Micheal Martin's phone pinged at 7.30am last Tuesday with a message that changed everything and would ultimately force him to sack Barry Cowen as Agriculture Minister just 12 hours later.
Cowen spent much of his ill-fated 17 days as a member of the Cabinet dealing with the fallout from an incident that occurred nearly four years ago - the circumstances of which are now the subject of three separate probes by State agencies and a potential defamation action against a newspaper.
On the night of September 18, 2016, Cowen was breathalysed by gardai at Kilshanroe, near Carbury, Co Kildare, on his way home from Dublin where he had attended the All-Ireland final at Croke Park. He was found to be over the limit and was later hit with a three-month road ban, a fixed charge notice and a €200 fine.
He has repeatedly and sincerely apologised for drink-driving and has admitted he should not have been driving on a learner permit at the age of 49 - though he has not explained why this was the case.
But the Laois-Offaly TD has been infuriated by the suggestion that he sought to avoid or evade the Garda checkpoint on that now infamous night. When this allegation was first put to him over two weeks ago, he vehemently denied it and warned of legal action against any newspaper, including the Sunday Times and Sunday Independent, if they published it.
He also denied it to Micheal Martin when they first discussed the matter on July 3, just as the Irish Independent was preparing to break the initial story of his three-month road ban for drink-driving.
Cowen had no issue making a Dail statement to outline the facts of the case from his perspective on July 7 and did so, expressing profound remorse for a "stupid, stupid mistake". He did not say anything about the allegations which were then swirling in media and political circles suggesting he had avoided or evaded the checkpoint. But by this stage Cowen, believing the leaking of information to be a "criminal offence", was seeking the Garda records of the incident. He rang An Garda Siochana - it's unclear who exactly - looking for these records and later submitted a subject access request.
These requests can take weeks to fulfil but Cowen, a Cabinet minister, got a transcript of what was on the Garda Pulse system about him within days. It is not a copy of the Pulse record itself, and does not include the details of others involved.
Politically the story appeared to be dying, with neither the Opposition nor Martin's coalition partners seeking further explanation. Martin gave Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan an assurance that there would be no further surprises.
He was wrong.
The report on the front page of the Sunday Times last weekend, based partly on the legal letter Cowen's solicitors had issued to the newspaper eight days previously, changed everything. In the letter, Cowen's legal representatives referenced the allegations that he was denying. "Our client did not turn or attempt to turn his car as he approached a garda," it said.
The story was deeply problematic for Cowen and the Government and gave the controversy new life. A senior Fine Gael source texted: "There's a real unease now that it's back again. Another week of it ahead."
They weren't wrong.
Just after 9am last Sunday a statement was issued in Cowen's name to a number of journalists denying the damaging allegations and outlining his intention to pursue legal avenues to rectify matters. "I did not evade, or attempt to evade, a garda. Such an act would constitute a serious criminal offence and I was not charged with such an offence. On being informed of its existence, I sought a copy of this incorrect record and am taking steps under the Data Protection Act to have it corrected."
Cowen said it was obvious that the disclosure of information was "a flagrant breach of the criminal law and my rights under data protection law" and "a disgraceful attempt to cause me the maximum personal and political harm".
The statement came through an email address linked to Mary Cowen, who is Cowen's wife. That it did not come through the Government press office, Fianna Fail, or his ministerial or Oireachtas office was perhaps the first indication that the minister was becoming increasingly isolated.
On Monday he deflected questions on the matter as he visited the scene of a bog slide in Leitrim, telling RTE: "Under legal advice, I've been advised not to comment any further on the matter".
For someone as steeped in politics as Cowen, the decision to adopt a strictly legal defence in the face of a growing political problem seemed out of character, but also tactically flawed and ultimately what would bring about his demise as a minister. Even Cowen's allies in Fianna Fail sensed danger. "He opened up a whole new frontier on the whole thing," said one TD.
Pressure was also growing from within the Government, where Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin was making clear publicly that she had questions about the matter. Privately, she told colleagues she intended to pursue the issue - but it was not raised at the Cabinet meeting in Dublin Castle that afternoon.
The Taoiseach, however, knew it had to be addressed. After the Cabinet meeting, he instructed Cowen to bring the Garda record he had obtained and meet him at Government Buildings that evening.
Cowen showed up for a one-on-one meeting in Martin's office but without the record. Nonetheless, the pair met for an hour and 20 minutes. Cowen walked Martin through the entire incident, again denying that he had made any effort to turn away from the checkpoint. Martin was still not satisfied and Cowen gave an undertaking to send his leader a copy of the record. He did so at approximately 7.30am the following day. It was the last request from the Taoiseach that he would comply with as a member of Cabinet.
When Martin read the one-page sheet detailing the Garda version of events, that had been sent to his phone, he quickly formed the view that Cowen had to make another statement and answer questions in the Dail.
He met his embattled minister again at around 9.30am in Government Buildings and told him this, explaining it was not tenable to simply remain silent and go the legal route as it would completely undermine the Government's ability to do its job.
Cowen believed the matter would not be raised in the Dail later that day because he had gone the legal route. The Taoiseach was stunned by this assessment. Cowen acknowledged yesterday that there was a "difference of opinion" over how the matter would evolve.
