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Taoiseach accused of lacking judgement in handling of Barry Cowen controversy

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Taoiseach Micheal Martin said he is concerned about the spread of the virus . Picture Credit:Frank McGrath, 15/7/20

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said he is concerned about the spread of the virus . Picture Credit:Frank McGrath, 15/7/20

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said he is concerned about the spread of the virus . Picture Credit:Frank McGrath, 15/7/20

TAOISEACH Micheál Martin has been accused of a lack of judgement in his handling of the huge controversy over former Minister Barry Cowen's drink-driving incident.

Mr Cowen was sacked as Agriculture Minister last night after he refused to take Dáil questions on the issue and how he disputes a Garda account of what happened.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said people were left "scratching their heads" after Mr Martin moved from "fully backing your man to sacking him".

She claimed Mr Martin knew the "whole sorry story" relating to Mr Cowen "from the very beginning" and asked if he shared it with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan on July 4 "when you learned the full story".

Ms McDonald alleged Mr Martin had the full story and "failed to act", instead standing behind someone challenging a Garda record that claimed Mr Cowen sought to avoid a checkpoint.

Mr Cowen rejects this account of what happened and has sought to have the Garda record changed.

Ms McDonald claimed Mr Martin allowed Mr Cowen to give an "incomplete statement" to the Dáil and "you failed to act for a week until it all unravelled".

She claimed there are "very serious questions" about Mr Martin as head of government and that he only acted when his "lack of judgement" was exposed.

Ms McDonald argued that Mr Martin played down the Garda PULSE record yesterday afternoon and asked if he misled the Dáil.

Mr Martin said he strongly disagreed with Ms McDonald's claim about what he knew on July 3 or 4.

He said allegations and media questions "are not facts" and Mr Cowen was then and still is "adamant" on the issue of the accuracy of the Garda PULSE file.

Mr Martin said that at that stage Mr Cowen didn't have access to the file.

The Taoiseach said that he only saw it yesterday morning after being given the file by Mr Cowen.

He told Ms McDonald not to assert that he knew what he knew yesterday morning a week ago "because I didn't".

Mr Martin also said that Mr Cowen is questioning the accuracy of the report and is going through a legal challenge to get it changed.

But he said he had also wanted Mr Cowen to answer questions in the Dáil and he told Mr Cowen that yesterday morning.

He said Mr Cowen refused and Mr Martin advised him to reflect on it.

He said he told Mr Cowen yesterday afternoon that his refusal was not acceptable or tenable.

Mr Martin said Mr Cowen took a "legalistic approach" to defend his rights.

The Taoiseach said his own view was the issue could only be resolved through the political route and coming into the Dáil to provide a comprehensive statement.

The Taoiseach did answer the question on what he told Mr Varadkar and Mr Ryan about the matter.

Mr Ryan later insisted he was informed of the issue in a "timely and fair manner".

He said it has been "a terribly difficult issue for the individuals involved"

Mr Ryan also said he respects and supports the "difficult" judgement calls that Mr Martin made.

Ms McDonald accused Mr Martin of knowing that the statement made by Mr Cowen to the Dáil last week was "incomplete".

She claimed Mr Martin was "standing behind an assertion by a senior former minister, a senior member of your party contradicting a Garda record."

She said this was a serious matter adding: "I think it is unprecedented that the head of government would side with their party colleague as against the Garda record."

She again claimed Mr Martins judgement is "very much in question".

Mr Martin accused Ms McDonald of "making false assertions" and he said he's not standing by any assertion by Mr Cowen in relation to the Garda record.

He said there's a process in place and he doesn't want to prejudice it.

He insisted he never sought to undermine the Gardaí and reiterated that he had wanted Mr Cowen to make a Dáil statement.

Labour Leader Alan Kelly also claimed the episode raises questions about Mr Martin's judgement and that the Taoiseach had some awareness of the disputed account of the drink-driving incident before it was revealed publicly last weekend..

He claimed Mr Martin's approach had been "As long as politically it wasn't going to cause a huge issue for you, then Mr Cowen could stay. But if it was he couldn't."

Mr Kelly summarised this as "as long as it was secret it was fine.

"But then once it all came out it wasn't and it raises questions about your judgement."

Mr Martin said: "It now seems to be the case on the Opposition side that the assertion by a journalist... suddenly is fact and that one should act immediately on it... I can’t act on that nor should I."

He said Mr Cowen had been taken aback by certain assertions said to be in the Garda file he sought the information for himself.

Mr Martin said Mr Cowen got access to the file in the middle of last week and since sought to "correct the record". He said people are entitled to seek the correction of a record about themselves.

He said: "I wanted at all stages here to be fair to the person and that is why on Monday night I sought the report."

Online Editors