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Barry Cowen sacked as Agriculture Minister following drink-driving ban controversy

Taoiseach Micheál Martin made the announcement in the Dáil chamber this evening.

Image: Leah Farrell

Updated Jul 14th 2020, 9:38 PM

FIANNA FÁIL TD Barry Cowen has been sacked from his role as Minister for Agriculture following the controversy surrounding his drink-driving ban in 2016. 

Cowen had come under fire in recent weeks after it emerged he was issued with a three-month driving ban. 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin made the announcement in the Dáil chamber this evening and said he will take over the ministerial brief. 

“I wish to announce for the information of the Dáil that the President on my advice this evening terminated the appointment of Deputy Barry Cowen as a member of the Government,” Martin said. 

“Over the course of the last 10 days he has been the subject of criticism and condemnation for a road traffic offence that took place in 2016.

“He has been completely clear and unambiguous regarding his drink driving offence. He gave a personal statement to this house on 7 July in which he talked about the stupidity of his actions.

“He accepted what he did was absolutely wrong and he apologised to all members. I accepted that his remorse was genuine and I accepted his apology.”

Cowen took to Twitter this evening to say he is “disappointed” with the Taoiseach’s decision.

“The Taoiseach informed me this evening by phone that he was removing me from office as Minister for Agriculture. I am both surprised and disappointed with this decision,” he said. 

“Previously, I furnished the Taoiseach with all the facts about my drink driving conviction and the story that the Sunday Times proposed to publish about my alleged evasion of a Garda check point. In doing so I provided him with confidential details,” he added. 

“Unfortunately, the decision of the Taoiseach to remove me from office, when he supported me this afternoon in the Dail, has undermined and potentially prejudiced my entitlement to fair process.”

Reports in a Sunday newspaper at the weekend suggested that Cowen tried to evade gardaí during the incident, which he denied and said he would seek to correct the record. 

Earlier today, following those developments Martin confirmed he had seen the document  and that “it was not quite as it is portrayed”. 

This evening Martin said the garda report “raised additional issues”.

“When he was first confronted with the allegations, Minister Cowen was completely clear and emphatic about his drink driving offence and understood his need to acknowledge this. 

“However, he was equally clear and emphatic that one detail of the allegation he was being presented with was completely untrue. Namely that he sought to evade gardaí at the time. 

“We’ve had extensive discussions at this point, last evening and again this morning, when he shared with me the actual garda record under dispute.

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 he is not prepared to address this allegation publicly and will not make any further statement or answer any further questions on this issue in this house.”

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Martin said this raised “additional doubts” and that as a result “government colleagues are expected to address these” which he said was “simply untenable”.

He added that this issue is “damaging to the ongoing work of government”.

“The challenges facing this Government are unprecedented in scale and the Irish people deserve nothing less than our full and undivided attention.”

The Taoiseach said that a new TD will be appointed to the ministerial role tomorrow. 

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