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Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen arriving at Leinster House for government formation talks.
drink driving row

Taoiseach says he has seen Cowen's Garda drink driving file, says the document is 'not quite as portrayed'

Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan have also said that further questions need to be answered.

LAST UPDATE | 14 Jul 2020

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN told the Dáil that he has now seen the Garda file relating to the Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen’s drink driving offence and the allegation that he evaded a Garda checkpoint.

During Leaders’ Questions, the Taoiseach said he had a “lengthy” discussion with Cowen last night, and saw the Garda file this morning, with the permission of the minister.

“I saw the document this morning myself, and I’m glad I saw it, and actually, having seen the document it is not quite as portrayed,” said the Taoiseach.

He said Cowen is now seeking to correct the record.

Cowen was dragged back into the controversy over the weekend when details of what happened at a Garda checkpoint in September 2016 where he was found to be over the drink-driving limit were published in The Sunday Times.

The report claimed that the Garda report of the incident documents Cowen as attempting to do a u-turn at the checkpoint – which Cowen has vehemently denied.

The Taoiseach was responding to questions raised by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald today.

“We now have an unprecedented situation where a government minister is disputing the Garda record of a drink-driving offence,” she said.

Martin said Cowen “adamantly and strongly denies any suggestion or implication that he sought to evade any checkpoint. That was his position and still is”.

Cowen is “very concerned” that his personal data has found its way to others, and he feels that’s a very serious issue, said Martin.

“That is an issue… and one we can’t ignore,” said Martin.

Cowen made it clear to Martin that he wants to pursue the matter under the Data Protection Commission, as well as GSOC, with the Taoiseach stating that he is entitled to seek a correction of that record insofar as he believes it is incorrect.

The Agriculture Minister told the Taoiseach he feels the entire issue has become public through the illegal procurement of the information, and he wants to pursue that matter.

McDonald said she finds it extraordinary that Martin would stand over the minister, stating he hasn’t addressed the allegations.

Following the most recent Sunday Times story, Cowen released a statement strongly refuting this version of events.

“I did not evade, or attempt to evade, a Garda,” the statement read. “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.”

Gardaí confirmed that an initial internal investigation is underway to determine if the details of the report were leaked, and said that the issue would also be referred to the Garda Ombudsman for investigation.

Cowen’s statement continued:

It is obvious that the disclosure of this information at this time, in flagrant breach of the criminal law and my rights under data protection law, is a disgraceful attempt to cause me the maximum personal and political harm.

Fine Gael, Greens and Sinn Féin call for Cowen to answer questions

McDonald said on RTÉ today that she agreed with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Transport Minister Eamon Ryan that questions need to be answered so we need to know “why a Garda account differs so starkly with what [Cowen] says”.

“He was on the scene at the time in question, so we’d have to assume he knows precisely what happened,” McDonald said.

Speaking on Morning Ireland earlier, Tánaiste and Enterprise Minister Leo Varadkar said that he agreed with Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan that questions had to be answered. 

We know that Minister Cowen commited a road traffic office four years ago, he’s apologised for that, he paid the price for it, which was a three month driving ban… So he’s been punished for that mistake, and I don’t believe anyone should be punished twice for that mistake.

“But a different issue has arisen now since then,” he said, referring to the disputed accounts of what happened at the Garda checkpoint. “At least until that investigation is done, there probably isn’t any more to say about it.”

“Really we need to see the outcome of the investigation,” Varadkar said, adding that he sought an assurance from Taoiseach Micheal Martin at the time that there would be no more revelations, before this latest development was revealed on Sunday.

“But it is denied by the Minister for Agriculture, and he has made a complaint to the Gardaí,” he stressed.

A number of TDs called for a change to today’s Order of Business, with Rise TD Paul Murphy calling for Cowen to answer questions in the Dáil and to be “accountable to the Dáil”. 

Independent TDs Peter Fitzpatrick and Mattie McGrath agreed that Cowen should answer questions after the GSOC investigation is concluded, with McGrath stating that it is a “very serious” issue that the information appeared to be leaked from the PULSE system.

The Taoiseach said Cowen was of the view that he would wait until all investigations are concluded. The proposed change to Dáil business was voted down.

With reporting by Christina Finn