Analysis & Comment

Ciara Kelly: 'Swing case politician can't blame anyone else for a choice she made'

The backlash against the backlash against Maria Bailey has started. Certain commentators suggest the level of criticism levelled against the Fine Gael TD (who is subject to investigation by her party) over her now withdrawn claim against The Dean hotel was unwarranted and amounted to bullying.

“No one should have to put up with this level of vitriol! This is a distraction from real politics,” they say. “If you want to lambast the Government party on something, make it homelessness or healthcare. Don’t go all holier-than-thou on a woman for taking a possibly ‘ill-judged’ legal action before she was even a TD. This is a relatively minor issue. Move along, nothing to see here.”

But I’ll tell you why they’re wrong.

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Unquestionably, we have a compo culture in this country. People who have sustained an injury outside the four walls of their own home immediately wonder who is to blame for what has befallen them and how much money they might get for it.

So within our homes ‘accidents’ happen – but outside of our home, it’s ‘negligence’.

Yes, I’ve seen the stats that say that three-quarters of us do not sue when we are injured – but a quarter of us do and it’s enough to cause huge rises in insurance premiums for businesses and events around the country.

Wholly separate to the Maria Bailey case, there has always been a tolerance for a cute hoor mentality here. We quite like the idea of sticking one to the man.

But when are we going to realise in the case of insurance claims that we are the man. And not everyone deserves money just because they got hurt.

Isme has said that the Irish legal system has “a bonkers concept of what constitutes negligence and duty of care”. And they’re right. Our courts seem willing to find negligence if you can make even a ridiculously laughable claim regarding what a premises should be responsible for.

Or how else do you explain Maria Bailey’s legal team attempting to argue that The Dean hotel should have had adult supervision and written instructions beside the swing she fell off?

If that had been allowed to stand, we may as well close down every playground in the country right now. None of them will be allowed to operate – they’re simply too dangerous.

And that is the nub of the problem. It isn’t only insurance premiums that are affected. The viability of businesses and events such as play centres and festivals are under threat.

Rulings or indeed settlements that concede ‘negligence’ when a child, happily sliding down a slide, sprains their wrist mean slides may be closed for all. And whose interest is that in?

Serving the needs of the few who have sustained a minor injury at the cost of the many who will pay for it – or worse, miss out on being able to do almost perfectly safe things because they are legally hazardous – is bad for our society as a whole.

Yes, there are other issues here, too. The insurance industry needs to become more transparent about its fees. It often settles claims too quickly. And legal fees in the country are a barrier to all but the rich or the poor having access to justice in our courts.

But all of these things are creating a situation where a minor injury on a business premises is seen as a source of easy money to many. This is a gravy train doctors, lawyers, claimants and, yes, insurance companies are all on. The only ones losing out are the fools paying the premiums, businesses that can no longer stay open and customers who can no longer frequent them.

Maria Bailey fell off a swing. She hurt herself when she fell. Those things are not in dispute. But that a grown adult should need supervision or written instructions to use one most certainly is.

Furthermore, Deputy Bailey’s claim patently exaggerated her situation. In her court papers – which, she suggested to Sean O’Rourke on radio last week, were a kind of movable feast open to amendments until the last minute – she said she was an avid runner who was unable to run for three months after she fell.

This was simply not the case. She ran 10k in under an hour, within weeks of that fall, though she told O’Rourke that it was not a good time ‘for her’.

Bailey also refused to confirm or deny whether she was holding drinks bottles in both her hands – as has been suggested – at the time she was on the swing.

When she was asked about that, she said that was a matter for the judge. No, Maria. Legal issues are a matter for the judge. What you were holding in your hands is simply a matter of fact.

We possibly would not even know about this case had The Dean hotel not decided to fight it. The Dean could perhaps afford to do so. Many small businesses cannot. So they accept their insurance company settling claims and suck up the costs in their premiums rather than incurring the exorbitant legal costs that fighting claims – even ones they themselves believe are spurious – might lead to.

Deputy Bailey did not only want to blame The Dean for her fall that night. In her follow-up interview, she wanted to blame the media, political opponents, keyboard warriors and misogynists for the plight she found herself in over the past two weeks.

Personal responsibility should not become an outmoded idea. There isn’t always someone to blame other than yourself when things go wrong. We should not lose sight of that. And neither should she.

People have said that Maria Bailey made a mistake. But mistake implies doing something inadvertently. Maria Bailey did not make a mistake in any of her actions – she made a choice.

They say we get the politicians we deserve – and we deserve better than this.


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