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Barry Cowen sacked as minister in wake of drink-driving controversy

  • Taoiseach said Cowen was asked to resign because he was not willing to address the Dáil again on the ban

  • Mr Cowen 'surprised and disappointed' to be informed by Taoiseach over the phone of his sacking

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Barry Cowen

Barry Cowen

Barry Cowen

Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen has been sacked by Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

Mr Martin has announced the decision in the wake of ongoing controversy over his drink-driving ban.

In a statement in the Dáil, Mr Martin said Mr Cowen was asked to resign because he was not willing to address the Dáil again on the ban.

Mr Martin said the issue is damaging to the ongoing work of government and he will announce a replacement tomorrow.

He said it is in everyone's interest that the government is not distracted from the work they need to do in the coming weeks.

Mr Martin said he had “extensive discussions” with Mr Cowen about claims he sought to evade gardai which the Offaly TD insisted were “completely untrue”.

He said on Tuesday morning, Mr Cowen showed him the dispute garda record which he procured through data protection legislation.

“Following these discussions and having seen the Garda report this morning, it was my view that it raised additional issues requiring further explanation and clarification. I made this view clear to him and gave him space today to consider the matter further,” Mr Martin said.

However, Mr Cowen told the Taoiseach he was not willing to address the allegation publicly and refused to make a further statement in the Dáil

“This decision has created a situation where legitimate doubts and additional questions are being raised, and Government colleagues are expected to address these. This is simply untenable,” Mr Martin said.

“It is my view that Minister Cowen had an obligation to come before the House. It is also my view that this issue is damaging to the ongoing work of Government,” he added.

The Taoiseach said he is conscious that there are “important and legitimate legal processes underway”, and that Mr Cowen is questioning the accuracy of the Garda record and seeking to establish how his personal information became public.

“I have sought to respect these processes and I would ask that colleagues do the same. This decision I have made is without prejudice to those proceedings.

“The challenges facing this Government are unprecedented in scale and the Irish people require nothing less than our full and undivided attention.

“It is in everyone’s interest that the Government not be distracted in any way from doing what is necessary to protect public health and our efforts to rebuild our society and our economy,” he added.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Mr Cowen said he was "surprised and disappointed" to be informed by the Taoiseach over the phone of his sacking.

He claimed Mr Martin's decision to remove him from office - having backed him in the Dáil earlier on Tuesday - has "undermined and potentially prejudiced" his entitlement to a fair process.

His statement said: "The Taoiseach informed me this evening by phone that he was removing me from office as Minister for Agriculture.

"I am both surprised and disappointed with this decision. Previously I furnished the Taoiseach with all the facts about my drink driving conviction and the story that the Sunday Times proposed to publish about my alleged evasion of a Garda check point.

"In doing so I provided him with confidential details about my interaction with An Garda Siochana. I have made my position on these matters known publicly and I have acknowledged my wrong doing for something that occurred 4 years ago.

"I have sought an explanation - not as a government minister but as a citizen - as to how details relating to the incident were leaked to the media. The authorities have agreed to investigate the matter.

"One point warrants emphasis: at no time did I attempt to evade the gardaí. Had I done so, the charges brought against me would, quite correctly, have been of a different tenor to those with which I was charged.

"I am responsible for the offence with which I was convicted 4 years ago not for an inaccurate Garda entry on Pulse about that event. Ten days ago and this afternoon the Taoiseach believed my failure of 2016 didn’t warrant my removal from office but he now appears to have changed his mind based on a Pulse report I gave him this morning. "It is important to re-emphasise that report was leaked in contravention of the protections that I and every other citizen is entitled to expect in respect of their interaction with the gardaí.

"Unfortunately the decision of the Taoiseach to remove me from office, when he supported me this afternoon in the Dail, has undermined and potentially prejudiced my entitlement to fair process."

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney told RTÉ's Prime Time that the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar did not demand Barry Cowen's removal from Government. He said the sacking was "something that Fine Gael obviously are not happy about" and that it is "clearly not good for the Government".

Mr Coveney said: "I literally got a call as I was coming into the studio, he [Mr Varadkar] told me had spoken to Micheál Martin and that Micheál Martin had made the decision to remove Barry Cowen as a Minister from Government."

Mr Coveney said there was "clearly some change in terms of the Taoiseach's knowledge of this case and what happened" and that it was a decision the Taoiseach "clearly felt he had to make".

The Minister said he did not know the circumstances which led to Mr Cowen's removal.

He added: "It's not good news for the government this early on, it's something that Fine Gael obviously are not happy about."

Speaking on The Tonight Show on Virgin Media, Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien claimed the sacking of Mr Cowen had "brought an end" to the controversy, describing it as a "continued distraction" for the Government in recent days.

"The reality of it is that the Taoiseach has acted decisively in the interests of the Government," the Fianna Fáil Cabinet Minister said.

He said he was "personally sorry" for Mr Cowen.

The Taoiseach's statement in full:

"I wish to announce for the information of the Dáil that the President, on my advice, this evening terminated the appointment of Deputy Barry Cowen as a member of the Government. Pursuant to Section 4(1) of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1946, I have assigned the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to myself.

"I intend to make a proposal of a new member of the Government tomorrow.

"This is a sad day for Barry, his family, and for me. Over the course of the last ten days, he has been the subject of significant criticism and condemnation for a Road Traffic Offence that took place in 2016.

"He has been completely clear and unambiguous regarding his drink driving offence. He gave a personal statement to this House on July 7th, in which he talked about the stupidity of his actions, he accepted what he did was absolutely wrong, and he apologised to all members.

"I accepted that his remorse was genuine and I accepted his apology.

"When he was first confronted with the allegations, Minister Cowen was immediately clear and emphatic about his drink driving offence and understood the need to acknowledge this. However, he was equally clear and emphatic that one detail of the allegation he was being presented with was completely untrue. Namely that he sought to evade Gardaí at the time.

"We have had extensive discussions on this point last evening and again this morning, when he shared with me for the first time the actual Garda record under dispute.

"Following these discussions and having seen the Garda report this morning, it was my view that it raised additional issues requiring further explanation and clarification. I made this view clear to him and gave him space today to consider the matter further.

"However, he has decided that he is not prepared to address this allegation publicly and will not make any further statement or answer any questions on the issue in this House.

"This decision has created a situation where legitimate doubts and additional questions are being raised, and Government colleagues are expected to address these. This is simply untenable.

"It is my view that Minister Cowen had an obligation to come before the House. It is also my view that this issue is damaging to the ongoing work of Government.

"Throughout this, I am conscious that there are important and legitimate legal processes underway, where Deputy Cowen is questioning the accuracy of the Garda record and seeking to establish how his personal information became public. I have sought to respect these processes and I would ask that colleagues do the same. This decision I have made is without prejudice to those proceedings.

"The challenges facing this Government are unprecedented in scale and the Irish people require nothing less than our full and undivided attention.

"It is in everyone’s interest that the Government not be distracted in any way from doing what is necessary to protect public health and our efforts to rebuild our society and our economy."

Online Editors