sat on the swing.
Recounting the incident, Ms Bailey said when she sat on the swing “I had my beer in my hand, and then I was reaching for my friend’s, I had a bottle of wine, she was taking her camera out of her jacket, I then found myself on the floor. I was mortified”.
Asked if she had a bottle in each hand while on the swing, Ms Bailey did not clarify. Ms Bailey said she had fallen, had been “mortified” and asked hotel reception for plasters for “cuts and grazes”.
The hotel staff had been “very respectful”.
Speaking on Monday, she became aware the story was going to emerge when she received a telephone call from a journalist asking for a comment.
Ms Bailey said she had been the subject of “clickbait” and had been advised early last week not to withdraw the case as it would appear cynical on the week of the local elections.
Elections are a very emotive time and the election was not lost in the last week, she added. There had been no pressure from Fine Gael for her to withdraw the case, she added. “This is a private matter, it happened a long time ago.”
In the past week, she had been subjected to “unbelievable abuse” and could not go home for three days because there were journalists outside her house, she said.
The media had been “judge, jury and executioner” of the leaked documents, Ms Bailey claimed.
Senator Michael McDowell and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin “should know better” than to comment on her case “without the full facts”, she said.
“I was injured, I never claimed for compensation. The hotel agreed to pay my hospital expenses. I ended up in A&E the following morning and had intensive physio for three weeks.”
She said she had been told that she had a “clear-cut case” legally when she asked “if this is worth the hassle. I was told I had nothing to fear. I was told this would not be public until I was before the court.”
She claimed someone was trying to negate all the good work she had done in her 15 years in politics.
“I am not bowing down to keyboard warriors. I am fully entitled to bring a legitimate case if injured.
“This was a deliberate leak to cause maximum damage. The media, one in particular, crossed the line here. I was genuinely hurt. With a back injury there is constant management of the back.
“Who are journalists held accountable to? This was a deliberate attempt to have a massive impact on the party.”
She denied the case had an impact on the outcome of the local elections, pointing out that the Fine Gael councillors in her electoral area had been re-elected.
“Mine wasn’t a fraudulent case. I followed the legal advice I got.”
Ms Bailey declined to comment on whether she sought advice over her case from her Fine Gael colleague Josepha Madigan, whose solicitor’s firm she was represented by in the action.
“I don’t see any reason in answering a question like that,” she said when asked on Monday. “Josepha Madigan had nothing to do with it.”
Ms Madigan declined to comment on the matter when asked over the weekend about it.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is set to speak with Ms Bailey about the case this week. On Sunday, he said Fine Gael had suffered “reputational damage” due to the situation.
Ms Bailey said that if she meets Mr Varadkar, she will use the opportunity to raise issues she feels strongly about, such as home care and housing. “I’m drawing a line in the sand today on this.”
Mr Harris later described Ms Bailey’s interview about her injury claim as “unfortunate” and said the withdrawal of the claim was an acknowledgment it should not have proceeded.
He said Fine Gael members would have appreciated if she had withdrawn it before the elections.
Speaking in the RDS, Mr Harris also said it would have been better for Ms Bailey to have met the Taoiseach before she gave the interview. “My understanding is that was a decision she made of her own volition, as is her right. But I think it would have been better if she had the meeting with Taoiseach first.
“I think it was an unfortunate interview. I think when you withdraw a claim, that in and of itself is an acknowledgement of the fact perhaps that the claim should not have proceeded. Yet the interview still very much seemed to be in the space of blaming lots of other people.
“I think members up and down the country would have appreciated if it was going to be withdrawn that this could have happened before the local and European elections and not after and I think perhaps, had that happened, the situation could have been more effectively dealt with.”
Ms Doherty said it was “a tremendous pity” that Ms Bailey went on radio and that she “did herself a disservice”.
Ms Doherty said the issue did have an impact on the election campaign and came up on the doorsteps.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said the optics on the case were “less than ideal” but refused to comment on whether the Dún Laoghaire TD should step down.
Mr Flanagan said he had heard Ms Bailey’s radio interview and was “surprised” that she had spoken so “freely” about the case.
“But this is entirely a matter for Maria herself. I understand that she has discontinued the civil action that she has taken in a private capacity,” he said.
“I have to say it was an issue that was raised on the doorsteps. I would not like to over-egg it or overplay it. I know it had been mentioned.
“We are having a pre-Cabinet meeting this evening. I understand the Taoiseach is going to speak with the deputy concerned and I would rather not become any further involved at this stage,” he said. “I accept that the optics have not been good. This was an issue that was raised on the doorsteps.”
Mr Flanagan said he was very keen to ensure that the Government proceeds with the legislative programme that will result in a reformed insurance framework.
“Insurance reform is a big issue.”
He said the new legislation - the Judicial Council Bill - was at an advanced stage. “ I would expect to have it in the Dáil within the next few weeks,” he said. “I will be looking for Opposition parties to support it.”
He said it is an important piece of legislation which will set guidelines for judges in personal injury cases and actions. “I would expect to have it passed before the summer recess.”
On the brink
Fine Gael’s Mairead McGuinness, who was re-elected an MEP on Monday, said that Ms Bailey’s legal claim was raised by members of the public during the election campaign.
There was a “bigger question” raised about the high cost of insurance and there were “lots of companies on the brink because of their insurance premiums,” said Ms McGuinness after her election victory.
Ms McGuinness had earlier welcomed Ms Bailey’s decision to drop her action. She said she did not want to comment on Ms Bailey’s much-criticised interview on RTÉ because she had not heard it.
Speaking in Castlebar, Minister for Rural Development Michael Ring, a Mayo TD, said he had not heard Ms Bailey’s interview either but that he was glad that she dropped the case.
High insurance premiums were a “big issue” in the west of Ireland and right across the country, he said.
“It is a problem and we see it every single day in the courts, people taking cases against people whether they are employers or people who are in businesses,” he said. “It is an issue and something that we are looking at Government level.”
No political motive
Former minister for justice and attorney general Michael McDowell has denied he “should have known better” than to comment on Ms Bailey’s case in the Seanad.
Mr McDowell told The Irish Times he “reject(s) the suggestion that the sub judice rule has any application to my remarks, and I was careful to point out that the newspaper report only contained part of the evidence.
“I have been speaking in the Seanad on a number of occasions about escalating insurance costs and the effect on groups such as taxi drivers, day centres and special schools. I merely observed in a light hearted way that such a case put a question mark over the commitment of the Government to controlling the compensation culture,” he said.
Mr McDowell added his “comments in the Seanad were related solely to what was published in the Irish Independent that morning, and I’ve no other knowledge, good, bad or indifferent of the case.”
Mr McDowell said he had no political motive in speaking about the issue in the Seanad in the week prior to local and European elections. “What I said was in no way calculated to have any effect on the elections,” he said.