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'The opposition didn't ask for a head on a plate': TDs react to Taoiseach's explanation for sacking Cowen

Questions of how Barry Cowen’s personal information was shared are likely to rumble on.

Barry Cowen at teh Convention Centre this afternoon.
Barry Cowen at teh Convention Centre this afternoon.
Image: Sam Boal

“MANY WERE LEFT scratching their heads as to what changed between 2pm and 9 pm yesterday. The Taoiseach moved very swiftly from fully backing his man to sacking him,” Sinn Féin Mary Lou McDonald said in the Dáil today. 

The Taoiseach told the Dáil that as soon as Leaders’ Questions was over yesterday, he contacted Barry Cowen and said his position in refusing to come before the Dáil to answer questions “was not acceptable or tenable”.

Yesterday evening the Taoiseach sacked Cowen as Agriculture Minister.

Cowen had come under fire in recent weeks after it emerged he was issued with a three-month driving ban in 2016 for being over the legal alcohol limit.  

Martin made the announcement in the Dáil chamber last night, stating that he had read the Garda report and said that it “raised additional issues” about the incident that require “further explanation and clarification”.

He added that Cowen wasn’t prepared to answer further questions publicly about the incident, which lead to Martin sacking Cowen, the brother of former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

The Offaly TD reacted to his removal as minister on Twitter: “I am both surprised and disappointed with this decision.”

“People wonder whether the Taoiseach learned something new and whether there is another twist in the tale and another piece of information,” McDonald told the Dáil today.

The Dáil was told today that Cowen refused to take the opportunity to answer questions about his drink-driving ban incident, instead choosing to wait for the completion of the two investigations that are underway by the Data Protection Commissioner and GSOC into the leaking of the Garda file.

Martin said there was no alternative, but to let him go.

However, a number of TDs expressed their consternation at the decision today.

Independent Galway TD Catherine Connolly said that while she wished the Taoiseach the best, she said Martin “handled this situation very badly”.

“In my view, his judgment has been brought into question by his handling of the matter.

“Nobody in the Opposition asked for a head on a plate. We did not ask for a Minister to be sacked. All we asked for was openness and accountability,” she said.

“We simply asked for questions to be answered. The need for accountability was the strongest messages we got from people during the election campaign. We all make mistakes and we all do something wrong.

“Nobody here can say they did not do something wrong at some time. Where members of the Government make mistake, there is an onus on them to come into the House and explain, particularly in the circumstances that pertained in this case, where there was the release of a Garda record,” said Connolly.

After today’s explanation by the Taoiseach as to why he had to sack his Agriculture Minister, a number of TDs in the Convention Centre said Martin took decisive action last night, something his has been criticised for not doing in the past. 

Many said the Taoiseach did have no choice.

By not answering questions, the issue would have been kicked down the road and would have distracted the work of government. Others said more time should perhaps have been afforded to Cowen to consider whether he wanted to choose between answering questions or losing his job.

Regardless of whether they think it was a wise move or not removing Cowen from office, the majority acknowledged it was a sad day for the Offaly TD and his family. 

The Taoiseach himself today said there is a family behind today’s headlines that people should remember.

Roscommon Independent TD Denis Naughten said he was “shocked and saddened” to hear the news last night that his neighbour had been sacked.

“This is not an easy time for Deputy Cowen or his family. It is a lonely place that he is in at this point. I have known him since he entered Dáil Éireann and I have worked with him and his brother before him. At a time when just transition is a key term across the midlands, it was reassuring to know that we had someone at the Cabinet table who knew the issues and challenges facing our communities as a result of the wind down of Bord na Móna,” said Naughten.

While some questioned the swift action of the Taoiseach, others said more questions must be answered.

Rise TD Paul Murphy said: “This absolute dumpster fire of two and a half weeks of a Government is a clear display of the culture of Fianna Fáil.” He said nothing would have happened had the Sunday Times newspaper not reported on the Cowen Garda file. 

However, the Pulse or Garda file and how Cowen’s personal information was shared is likely to be an issue that will continue to rumble on.

The Taoiseach said every citizen, not just Cowen, should be concerned about how this came about.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan told the Dail today that there are serious issues about how the garda information came into the public domain.

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Independent Marian Harkin said Cowen disputes the Pulse record “and, as a citizen, he has a right to do so”.

“However, as a Minister, he had a duty to come into the House and answer questions and he chose not to do that,” she said, expressing the viewpoint of many TDs in the House today.

Following today’s controversies taking up much of the Dáil time this afternoon, Cowen was seeing entering the Convention Centre.

He stood in the upper levels of the auditorium, looking down at the Taoiseach as he took questions on other issues. 

He was seen speaking to TDs John McGuinness and Robert Troy, among others. Most politicians seemed to echo what Harkin said in the Dáil, that on a personal level, it was a devastating blow for Cowen and his family, but there are of the view he should have addressed the issues and attempted to put them to bed.

He chose not to do so, and he’s to face the consequences,” said one Fianna Fáiler.

“Politics can be a brutal business,” they added.

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