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Varadkar receives dozens of similar emails from voters about FG boycott after Maria Bailey case

FOI documents show correspondence sent to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the wake of the Maria Bailey swing fall case.

Maria Bailey TD
Maria Bailey TD
Image: Leah Farrell via RollingNews.ie

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR received dozens of similar emails from members of the public telling him they wouldn’t vote for Fine Gael in the recent local and European elections as a result of the Maria Bailey swing fall case, Freedom of Information documents show. 

The Dún Laoghaire TD drew criticism in recent months after it emerged on 20 May that she had filed legal proceedings against the Dean Hotel after she fell from a swing at the venue.

The hotel denied any negligence, later adding that it was “satisfied with the result” when Bailey withdrew her claim against them. 

Bailey had claimed she suffered injuries to her head, lower back and hip in the alleged incident.

Speaking last week, Varadkar said that he intends to announce whether Bailey will be sanctioned or not next week. He said he wished to wait until then out of respect for her and her family due to the fact that her father, John Bailey, who was also a former Fine Gael councillor, passed away last week.

Bailey is set to lose the party whip and be replaced as chairperson of the Oireachtas housing committee, according to a report in the Irish Times today.

Following intense backlash from fellow politicians and members of the public after the scandal emerged, Bailey spoke on RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Sean O’Rourke on 27 May to defend herself. 

At the time, Fine Gael sources said party HQ was not made aware that Bailey would be on the programme, and said it was “discourteous” of RTÉ not to inform them that Bailey was due to be on the radio show.

In the interview, Bailey defended her claim and said she was “genuinely hurt” by the fall.

After the scandal had emerged and drew widespread criticism, a number of TDs said the case definitely had an impact on the Fine Gael local election result in May, with one TD stating that it could have led to each candidate losing 100 votes or more, something which particularly impacted those candidates on the periphery of quotas.

Complaints

Documents obtained by TheJournal.ie under Freedom of Information have provided evidence to those theorists. In the lead up the votes on 24 May, numerous people wrote to Varadkar and Bailey outlining that they planned not to vote for Fine Gael in the elections, despite previously voting for the party. 

Writing to Varadkar and Bailey, one person said: “I am ashamed of you and I will now register my protest on Friday next by not voting for Fine Gael candidates in the Midlands North West constituency and I will lean on friends and family to follow my example.”

In what appears to be a template, multiple people sent the following message to Varadkar and Bailey:

I am writing a short email to advise that due to your decision to take legal action against a Dublin hotel, seeking damages up to €60,000 I will not be voting for any Fine Gael candidate in the upcoming local and European elections this Friday 24th May.

The message goes on to say: “I believe that your high-profile case displays a lack of leadership as an elected official, and for this reason I will not be voting for any member of your party this coming Friday, despite doing so in recent elections.” 

foi1 Correspondence sent to Maria Bailey and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Numerous people wrote to the Taoiseach outlining that they had been lifetime Fine Gael supporters, but in light of the Maria Bailey case, would no longer be voting for the party. 

“I have been a Fine Gael voter all my life. I very much look forward to breaking this pattern tomorrow,” one person wrote. 

Similarly, another said: “I have been a Fine Gael supporter all my life and certainly you will not be receiving a vote from me at any time in the future.” 

Varadkar received another complaint from someone who said they are in their 60s and “a loyal Fine Gael supporter” their whole life. They added: 

Due to the action of Maria Bailey hopping on the claims bandwagon rather than showing some integrity, my family and I will no longer feel able to support Fine Gael.

Writing to Varadkar, another person said they were “absolutely disgusted” by Bailey’s actions. 

“If a woman of her age cannot sit on a swing unsupervised then how can she make decisions for this country,” they wrote. 

“Fine Gael losing my confidence and vote over this,” they continued. 

foi2 Correspondence sent to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Varadkar also received the following letter: 

I have been a regular Fine Gael voter for many years. However, I can no longer vote for your party in good faith. A party with TDs who are too incompetent to know how to use a swing unsupervised should not be given the responsibility to determine the laws of the land. 

