Minister wants record corrected; accuses gardaí of ‘criminal offence’
A complaint from embattled Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen about the record of his drink-driving charge has been referred to the Garda Ombudsman.
Gardaí confirmed they have elevated the complaint amid calls for Mr Cowen to bring forward the other witness to clear up confusion about his drink-driving charge.
The complaint comes after a Sunday Times article which alleges the Garda record of the incident in 2016 states that Mr Cowen “was pursued by gardaí after doing a U-turn as he approached a checkpoint”.
The Laois-Offaly TD was found to be over the limit while driving himself and a friend home from the All- Ireland football final on September 18. He was banned from driving for three months and received a €200 fine.
Mr Cowen claims he had two pints before the match and a meal afterwards, and labelled the incident a “mistake” for which he is profoundly sorry.
Mr Cowen released a statement yesterday accusing the gardaí of a “criminal offence” for disclosing details of the record. He has also denied trying to evade a Garda checkpoint and claims the Garda record was “incorrect”.
The matter has now been referred to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) by Garda commissioner Drew Harris, with a formal letter expected to be sent today (Monday).
Leaking personal information is an offence under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, punishable by up to five years in prison.
“I did not evade, or attempt to evade, a garda,” read Mr Cowen’s statement.
“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.”
Mr Cowen’s statement said gardaí have commenced a criminal investigation into the source of the leak. However, a Garda spokesman said they are holding a “preliminary examination to ascertain whether an investigation should be held into whether a third party had access to information related to an individual.
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 for its consideration.
Mr Cowen claims disclosure of this information is a “flagrant breach of the criminal law” and an “attempt to cause me the maximum personal and political harm”.
He added: “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.”
Mr Cowen was on a provisional licence at the time of the incident and has stated that he was not driving unaccompanied.
Rise TD Paul Murphy has now called on Mr Cowen to bring forward the witness to the incident to clear up the confusion.
He said Mr Cowen should be called to answer questions in the Dáil about the issue.
“So far, we have two contradictory stories,” said Mr Murphy.
“The Garda report says that Barry Cowen did a U-turn upon coming upon the Garda checkpoint. The minister vociferously denies that and has threatened legal action against the paper which reported about it.
“There was a third party present, however, the person who Barry Cowen was dropping home. If possible, they should come forward with their recollection about what took place. Cowen should also appear before the Dáil to answer questions about it.”
Mr Cowen did not respond to the Irish Examiner’s requests to disclose who the other passenger was and if this person is willing to attest to Mr Cowen’s version of events.