The dithering minister has turned into the Terminator Taoiseach as Micheál Martin got blood on his hands. Barry Cowen's position as Agriculture Minister was "terminated" after he refused to clarify his position.
After 17 days of turmoil within the ranks of the Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin has finally asserted his authority, but it has come at an enormous cost to the credibility of his new Government.
Cowen has come under continued scrutiny for the past 11 days since it was revealed in the Irish Independent that he was banned for three months for drink-driving. But it was also causing damage to everyone else in the coalition, as ministers were continually having to stand by their man.
The Taoiseach met the Agriculture Minister on Monday night and again on Tuesday morning to discuss his state of affairs. Martin knew the issue wasn't going away and would be raised with him in the Dáil later in the day.
At yesterday's meeting at 10am, Martin was finally shown the official Garda record of Cowen's drink-driving incident from four years ago. The minister continued to strenuously deny he made any attempt to evade gardaí. He was also pursuing legal routes to have the official Garda record amended.
Nonetheless, the questions and the pressure was mounting. Cowen was given the option of going into the Dáil to clarify his position.
The Offaly TD was given time to think it through. Martin briefed Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Climate Minister Eamon Ryan at 11.30am to keep the Fine Gael and Green Party coalition partners onside. After lunch, the Dáil was a shambles for the Government. Sinn Féin leader Mary-Lou McDonald dragged Martin, along with Varadkar and Ryan, into the mess. Martin was not only defending a drink-driving minister, but also a member of his Government who was contesting the Garda record of the incident and accusing gardaí of leaking information to harm him.
What's more, Rise TD Paul Murphy forced the Coalition parties to again vote against Cowen coming into the Dáil to face questions.
The Government was caught in a dreadful position. The controversy rumbled on but the options for Cowen were narrowing.
Martin was in the Dáil through the afternoon. The fallout from the questions about Cowen were continuing to generate headlines, overshadowing any prospect of getting the spotlight on the economic recovery. Within Fine Gael, there were mutterings of unease.
Cowen was viewing the matter through a legal lens. Martin was looking at it through a political one. Cowen's legalistic statements might have been suitable for a court of law, but not for the court of public opinion. Law and politics don't mix.
Martin phoned Cowen about 6.30pm. He was presented with an ultimatum. He had to go into the Dáil and clarify matters. Cowen refused. Martin sacked him.
It was unequivocal. Barry Cowen did not resign. He was sacked by Micheál Martin, who took out Fianna Fáil royalty.
The word first emerged from Offaly at 8.30pm. WhatsApp messages among Fianna Fáil figures in the county said Cowen had been sacked as Agriculture Minister. It was a bombshell for the politician, party - and Government.
In a dramatic development, half an hour later, Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced the decision to the Dail.
The ongoing controversy was causing unease within the coalition, particularly in Fine Gael. Nonetheless, the Taoiseach had to step up to make the decision. Cowen's position became "untenable", Martin said.
The Fianna Fáil leader can often be heard talking about the importance of being accountable to the Dáil.
The Taoiseach felt Cowen had "an obligation" to come into the Dáil to answer questions. He said the issue was damaging to the ongoing work of Government. He explained how he had spent the previous 24 hours reviewing the records of Cowen's account.
"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," he said in his Dáil statement.
Cowen's failure to address the questions raised about the drink-driving incident four years ago, and related issues around his provisional licence and speeding, left the Government in a thorny position.
Martin ultimately had to make his move. However, the Coalition is enormously bruised by the affair.
The failure of Martin, along with Fine Gael and the Green Party, to address this matter more quickly does not reflect well on the administration.
The lack of judgment on Martin's part in selecting Cowen without knowing about this incident is quite alarming.
From here, Martin will replace Cowen at Cabinet. Government Chief Whip Dara Calleary is the most senior of the junior ministers. He is also the Fianna Fáil deputy leader, widely popular within the party, disappointed to have been left out of the senior Cabinet positions and comes from the west of Ireland, which has no senior Cabinet minister.
Any decision other than to promote Calleary this time would be quite astonishing.
The Taoiseach heads to his first EU summit, followed by the July stimulus package being announced.
Martin's rocky start continues and got worse last night by reaching the nadir of sacking a Cabinet minister after less than three weeks.
The Taoiseach will hope the move heralds a fresh start.
The Covid-19 pandemic, with its inherent health, economic and societal effects, means the worst is yet to come.
Ordinarily, when a political party is returned to government – particularly in the wake of a recent election which nearly decimated it – its members express joy, pride and gratitude. But, then, Fianna Fáil was never an ordinary party.