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Shock among TDs over sacking of Barry Cowen

The Taoiseach announced this evening that he had sacked Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen.

Image: Leah Farrell

TDS HAVE BEEN reacting to the shock announcement this evening that Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen has been sacked as Agriculture Minister by Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

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.  

Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced this evening in the Dáil chamber that he had advised the President to terminate Cowen’s appointment as a government minister.

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

Referring to the latest development in the reporting of the drink-driving incident, he said at no time did he attempt to evade the gardaí at the checkpoint in 2016: “Had I done so, the charges brought against me would, quite correctly, have been of a different tenor to those.”

The Taoiseach consulted with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Transport Minister and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan before sacking Cowen as minister. However, it is understood the decision to remove Cowen was Micheál Martin’s call alone and neither Varadkar or Ryan looked for a head to roll. 

There was surprise among Fianna Fáil TDs and senators with many saying they only heard the news when they saw notifications come through on their phones just after 9pm. 

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien told the Tonight Show on Virgin Media that it is a “sad day for Barry and his family”, echoing Martin’s Dáil statement. The Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin Fingal also defended the Taoiseach, describing his actions as decisive.

He said he understands the Taoiseach wanted to afford Barry time to consider whether he would address the allegations, but Cowen took a view that what he has said to date is enough. 

“Micheál is a decent man,” O’Brien said but added that he “didn’t want the business of government distracted any longer”. 

The minister said he is “personally sorry for Barry” and that he holds him in high regard.

A number of other Fianna Fáil TDs said there was nothing to suggest such a decision was imminent. 

When asked did anyone have a sense this would happen tonight, one TD replied: “No one did.” Another said: “No one had a clue.”

Despite reports to the contrary, one deputy suggested that something must have happened between Leaders’ Questions today and this evening, hinting that the Greens or Fine Gael “must have held a gun” to the Taoiseach’s head.

Another Fianna Fáil TD said Martin will most likely be relieved. They suggested that the vacancy in Agriculture will result in the Taoiseach perhaps ‘righting the wrong’ in the Cabinet appointments, suggesting that Chief Whip Dara Calleary may well get the job tomorrow. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Prime Time this evening, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the Taoiseach clearly did not have confidence in the minister after speaking with him earlier in the day. 

He said it was a decision the Taoiseach had to make, adding that “presumably new information came to light” after this afternoon’s Leaders’ Questions where Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald raised concerns about Cowen.

Members of the House also asked him to answer questions in the Dáil. However, Martin told TDs that Cowen had taken the decision not to speak to the Dáil until investigations by the Data Protection Commission and GSOC had concluded.

In his brief statement tonight, Martin said that on seeing the Garda report, there were additional issues which required further explanation and clarification. 

“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,” Martin explained.

“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…

“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.”

“Clearly this is not good for the government,” Coveney told Miriam O’Callaghan on RTÉ tonight, adding: “That’s politics.”

He said the government would “pick itself up and move on”.

Labour leader Alan Kelly welcomed the “decisive decision” taken by the Taoiseach this evening.

However, he called on Martin to address what has changed “since a few hours ago” when the Taoiseach was defending Cowen “steadfastly” in the Dáil. 

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He said the Taoiseach needs to say clearly what details informed him.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy also said that nothing uttered in the Dáil this afternoon suggested that the Taoiseach was going to sack Cowen tonight.

Her colleague Roisin Shortall added that the “whole thing is a sorry mess… government is only three weeks in and there’s already a minister overboard”.

Sinn Féin’s Eoin O’Broin claimed the Taoiseach was forced into this by his party leader today, stating that Martin has serious questions to answer in the Dáil tomorrow as to what happened to make him take such a decision. 

Meanwhile, some Fine Gael TDs told TheJournal.ie that the sacking of Cowen did not come as a surprise to them, and that the Fianna Fáil TD should have disclosed all the details relating to the drink-driving ban to the Dáil last week.

“It was coming,” said one Fine Gaeler.

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