HOW much is a pound of flesh worth these days? A different price to different people, obviously, depending on whose flesh is under discussion. But in the case of Maria Bailey it would appear no price is too high when it comes to the ongoing public flailing of the Fine Gael TD.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was correct not to take the party whip from the woman who is now more notorious than crime lords and Celtic Tiger bankers.
She has a digital imprint that will have deeper consequences for her over time than any criminal record. It’s a fairly basic way to check but if you put the name “Maria Bailey” into Google within 0.36 seconds you will find 524,000 results.
This for a woman who is a first time TD, with a previously limited profile outside of her Dún Laoghaire constituency and who only came to national prominence in May. She may well have gone on to higher things than chairing the Oireachtas housing committee, but we will never know that now.
Compare that Google result with another Dublin female Fine Gael politician, except this one has a higher profile, being a minister and a previous director of the party’s abortion referendum campaign, as well as the instigator of the recent successful referendum on divorce rules.
Culture Minister Josepha Madigan has only 155,000 results, while another member of the 2016 Dáil intake Kate O’Connell has 190,000 and finally, just for further comparison, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has 288,000.
The obvious point to be made in response here is that Maria Bailey is the architect of her own misfortunes; if there was a prize for political foot in mouth she could hang on to that perpetual trophy for the foreseeable. As an adult she must be responsible for the consequences of her actions, particularly given how she doubled down on her foolishness.
Traditionally though when a politician messed up, the controversy ran for a few weeks, maximum, and eventually died down. Admittedly Maria Bailey messed up in a manner that was so spectacular she had the entire nation absolutely agog — torn between anger, hilarity and incredulity in relation to her personal injury claim resulting from a fall from a swing in a Dublin hotel.
An internal party review carried out by David Kennedy SC found she “overstated” the impact of injuries she suffered. Last week she said that she regretted taking the case and that she “made no attempt to mislead” anyone by taking it in the first place.
Looking at it benignly you could say it was her misfortune to have this come to light at a time when everyone feels so annoyed at the ridiculously expensive insurance premiums we’re paying, and the reports of court cases we’re all sick of reading with expensive payouts for what appear to involve the most ridiculous of scenarios. Plus the TD belonged to a party which held itself up as a leading light in insurance reform. Put in context this was a story just waiting to be told.
Without doubt there had to be a political reckoning for Maria Bailey who did not just damage her own political career but also her party, at a highly sensitive time given that there were local and European election campaigns going on at the time. Her performance on the national airwaves when she gave that now infamous interview on the Today with Sean O’Rourke show on RTÉ Radio One doubled down spectacularly on her appalling judgment.
But when will the appetite for her public flogging abate? Is there a statute of limitations? How long should she expect the spotlight to remain shining so relentlessly on her? Social media has totally altered the traditional approach here and none more so than in this case where there was so much potential to let rip on a controversy that just had everything going on. It was ready made for outrage, humour, sharing, cruelty, a good imagination, and deft editing skills. This episode will feature in political academic textbooks in years to come.
Surely all of this is enough punishment for any one individual, especially one who has just lost her father. It is a trauma to lose a parent, let alone at a time when you’re the butt of practically every joke told in Ireland in the weeks leading up to it. Cllr John Bailey had been suffered from motor neurone disease, a harrowing disease, and his family was obviously dealing with his seriously declining health at the same time as his daughter’s political catastrophe.
But where in fairness, on a human and a political level, do you call a halt called to this visceral public shaming, or factor it in as part of a political punishment. In fact, looked at from a number of angles, it is far worse than having a committee chairmanship removed or a party whip or indeed not being allowed to run in the next general election.
Yes her behaviour was a factor for Fine Gael in those recent election campaigns, but just one of a number of other things going on, not least the over-spend on the new national children’s hospital. Some colleagues are now deciding to jump on the bandwagon and try to get electoral advantage for themselves by calling for her not to stand in the next general election. Yes, we’re looking at you Louth TD Fergus O’Dowd.
At this stage they’d be better off heading to Spain for a fortnight and minding their own business. She has already been selected to run for Fine Gael in Dun Laoghaire.
Everyone knows someone, or has someone in their family, or indeed is that person themselves — the one who makes the wrong decision, who digs in their heels when it is least advisable to do so, who buries their head in the sand, or keeps talking when they should just zip it. We’ve all been there in some form or other. But in this instance haven’t we wrung every drop we ever possibly could from a fall from a swing. Let’s all just build a bridge and get over it.