Similar emails 

Despite many of the complaints being almost identical in format, Fine Gael said it had “no comment” when asked if there was any evidence of a strategic and co-ordinated plan. 

A Fine Gael source said it wouldn’t be unusual for email or letter templates to be circulated on an issue, but said there was no evidence that this is the case here.

Another party insider said they had not heard of any orchestrated attempt being made internally in the party for complaints to be sent.

One TD said they got a lot of emails giving out about the issue, and there was no suggestion that it was strategic. They believe it was people simply outraged with the whole matter. They said TDs get those sort of emails about certain issues a lot but said the level of correspondence being sent about swing-gate to their offices was substantial.

It would be “unusual for Fine Gael”, they said. They added that people, who don’t “give a shit about politics” were coming up to them to talk about the scandal.

Election impact

In relation to the recent election results, TDs have said it is “difficult to quantify” the level of damage it caused to the party in the elections, but many said that where areas with just 50 votes between getting elected or eliminated and, in those cases, the controversy could have been the difference. 

Following her interview with Sean O’Rourke, Health Minister Simon Harris said it would have been appropriate for Bailey to meet with the Taoiseach before taking to the airwaves.

He also indicated that the case caused damage to Fine Gael’s election campaign, stating:

“I think members up and down the country would have appreciated if it [the insurance claim] was going to be withdrawn that it happened before the local and European elections and not after. I think perhaps had that situation happened the situation could have been more effectively dealt with.”

In the hours that followed the interview, numerous Fine Gael members outlined their disbelief as to why Bailey thought it would be a good move to go on the radio programme.

One Fine Gael source said: “It’s possibly the worst political interview I’ve ever heard.”

The FOI documents obtained by TheJournal.ie also showed members of the public express heavy criticism on Bailey over the case. 

“To the leader of the political party of whom I am a staunch supporter and to my local TD respectively, I wish to register my utter disgust with the behaviour of FG TD Maria Bailey,” one person wrote to Varadkar, adding that the situation was “deeply embarrassing” to Fine Gael. 

foi3 Correspondence sent to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Culture Minister Josepha Madigan

Another person said they were writing to express their “extreme shock and disappointment” at Bailey’s personal injury case. They added:

The current claims culture is seen by many, myself included as one of the most serious challenges this state has ever faced with ramifications we will have to life with for decades to come.
The reality and the optics of a member of the government party involved in what can only be described as a cringe worthy and embarrassing personality injury claim is tremendously damaging to Fine Gael’s credibility and moral standing. 

Pressure mounting

In May, after meeting with Bailey, Varadkar confirmed that a Fine Gael review into the matter would be carried out “to establish all facts”.

Earlier this month, he confirmed that he had received the review and met with Bailey about its conclusions. 

However, he also confirmed that he cannot publish the report as those involved in the review spoke on condition it would not be published.

Opposition leaders have since called on the Taoiseach to make the review public.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said the Taoiseach “assuaged public concern by holding a review into Maria Bailey’s legal action”.

“He should now publish that review in order to meet genuine public concerns by explaining this incident in full,” he said.

Yesterday, the Irish Independent reported that the Fine Gael probe has cleared Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan of any wrongdoing in relation to Bailey’s claim. 

It reported that Madigan processed an application by her Bailey to the statutory body that deals with personal injury claims.

Speaking to Today with Sean O’Rourke on Thursday, Varadkar said that he intends to announce whether Bailey will be sanctioned or not next week. 

“[The] intention is next week. Maria, as you know, buried her father last weekend and he wasn’t just her father, he was a Fine Gael councillor as well, they were a political team and out of respect for him and her and the rest of her family I thought we should wait,” Varadkar said. 

When asked by O’Rourke whether she will be sanctioned, Varadkar replied: “I don’t want to announce that on the radio out of respect out to Maria and her family.”

With reporting by Christina Finn

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