Maria Bailey's car-crash interview with Sean O'Rourke was meant to repair the damage done by last week's swing claim controversy, writes Daniel McConnell
If you want to know what not to do in a radio interview, listen to Maria Bailey on Today with Sean O’Rourke yesterday.
It really was that bad. It is hard to recall a more disastrous political interview which had been geared at repairing the damage done last week.
For more than a week, Bailey, a first-time Fine Gael TD for Dún Laoghaire, has been the subject of reports around her decision to take legal action against a Dublin hotel after she suffered a fall off a swing in 2015.
She sued saying the swing should have been supervised by hotel staff.
The initial story, in the Irish Independent, appeared to many to put Bailey at odds with her party’s and government’s attempt to stamp out frivolous insurance claims and portrayed her as a kind of precious south county Dublin princess.
Subsequent reports, which detailed the ins and outs of legal documents given to the court, only served to heap the pressure on Bailey.
First, it was reported that the Dean Hotel on Harcourt St claimed she was not holding on properly at the time she fell.
With just days to go to polling, such a story was beginning to come up on the doors, much to the alarm and annoyance of many Fine Gael candidates.
Then, Senator Michael McDowell, the former tánaiste, took a swipe at her in the Upper House saying her case undermined Government efforts to tackle the claim culture in Ireland.
At the same time, it emerged that Culture Minister Josepha Madigan’s family firm was representing Bailey in the case.
On Friday, it was then reported, again on the front pages, that Bailey had rejected the hotel’s offer of €600 toward her medical costs but it was a story on Saturday that changed everything in terms of the public mood.
As counting began in the elections, the story that Bailey ran a 10km race three weeks after the fall, highlighting an inconsistency in her affidavit, was on everyone’s lips.
“What is she doing?” was the common refrain from Fine Gaelers and media alike.
Internally, at this stage, Bailey is said to have gone dark from party handlers, refusing to take phone calls or listen to any advice.
But it emerged during the day that she had instructed her solicitors to withdraw the case. It annoyed the hell out of many in Fine Gael that she waited until polls closed to make the decision.
Indeed, it has also been confirmed that party bosses and PR handlers knew nothing of her sitdown interview with a Sunday newspaper.
That interview struck a defiant and defensive tone as opposed to a more humble one which would, party bosses felt, have helped put the issue to bed.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and other senior party figures were said to be incensed at that interview.
But if they were angry on Sunday, they were apoplectic yesterday as Bailey took to the airwaves.
Again, her interview was not sanctioned by Varadkar or Fine Gael general secretary Tom Curran.
If the newspaper interview was bad, her 20-minute pre-recorded interview with O’Rourke was nothing short of disastrous.
Refusing to acknowledge the damage caused to her party in the past week, Bailey played the injured party, hitting out at media invasion of privacy.
Pleading that she was unable to speak to a newspaper about what was then a live case, when offered chance after chance to give her side by O’Rourke, she refused to do so.
When asked about whether she was holding drinks in both hands, she said: “That would have been a matter for the judge to adjudicate on and I’m not opening a trial here.
But you’re not going there now, O’Rourke pointed out.
“And let me tell you why I’m not going there. So due to the unbelievable abuse, I wasn’t able to go home for three days last week because journalists were sitting outside my home.
“That is an invasion of my privacy and humanity has been crossed. As a State we need to decide who our judicial system is here.
"Is it the media or is it the courts? The media were judge, jury and executioner in a leaked document, a partial leaked document that was not finalised,” she pleaded unconvincingly.
“One week of my career somebody has tried to character assassinate me and my family and the invasion of privacy I have had and they’re trying to negate all the good work I have done.
"I am so passionate about my job I am not bowing down to keyboard warriors and bullies.”
Rather than sounding defiant, she sounded desperate and only served to pour more fuel on what should have been the ashes of last week’s story.
While Bailey said she wished to draw a line in the sand on the issue, the reaction of her party leader, senior ministers and TDs from across the country, shows they are certainly not yet finished with her.