14:28, May 28 235 0 theguardian.com

2019-05-28 14:28:04
Voters cry foul over politician's fall from swing in Dublin bar

It was a regular swing, with two ropes and a wooden slat, but when Maria Bailey fell off it a farce ensued which embarrassed Ireland’s government, pushed election results off the front pages, and set a new standard in political hara-kiri.

It began with a scene worthy of Mr Bean. Bailey, a TD (member of parliament) from Ireland’s ruling Fine Gael party, was on a night out with friends in the bar of Dublin’s Dean hotel in July 2015. The bar had a swing which Bailey sat on it while apparently clutching a beer in one hand and a friend’s wine bottle in another. Arguably this impeded her ability to balance. She toppled over.

Bruised and shaken she sued for medical costs plus personal injury, loss, damage and inconvenience, potentially netting up to €60,000. The keen runner was unable to run for three months, said the compensation claim.

The Irish Independent reported the case – which had yet to reach court – last week on the eve of local and European elections.

The story hit a nerve. A so-called compensation culture of personal injury claims has driven up insurance costs, crippling many businesses. Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael, a pro-business party, has promised to rein in the phenomenon.

More details leaked. Bailey, a 43-year-old mother of two children, who represents an affluent south Dublin constituency, had complained that the swing was “unsupervised”.

Opposition parties cried foul. “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,” said Brendan Howlin, the Labour party leader.

More details emerged. Three weeks after the fall Bailey competed in a 10km run. She hired the law firm of a government minister, Josepha Madigan, to pursue the case. The claim omitted mention of her holding bottles while on the swing.

Voters howled in indignation and the government cringed. Fine Gael candidates blamed a disappointing showing in Friday’s local elections partly on the perception of party hypocrisy.

On Saturday Bailey announced she was dropping the compensation claim. This could have drawn a line under the ignominy but on Monday she tried to repair the damage in an RTE radio interview which spectacularly backfired.

She tried to blame her troubles on a media witchhunt, poor advice and unnamed adversaries. She claimed she had sought to recoup only medical costs, avoided saying whether she had a bottle in each hand when she tumbled and declined to explain why the hotel was at fault. “I’m not a legal person.”

She was a victim, she insisted. “I was injured. I am the one who suffered an injury.” Suffering that was compounded by scorn and abuse on social media. “That is an invasion of my privacy and humanity has been crossed.”

Commentators called the interview a fiasco on par with a stumbling performance by Brian Cowen in 2010 when he was taoiseach. He denied being drunk.

“Epic car-crash radio,” said the Irish Independent. “Fine Gael’s Sultana of Swing,” punned the Irish Times.