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Minister denies being source on Barry Cowen drink-driving ban report

Thomas Byrne, a Fianna Fáil TD from Meath East, addressed allegations made about him online that he gave the story to the media,

Fianna Fáil Minister of State told LMFM that he was not involved in the leaking of the story.
Fianna Fáil Minister of State told LMFM that he was not involved in the leaking of the story.

MINISTER OF STATE for European Affairs Thomas Byrne has said he was not the source of media reports about Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen’s drink-driving ban.

Today the Fianna Fáil TD from Meath East addressed allegations made about him online that claimed he gave the story to the media. He told LMFM this morning:

“I think, in relation to those particular claims, I think it is pretty clear I am not possibly the source of this particular story, I think that is very, very clear. I think we now see there is a Garda investigation, there is a civil matter in relation to this, it does not involve me.”

“I’m on good terms with Barry Cowen, I remain on good terms with Barry Cowen, I’m happy to speak for him now,” Byrne told the local radio station.

When asked did he refute the allegations made against him, he said “absolutely”. 

Byrne denied knowing anything about Cowen’s drink-driving ban until he read it in the newspapers. He said rumours about the incident appear to have been circulating for a number of years in relation to the matter, but he was not aware of it.

“My position on this, and I have been very clear on this – we live in a country of laws, we live by the rule of law – if you break the law, you get punished. And I think that’s exactly what happened Barry Cowen in this particular situation. He got punished for breaking the law,” said Byrne.

Statement

Yesterday, Cowen issued a statement addressing a Sunday Times story that claimed a Garda report allegedly records him as doing a U-turn at a Garda checkpoint in 2016. He said this is something he vehemently denies.

Cowen has been embroiled in controversy following a revelation that he was banned from driving for three months in 2016 after being over the drink-driving limit while on a provisional licence.

He has apologised for his actions in the Dáil, calling it a “terribly stupid, stupid mistake” for which he is “profoundly sorry”.

The Sunday Times story reports that Cowen disputes the accuracy of what the Sunday Times claims is a Garda report of the incident, which the paper says alleges he performed – or attempted to perform – a U-turn after approaching a Garda checkpoint where he tested over the drink-driving limit.

The author of the Sunday Times story, John Mooney, said on Twitter that they didn’t publish the information last week “due to legal threats”.

In response to the story, Cowen has released the following statement to the media:

The Sunday Times has today published an article referring to an incorrect Garda record dealing with the incident which occurred on 18 September 2016 despite the fact that my solicitors wrote to the newspaper in advance of publication.

I did not evade, or attempt to evade, a Garda. Such an act would constitute a serious criminal offence and I was not charged with such an offence. On being informed of its existence I sought a copy of this incorrect record and am taking steps under the Data Protection Act to have it corrected.

“This incorrect Garda record can only have come into the possession of the newspaper through a criminal act. It is a criminal offence for a member of An Garda Síochána to disclose any information obtained in the course of his or her duties. I am informed that An Garda Síochána has commenced a criminal investigation into the source of this leak.”

A Garda investigation has begun into whether information was leaked about Cowen’s drink-driving incident. In a statement to TheJournal.ie about the story, Gardaí said:

“An Garda Síochána is conducting a preliminary examination to ascertain if an investigation should be conducted into whether a third party had access to personal data held by the organisation in relation to an individual.”

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In an updated statement, Gardaí said: “As Minister Cowen’s statement constitutes a complaint against a member or members of An Garda Síochána, the Commissioner will be referring the matter to GSOC [the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission] for its consideration.”

The minister said today that upon legal advice, he would not be making any further comment on the matter.

Tourism Minister and deputy of the Green Party Catherine Martin was also asked about the Cowen case on Newstalk today.

She said the Agriculture Minister made a very serious mistake, but she said Cowen had recognised it and hopefully learned from it.

“There was a lot of negative and humiliating coverage last week – rightly so, and he said that himself,” she said.

“What we’ve had at the weekend are some further allegations, which he subsequently strenuously denied. In fact, I see he’s looking for Garda records relating to the case to be changed…. I’m aware as well that there’s a Garda investigation into the leaking of the information.”

“More questions have arisen over the weekend, and more clarity is needed… I think we need that clarity. I can’t really take a position until I get that clarity,” she concluded.

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