Well, that’s the Maria Bailey case done and dusted.
Basically Leo Varadkar has asserted that neither Maria Bailey nor Josepha Madigan attempted to make a fraudulent insurance claim, despite the fact that evidence exists on the record that Maria Bailey had signed an affidavit claiming to be unable to run for 6 months and then ran a 10km race three weeks later.
I believe that is by definition a fraudulent claim.
The Taoiseach thinks not, and he referenced “other documents” and “medical records” as supporting evidence for his assertion.But these unfortunately cannot be produced.
So basically, it is a simple assertion by the taoiseach that Maria Bailey and Josepha Madigan have no case to answer.
Here is a key line in the taoiseach’s statement:
“The inquiry concludes that it is unlikely that a court would conclude that she deliberately sought to mislead as other legal documents talk about her running being restricted rather than not being able to run at all.”
What “other documents”?
Given that the entire case has been reduced to a statement by the taoiseach, with all documents pertaining to the inquiry unavailable to the public, is the Fine Gael internal inquiry then, a replacement for the courts, with the taoiseach then empowered to assert what is and isn’t legal, based on evidence he can refer to without having to produce?
What’s going on? Why bother having courts? Why not just ask the taoiseach what he thinks? About everything? It would be cheaper. Because that is basically what has happened here.
Similarly, Minister Madigan is also exonerated in the belief that the courts, given the evidence of documents available to the internal inquiry but not to the public, would also find that there is no case to answer.
So the internal inquiry, namely David Kennedy SC, becomes the mind of the courts; kind of like the pope becoming the mind of God.
“It is unlikely that a court would conclude…” so sayeth the oracle.
And yet elsewhere in the statement the taoiseach and his legal team go to great lengths to minimise the importance of the issue, by claiming that Maria Bailey was not a TD at the time of the alleged fraudulent claim and that Josepha Madigan was a mere backbench TD at the time and not a minister.
So is an allegedly fraudulent claim made by a minster more serious than one made by a backbench TD?
What law is this? Murphy’s law?
Josepha Madigan’s exact input into this remains “murky”, to quote Micheál Martin who, hailing from Fianna Fail, likely knows more than a thing or two about murky.
But the taoiseach has asserted that the claim wasn’t fraudulent, so that, supposedly, is the end of that. The taoiseach is the law, I guess, in the absence of a court. Is that a kind of promotion?
“Deputy Bailey was injured following a fall from a swing in a hotel in 2015. She sustained painful injuries and incurred significant medical bills as a result.
“The accident happened and the injuries were real and were confirmed by medical reports. The inquiry states that it was not a fraudulent claim.
Here the taoiseach asserts that Bailey was genuinely injured and that there are medical records to prove this.
But, here’s the problem.
By not producing these medical records and “other documents”, the taoiseach is orchestrating a deliberate face-off with the public, and with journalists in particular, who find themselves being put in a position of having to imply that a taoiseach might be a liar.
And who also find themselves cast elsewhere in the statement as persecutors of Maria Bailey, by asking questions concerning heraffidavit, as journalists are inclined to do in a healthy democracy.
“Deputy Bailey signed an affidavit (linked to a personal injury summons) that over-stated the impact of her injuries on her running.
So it wasn’t fraudulent, it was simply “over-stated”. That’s a good one. Sorry officer, I wasn’t speeding, I was simply over-stating my velocity.
The Irish Times reported that there was “fury” within Fine Gael over the taoiseach’s decision not to remove the party whip from Maria Bailey.
I don’t know. Is the “fury” a smokescreen? It would reinforce the effect of the whole matter being an internal Fine Gael squabble if some are “furious”, rather than the case being an attempt by powerful people to dodge and manipulate the law to their own advantage.
Micheál Martin picked up on other inconsistencies in the taoiseach’s statement. As well as the “murkiness” of Josepha Madigan’s role in the case, there was also the fact that while the taoiseach claimed that nothing fraudulent occurred, why then did he see the need to “punish” Maria Bailey.
The answer to that may be, since Varadkar’s main priority is protecting Fine Gael, that the punishment is for having inconvenienced Fine Gael in the local and European elections.
Otherwise, if there is no fraud there is no reason for punishment.
“There have been inconsistencies in Deputy Bailey’s account of events to me and the media that I cannot reconcile.
“It is clear to me, that Deputy Bailey made numerous errors of judgement in her handling of this matter from the outset, during and even after she’d withdrawn the case.
