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'It just beggars belief': Head of road safety group says questions remain over Cowen drink driving ban

The Agriculture Minister served a three-month driving ban in 2016 after being caught drink-driving.

Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen
Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

THE CHAIRPERSON OF the PARC Road Safety Group has said questions remain unanswered over Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen’s three-month drink driving ban in 2016. 

It emerged in recent days that the Agriculture Minister served a three-month driving ban after being found by gardaí to be drink-driving after attending the All-Ireland football final. 

Cowen was also driving on a provisional licence at the time. He was issued with a fine and a three-month ban but did not appear in court as the amount of alcohol in his system did not reach the level required for prosecution. 

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday evening, the Fianna Fáil TD said he was “profoundly sorry” over the incident which he said was a “source of deep regret”. 

Susan Gray – who founded PARC in 2006 after her husband Stephen died in a road traffic collision involving an unaccompanied learner driver in 2004 – told RTÉ’s Prime Time last night that the Minister was ignoring the “elephant in the room” and said Cowen has not answered any of her group’s outstanding questions. 

“Not one of them,” Gray told the programme. “We are so disappointed with him.”

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Green Party Deputy Leader Catherine Martin said this morning that while Cowen had “shown remorse” over his actions it was “a huge mistake”. 

Questions, however, have been raised as to why Cowen – who was 48 at the time of the ban – was driving on a provisional licence and whether or not he had ever driven unaccompanied. 

Martin said that this “was the one issue that wasn’t addressed” by Cowen and that he should “reach out” to road safety campaigners and explain this. 

In a phone call yesterday morning with Cowen, Gray said the Minister told her he would answer “as many [questions] he could” during his Dáil statement but that questions remain. 

“It just beggars belief that that man has ignored the huge elephant in the room here. He was driving on a learner permit for years and years. He’s admitted he drove unaccompanied, no L Plates,” said Gray.

Gray said she “just can’t believe” that her group’s questions around Cowen’s driver’s licence were not answered by the Minister. 

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Cowen has come under fire over the incident in recent days, prompting last night’s apology in the Dáil. 

“It is a source of deep regret,” Cowen told TDs. “My actions have reflected poorly on the work of elected representatives and on my part.”

Earlier yesterday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said no politician is above the law. 

Labour leader Alan Kelly also called on Cowen to tell the Dáil, prior to his apology yesterday evening, whether he had ever driven without a driving licence.

The Taoiseach, meanwhile, said: “No politician is above the law and no politician should be above the law. In respect of Mr Cowen, you will note that punishment was meted out in respect of his transgression four years ago.”

RISE TD Paul Murphy said the fact that Cowen was permitted to make a statement to the Dáil without having to take questions from opposition leaders was not right.

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