Leo Varadkar has decided not to remove the Fine Gael party whip from ‘swing-gate’ TD Maria Bailey following appeals from the Tánaiste, the Irish Examiner can reveal.
It has been confirmed Mr Varadkar intended to kick Ms Bailey out of the parliamentary party, as well as removing her from the €9,500-a-year position as chair of the Oireachtas housing committee, and had made his views known to a number of senior party figures.
On learning of the Taoiseach’s intentions, Mr Coveney is understood to have pleaded for clemency.
Senior sources familiar with events have revealed that Mr Varadkar was swayed by Mr Coveney’s appeal for leniency on two grounds — the recent death of Ms Bailey’s father, John Bailey, and that she had been scapegoated enough.
“Leo only changed his mind because of Simon,” said one senior source. “He appealed to the Taoiseach that the reaction to it was over the top and she deserved to be spared. Leo did take some convincing but he relented, as he is keen to keep Coveney on side.”
It is understood the Taoiseach said Ms Bailey needed to be subjected to some punishment in order to maintain party discipline, and reluctantly acceded to Mr Coveney’s request. The Irish Examiner attempted to contact Mr Coveney but no response was forthcoming at the time of going to print.
Ms Bailey was a strong supporter of Mr Coveney’s leadership bid in 2017, and is under mounting internal pressure to stand down before the next election following the furore caused by her personal injuries case against the Dean Hotel in Dublin after falling from a swing on its premises.
It is the second time Mr Coveney has come to the aid of his supporters. He also went to bat for Simon Harris and convinced the Taoiseach to leave him in the Cabinet.
“Coveney is big on loyalty and he sought to help someone who had stuck with him during the campaign, and the Taoiseach bowed to his request,” a senior party source said.
Yesterday, Mr Varadkar said he is happy for Ms Bailey to remain on the ticket despite the continued fallout from the controversy.
“She is the selected candidate by our members in Dún Laoghaire,” said Mr Varadkar.
“She is on a ticket of three already with Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor and Councillor Barry Ward. So people in Dún Laoghaire have a choice of three Fine Gael candidates already.
“In not going further by removing the whip from Deputy Bailey, I do so conscious of the devastating effect this saga has had on Deputy Bailey and her family in particular. She has endured considerable negative publicity, public criticism, and is now personally liable for significant legal and medical costs.”
On accepting her demotion, Ms Bailey said she “recognised and regretted” the difficulties the issue had caused the Taoiseach and the party during the May local and European elections.
Ms Bailey is under mounting pressure from within Fine Gael to stand down ahead of the general election and the party has ordered an opinion poll to quantify the impact of the controversy on her chances of re-election.
There is a strong suggestion that party bosses are looking to add councillor Jennifer Carroll MacNeill to the ticket, a move which would place great pressure on Ms Bailey to stand down.
Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar said “if the shoe was on the other foot” and Fianna Fáil had the majority after the next general election, Fine Gael would have to consider a confidence and supply agreement, and Fine Gael’s policies would have to form part of any such agreement.
"A lot of our policies would have to form part of any such agreement.”
However, he said the fact that Fianna Fáil had not collapsed the Government did not give them a free pass.