Barry Cowen: 'profoundly sorry' for drink-driving 'mistake'

Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen has said that the criticism he received on the back of the revelation that he was fined for drink-driving four years ago was "fully deserved".
Barry Cowen: 'profoundly sorry' for drink-driving 'mistake'

By Paul Hosford and Daniel McConnell

Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen has told the Dáil that he is "profoundly sorry" for his "stupid, stupid mistake" of drink driving in 2016.

Mr Cowen used Dáil standing orders to address the chamber on his three-month driving ban, which came to light on Friday. Mr Cowen had been driving home from the All Ireland football final in September 2016 when he was breathalysed and tested over the legal alcohol limit.

He told the Dáil that he had been driving on a provisional driving permit because his previous licence had expired. He said that he subsequently secured and now has a full, clean driver's licence, addressing the questions around how he, as a TD aged 49, would not have done so by that stage.

"There has been some speculation about how someone my age could have been driving on a learner permit or a provisional licence. The fact is that before the recent, proper reforms of the system, it was not uncommon for people of all ages to drive with either a provisional or learner permit.

"However, this was bad practice and I clearly should have regularised my position much sooner."

Mr Cowen said that the publicity around the ban had led to his other driving offences being brought to light, including a speeding fine issued just months before his drink-driving ban. He added that he had the "constant drip-feed of new information" was not "damaging and destabilising" and said that he had examined his own records for other events.

"The only additional event I have been able to identify was a failure to display a tax disc when parked in Tullamore 14 years ago for which I paid a fine."

Mr Cowen said that he hoped that these "infractions" would not be conflated with the "altogether different offence of drink-driving".

"My decision in September 2016 to drive home after consuming any alcohol was a stupid, stupid mistake. It never happened before September 18, 2016 and has never happened since. It is a mistake for which I am profoundly sorry.

"The criticism which I have attracted for such a lapse in judgement is fully deserved. I apologise to my family, the Taoiseach, the government, my constituents, and the general public.

"Now, formally, on the record of his house, I sincerely want to apologise to my peers and my colleagues. It is a source of deep regret that my actions have reflected poorly on the work of elected representatives and my party."

Mr Cowen said he would now "focus his energy" on his new role as a minister.

However, while Mr Cowen was playing the humble and penitent card, others in his corner were laying the blame for the controversy at the door of others within Fianna Fáil.

The longest-serving Fianna Fail member of Offaly County Council has said he suspects a party member revealed that Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen had been disqualified for drink-driving in 2016.

Speaking to the Offaly Express, Cllr Eamon Dooley, who was sitting on the council when Barry Cowen was first co-opted to the local authority to replace his brother Brian in 1992, said he had a “fair idea” who informed the Irish Independent about the incident.

He could not confirm that it was a senior member of the Fianna Fáil party but said it came “from someone who had a grudge against” the Offaly TD.

“I'd say he was Fianna Fail alright but I wouldn't say he was a TD. I'd say he was never an elected member of anything. That's only my opinion, for what it's worth.”

Cllr Dooley said he did not think Minister Cowen was the only person driving on a provisional licence after many years and he knew people in that position himself.

“Most people that would have two pints before a match and spend three or four hours at a match, you'd expect you'd be ok, you wouldn't expecting that you'd be [over the limit]. I wouldn't say it ever dawned on him that he was over the limit,” he said.

Prior to Mr Cowen's statement, Rise TD Paul Murphy said that without questions being put to the Laois-Offaly TD, the statement was a hollow exercise.

"The government is effectively avoiding the accountability of a minister. It's an issue of precedent for us. We can't establish a new precedent where a minister can make a statement and that's it."

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