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Micheál Martin: Fine Gael TD's injury lawsuit 'flies in the face of everything being done to keep insurance costs down'

Maria Bailey alleges negligence or breach of duty against the Dean Hotel over a fall from a swing at the venue.

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A NUMBER OF Fine Gael TDs have said they were unaware their party colleague – Dun Laoghaire TD Maria Bailey – was taking legal action taken against a hotel over injuries she alleges she sustained in a fall at the property.

Senator and former Minister for Justice Michael McDowell highlighted the case of Maria Bailey in the Seanad earlier this week. 

He criticised the TD for taking the case, saying “we cannot stand idly by” if the government is “serious about driving down the claims culture”.

The Irish Independent has reported details of the personal injury action before the Dublin Circuit Civil Court, in which Bailey alleges negligence or breach of duty against the Dean Hotel over a fall from a swing at the venue. 

The newspaper has also reported the hotel is disputing liability.

When asked about the case today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he would not comment on it, stating: 

“That is a case before the courts and it will be decided in the courts and I trust that the judge will hear all sides and all the evidence and will make the right decision.”

A number of TDs in the party have said they were unaware of the case until it hit the headlines in the last few days. Fine Gael would not comment on whether it was told about the case prior to it entering the public domain through media reports.

One TD said they were “hadn’t a clue”, while another said they were “livid” when they heard. 

Another party member said the case was damaging to the party in the runup to the election, explaining that insurance costs is one of most common issues raised on the doorsteps in recent weeks. 

When asked about McDowell’s claim, Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said she would not comment on any individual court case.

However, when asked if she defended Bailey’s right to take a case, she said: 

“Every individual has a right to take a case. Every. We need to balance the rights of individuals to go to court. Every single citizen in this country has the right to go to court if that’s what they want to do. Nobody. And I don’t think anyone here is suggesting that we’d want to take that away.

“What’s actually really important is that what’s government’s job is to do is balance the rights of individuals access to courts but also making sure when they go to court they’re sensible claims and that’s why Cabinet moved yesterday to agree the amendment to put to the Judicial Council Bill to set up the personal injuries commission.

“We are incredibly serious. We don’t want to stop anybody from going to court and making a claim if they feel that they have a right to do so but what we absolutely cannot have and tolerate is exorbitant claims being given to people off the back of previous records of exhorbitant claims that are putting people out of business. We can’t have that,” said Doherty.  

When asked about the case on Wednesday, Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin said:

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“This seems to fly in the face of everything we are trying to do to bring insurance costs down.”

He said the reaction to the story has been “quite extraordinary” due to it being a time when “we are desperately trying to get insurance costs down, when there has been a significant degree of inaction on the numerous reports that have emerged in terms of getting claims down”.

He highlighted that businesses have been warning about closing down due to the rising cost of insurance.

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Standing before the Seanad, McDowell said he was “struck” by an account of the case.

“I just want to say two things without commenting on the merits of the case,” he said.

It would appear that 55 years after Belfast City Council unlocked the swings on Sundays, the proposition is being put in court that there should be supervisors for swings when adults are using them and that it is a matter of civil liability if there are not.
It does occur to me that we live in a strange world where civil liability can exist in such circumstances. Who knows? Maybe we are only hearing a portion of the evidence.

The former justice minister added:

“It also occurs to me that if the government is serious about driving down the claims culture, we cannot stand idly by when adults with two objects, one in each hand, lose their seat and fall off a swing and then claim that there should have been a supervisor looking after them, especially when it comes from somebody who has so much public influence and clear influence over government policy in these matters.”

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