Okay, so there are reasons, unspecified, for imposing some form of punishment. But if some Fine Gael people are “furious” that the party whip wasn’t taken away from Deputy Bailey, which was an optional punishment to be imposed, why does the taoiseach think that a person prone to “numerous errors of judgement” and who allegedly made a fraudulent claim by affidavit, is a good candidate for guarding the party’s ethos and imposing discipline on other members?
Interestingly, the Irish Times report yesterday seemed to side-step the deeper implications of the case by tagging onto the McGill summer school Micheál Martin was speaking from, and segueing seamlessly into a speculation about the border poll, the impression given that the Irish Times might be as anxious as Fine Gael to bury the Maria Bailey story.
The rest of the paper was concerned with critiquing Boris Johnson, but not a word about the Maria Bailey story from any of the columnists.
Similarly today, July, 25 the Irish Times is focused entirely on casting aspersions on Britain and Boris. How are they turning a blind eye to this story? Where is Fintan?
A few weeks ago the Irish Times ran a story from the Guardian; “Britain is run by a self-serving clique. That’s why it’s in crisis” by Gary Younge.
But here, in the Maria Bailey case, they have a similar story of cultural elitism sitting on their doorstep and they barely touch it, despite it being as active as a lump of plutonium.
Why? Can I even ask that question? Have I just destroyed my potential journalistic future in Ireland by asking a question?
Most likely, Yes, because that’s the way Ireland works. And that’s why, I guess, the taoiseach believes that he can make the Maria Bailey story go away with a simple assertion, without having to furnish any evidence to support his assertion.
Because he is confident that no one in Ireland will push for an answer in case that, by doing so, they risk jeopardising their own opportunities for progress in a tight, back-scratching economy sewn up by a cultural elite and a self-serving clique.
The efforts to contain the scandal, also make for an interesting spectacle. With the report by David Kennedy SC not made public, and with those involved in the inquiry guaranteed anonymity because David Kennedy had no “compellability” to get people to talk, as a court would, and could only proffer a promise of “confidentiality”, the effect is a kind of protective dome over the whole case, leaving journalists with just the taoiseach’s statement to go on.
This decision to guarantee confidentiality cannot have been a surprise to Varadkar, but he implies that it was, and then suggests that he is doing the honourable thing in abiding by that guarantee.
“It is not normal practice for political parties to publish internal investigations. I considered making an exception in this case. In my meeting with David Kennedy SC he advised me that as this was not a public or statutory investigation, he has no powers of compellability and therefore sought and received the co-operation of the individuals and parties involved on the basis of confidentiality. It would be wrong of me to breach this confidence.”
Even Fine Gael’s reported “fury” seems more like an attempt to strengthen that protective dome and keep the thing as an internal Fine Gael squabble rather than a kind of political Chernobyl, which is what I think it is.
The taoiseach’s attempts to make the story vanish with an authoritarian assertion only reinforce the impression that there is one set of laws for the elite and another set for everyone else.
The taoiseach’s statement is also riddled with inconsistencies, and there are inconsistencies between both his and Maria Bailey’s statement. But these are not just puzzling mistakes.
In the taoiseach’s statement these are artful inconsistencies that seem designed, should push come to shove, to allow the taoiseach to jettison Maria Bailey if needs be, and even Josepha Madigan if it comes to it, and still come up looking fairly good.
For instance, the careful reference to Maria Bailey’s “errors of judgement” and her “inconsistencies…in her account of events…”
But a really weird inconsistency between the two statements is the one concerning the nature of the legal advice received by Maria Bailey.
This particular aspect had the potential to impact negatively on Josepha Madigan who, as is now confirmed by the taoiseach’s statement, did advise Maria Bailey in the early stages of the claim.
You will recall that she was claiming client/solicitor privilege on this. But the taoiseach, for reasons best known to himself, has decided to place her squarely in the heart of action. Or nearer the door. However you want to put it. That’s politics.
“Minister Madigan (then a backbench TD) gave initial legal advice, guidance and assisted Deputy Bailey with her Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) application….Minister Madigan did not deal with the subsequent legal proceedings. These were dealt with by another solicitor in the firm who acted on Deputy Bailey’s instructions.”
That last line is key. The solicitors acted on Deputy Bailey’s instructions. The taoiseach reiterated this on RTE Six-One news yesterday, saying that this is the usual way of doing things, that responsibility for legal actions lies with the client and not the solicitor, who simply offers guidance.
Deputy Bailey, however, in her statement claims:
“I acted on legal advice throughout the process, but ultimately decided to withdraw the proceedings in an attempt to end the extraordinary media and political pressure that arose from the publication of some details of the case.”