In the Dail chamber at 2pm, Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald and Labour's Alan Kelly sought to draw Martin into the debacle. Under siege from the two party leaders, Martin defended his Agriculture Minister, insisting that the Garda record of the incident that he had seen was "not quite as portrayed". A Fianna Fail TD looking on said Martin appeared increasingly exasperated. "He was extremely shook," said another TD.
After dealing with other Government matters, the Taoiseach left the chamber in the late afternoon and phoned Cowen, hoping that the earlier scenes in the Dail might have changed the minister's mind.
"He [Martin] was asking him to reflect on his position and if he wasn't going to go in [to the Dail] he would put himself and the Government in an impossible position. It would just go on and on," said a source. "If you have a certain opinion about what happened, you should be able to defend it."
The ultimatum, if it hadn't already been delivered that morning, was made abundantly clear to Cowen over the phone that afternoon. But the minister was unmoved.
At that stage, at around 7.30pm, Martin felt he had no choice but to sack Cowen and set in train the formal - and rarely used - process for doing this. He made contact with President Michael D Higgins, asking him to terminate Cowen as a member of the Government under Article 28.9.4 of the Constitution.
Given the events of the day - and the very clear message from Martin that morning - Cowen could not have been shocked at the outcome, and yet in his statement afterwards he said he was "surprised and disappointed" when he received the phone call from Martin confirming the news.
He informed his supporters and the text message to Fianna Fail councillors in Offaly dropped at around 8.15pm. It was to the point: "Barry has been in contact to say that he had been sacked by Micheal Martin from his position as Minister for Agriculture."
Less than an hour later, the Taoiseach was on his feet in the Dail explaining why he had to do it, while Cowen issued a statement in which he concluded that what Martin had done had "undermined and potentially prejudiced my entitlement to fair process".
Cowen has told colleagues that he was disappointed and felt very let down, but that no one had died. There has been an outpouring of sympathy for him from Fianna Fail TDs in recent days. Some believe Martin had no choice, others privately argue the Taoiseach mishandled the matter from the outset and has created yet more enemies, not just Cowen himself but the strong party organisation in Offaly.
Cowen struck a defiant tone on his local radio station, Midlands 103, yesterday, saying he had paid "a hard price" for his drink-driving offence following his sacking from Cabinet - but said "there will be opportunities in the future".
He added: "We have our health, we get over these obstacles, we get over these setbacks, and we put things into perspective and be thankful for what we have and I had a good job before I became a minister. I still have a good job after being a minister and, who knows, I might be again."
He is carefully watching what others, namely the media, say or infer about the matter. How and who leaked the information is now the subject of three separate inquiries by An Garda Siochana, the Garda Ombudsman (GSOC) and the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC).
Gardai have formally notified the DPC of a suspected unauthorised disclosure. The DPC has written to gardai seeking further information about the so-called breach notification.
That a Government minister accused a member or members of An Garda Siochana of criminality fairly took the breath away of the force's most senior managers, an informed source said.
There was no option but to call in the Garda Ombudsman to investigate Cowen's allegation that a garda engaged in a criminal act by leaking the "incorrect" Pulse record.
Gardai are investigating, however, if the Pulse data about Cowen's drink-drive incident is actually correct.
The Garda's version of what happened after the All Ireland final is documented not only on the internal database and the Pulse system, but in a notebook used by the garda on the night in question.
According to one source, there may be a written report to the sergeant on duty that night and an audio recording if the garda involved phoned in his Pulse report to the Garda call centre, rather than typed it in himself.
One informed source said the narrative entry of the incident runs to "four or five lines" on Pulse and notes that the car "turned", at which point a garda approached the car. There is no reference to "U-turns" or "turning away" or evading the checkpoint, said the source.
As of Friday, a senior source said the garda who dealt with Cowen was standing by his account of what happened at the checkpoint.
But Cowen is also adamant. The solicitor's letter could not be clearer - it states he "did not turn or attempt to turn" his car. Cowen last week said that at no time did he "attempt to evade the gardai".
But perhaps the biggest issue for the force is whether any of its own members facilitated a devastating and blatantly political leak clearly designed to cut the legs from under a fledgling minister.
Everyone who accesses the Pulse system leaves a technological 'print' behind. And every member of An Garda Siochana who accessed Cowen's Pulse entry since it was first uploaded in 2016 is in the frame. It won't take long for the Garda Ombudsman to identify who they are, if it has not already been done. All will be contacted and will have to prove they accessed the record for legitimate reasons.
A source said most of the Pulse activity around Cowen's offence appears to have been after the Irish Independent broke the news of his drink- driving offence.
Cowen hopes the GSOC will identify the person who leaked it and that under data protection law, he will be able to correct the Garda record. Sources close to the former minister believe that he will pursue a defamation action against the Sunday Times.
Cowen, who declined to answer queries from the Sunday Independent this weekend, told his local radio station yesterday that he believed the outcomes from the various inquiries and processes his case is now going through would "ultimately paint me in a different light".
FORMER Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen has said he hopes to return to Cabinet in the future in his first public comments since being sacked by the Taoiseach this week.
Barry Cowen was sacked as a Cabinet minister in the controversy over his drink-driving ban. The saga is by no means over. Cowen is pursuing a number of legal routes and has a high-powered legal team to advance his claims.