Dramatic scenes as Taoiseach sacks Barry Cowen

Former Agriculture Minister refused to present himself for questions before the Dáil
Dramatic scenes as Taoiseach sacks Barry Cowen
Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

There were dramatic scenes in Leinster House on Tuesday night as Micheál Martin announced he had sacked Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen.

The Laois-Offaly TD had been asked by the Taoiseach to present himself for questions before the Dáil about the circumstances of his drink-driving charge in 2016 and refused to do so.

Fianna Fáil sources say that Mr Martin asked Mr Cowen to resign if he was not prepared to fully explain to fellow TDs what had happened, which Mr Cowen refused to do, forcing the Fianna Fáil leader to sack Mr Cowen from his ministerial role.

The Taoiseach confirmed earlier in the day he had seen the official Garda record of the incident, which Mr Cowen is seeking to have changed, and said it "raised additional issues".

The embattled Agriculture Minister disputes the Pulse record of the incident in 2016 which states he attempted a U-turn and to drive away upon seeing the Garda checkpoint.

The Taoiseach entered the Dáil around 9pm announcing that he had contacted the President to ask him to drop the minister from his portfolio.

"This is a very sad day for Barry, his family and for me," the Taoiseach said.

"He has been a very committed public representative, very diligent and very dedicated.

"Over the course of the last ten days, he has been the subject of significant criticism and condemnation for a road traffic offence in 2016.

"He has been completely clear and unambiguous regarding his drink driving offence, he gave a personal statement to this house in which he talked about the stupidity of his actions, he accepted what he did was absolutely wrong and apologised to all members. I accepted that his remorse was genuine and accepted his apology.

"When first confronted with the allegations Minister Cowen was immediately clear and emphatic about his drink driving offence and understood the need to acknowledge this, however, he was equally clear and emphatic that one detail of the allegation he was presented with was completely untrue; That he sought to evade gardai at the time.

"Having seen the garda report this morning, it was my view it raised additional issues that required further explanation and clarification. I made this clear to him and gave him space to consider the matter further.

"However he has decided that he is not prepared to address this allegation publicly, and would not make any further statement or answer any questions on the issue to this house.

"This decision has created a situation where legitimate doubts and additional questions are being raised and government colleagues are expected to address these, this is simply untenable

"It is my view Minister Cowen had an obligation to come before the house and this issue is damaging to the ongoing work of government."

Barry Cowen took to social media to inform the public that the Taoiseach had removed him from his role by phone.

"I am both surprised and disappointed with this decision," he tweeted.

"Ten days ago and this afternoon the Taoiseach believed my failure of 2016 didn’t warrant my removal from office but he now appears to have changed his mind based on a Pulse report I gave him this morning.

"Unfortunately the decision of the Taoiseach to remove me from office, when he supported me this afternoon in the Dail, has undermined and potentially prejudiced my entitlement to fair process."

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