This inconsistency could do with clarification because it is worded such that it suggests that the solicitors advised the action against the hotel. Interestingly, the quote goes on to focus on the media as being “extraordinary” in their interest, as if the media asking questions of a now sitting TD making a fraudulent insurance claim is somehow unreasonable.
This implied unreasonableness on behalf of the media is also a feature of Varadkar’s statement, with the media cast as persecutors; and Maria Bailey, Josepha Madigan and even Fine Gael, all now cast as victims of an unfair and unreasonably inquisitive media.
In fact Varadkar uses this as the reason for not “punishing” Bailey further by removal of the whip.
“In not going further by removing the whip from Deputy Bailey, I do so conscious of the devastating effect this saga has had on Deputy Bailey and her family in particular. She has endured considerable negative publicity, public criticism and is now personally liable for significant legal and medical costs…”
And there’s those “significant” medical costs referred to again. I don’t get that. We’re not living in America. Not yet anyway, though Fine Gael have been working hard to create that kind of heartless, privatized scenario. We do have a health service. How did Maria Bailey run up such crippling medical expenses? Did she go to a Swiss private hospital or something?
Whatever the answer to that might be, the overall thrust is to beg for public sympathy. Tellingly, neither statement apologises to the public.
Both are concerned solely with the impact of the scandal on Fine Gael, with Maria Bailey apologising for the harm caused, while the taoiseach is mainly preoccupied in damage limitation to the party. This is Fine Gael’s party and they’ll cry if they want to.
Some years ago, a German journalist writing about Ireland described the country as being run by an exploitative elite. An elite whose control of the main organs of power allows it to run the country for its own benefit.
We have seen something of this in the homelessness crisis and in the manner in which landlords and hoteliers seem to be benefitting from the Fine Gael approach to revitalising the property market at the seeming expense of ordinary people, while the main media organs like the Irish Times and RTE seem to follow a similar neo-liberal line as that of the government, often coming across as apologists for government social policy.
The Maria Bailey scandal had the effect of revealing a vast compensation culture that was sending insurance costs through the roof, impacting significantly on the arts and leisure industries in particular, and whose easy pickings were, according to some reports, attracting people from Britain to avail of a bent system that was rewarding huge pay-outs for bogus claims against Irish businesses.
The questions raised by the whole affair just keep on coming.
For instance, have Fine Gael now set a precedent of supplanting the courts as adjudicators in cases of political corruption? I don’t know, I’m not qualified to say. But the concern is that those who are qualified to pose the question may not feel inclined to do so, since they too may be part of a system that serves an exploitative elite.
Is there some kind of cosy arrangement among the elite and elitist legal firms to deliberately target Irish businesses for fraudulent insurance claims?
Is the swing-gate case a one-off, or an indicator of a wider culture of false compensation claims?
Many believe it was an indicator of a wider “compo” culture, and that some legal firms were deeply involved in what can only be described as a racket. How far into government does this go?
How deeply implicated is the minister for culture in this case and in perhaps other similar cases during her time as a solicitor?
Is her promotion to a political career and subsequent high office in any way tied into all this, if an “all this” even exists?
Fine Gael’s decision to mind itself first and foremost in the aftermath of the Maria Bailey scandal, and to ignore the implications to democracy revealed by the scandal, suggest what many have suspected for a long time, that there is a moral vacuum at the core of Varadkar’s government.
And that he himself is less a public servant in a democracy and more a career politician with a cavalier disregard for the health of anyone or anything beyond his own career and the party he represents.
Ultimately it’s up to Irish people themselves to speak up and demand a better standard of political representation. Politicians are just politicians, and if they can get away with it, well, they’re not going to change.
They are politicians after all, while everyone else are just ordinary people doing their best to stay on the right side of the law in an often unjust system, whose rules are laid and manipulated by the same family of politicians.
A family of politicians who now have conducted an internal inquiry into charges of corruption among their ranks and who have issued a statement, backed by no evidence, that their internal inquiries are the equal of the courts. People should be genuinely disturbed by this turn of events.
The taoiseach appears to be availing of the integrity of the office of taoiseach to bully through his version of the Maria Bailey case, to assert that there is no case to answer, though puzzlingly, as Micheál Martin noted, there are punishments to be meted out.
In other jurisdictions a case like this would likely lead to resignations and maybe even arrests. In Ireland the traditional political response to such scandals is to try and brazen it out, and it often works.
The taoiseach’s statement yesterday is an attempt to brazen it out, and it might just work.
Because in a country this small, whose political and business culture is energized by clientelism, everyone is more or less implicated to some degree in some form of corruption; and if you tug on a string in a case like the Maria Bailey scandal, there is no telling where the unravelling might end.
Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.