A defiant Barry Cowen has said he was “surprised and disappointed” at the decision of Micheál Martin to sack him from office after just 18 days.
Mr Martin sensationally dismissed Mr Cowen after he failed to resign when requested to do so, much to the widespread shock and anger of Fianna Fáil TDs and councillors.
The new government was left reeling last night after Mr Cowen’s departure from office was confirmed by Mr Martin the floor of the Dáil just before 9 pm.
Mr Cowen has been dogged by controversy for 10 days around his drink-driving conviction in 2016, but a suggestion that he sought to evade a garda checkpoint on the night of the incident raised the pressure on him since the weekend.
Although he denied the allegation contained in a weekend newspaper report, Mr Martin was given sight of the Garda file by Mr Cowen, but the Taoiseach said this “raised additional issues, requiring further explanation and clarification.”
“I made this view clear to him and give him space today to consider the matter further. However, he has decided that he's not prepared to address this allegation publicly, and would not make any further statement to answer any questions on this issue in this house,” the Taoiseach told a shocked Dáil.
“This decision has created a situation where legitimate doubts and additional questions were being raised and government colleagues are expected to address these. This is simply untenable. It is my view that Barry Cowen had an obligation to come before the house it's also my view that this issue is damaging to the ongoing work of government,” he said.
Mr Martin informed the Dáil that acting on his request, President Michael D Higgins “terminated the appointment of deputy Barney Cowen as a member of the government. Pursuant to Section four, one of the ministers and secretaries Amendment Act 1946”.
Mr Martin said it was “a sad day for Barry, for his family and for me.”
“The challenges facing this Government are unprecedented in scale and the Irish people require nothing less than our full and undivided attention,” he said.
The Taoiseach concluded: “It is in everyone’s interest that the Government not be distracted in any way from doing what is necessary to protect public health and our efforts to rebuild our society and our economy.”
In a series of tweets, a defiant Mr Cowen said: “Previously I furnished the Taoiseach with all the facts about my drink driving conviction and the story that the Sunday Times proposed to publish about my alleged evasion of a Garda check point.”
“One point warrants emphasis: at no time did I attempt to evade the Gardaí. Had I done so, the charges brought against me would, quite correctly, have been of a different tenor to those with which I was charged.”
“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.”
“It is important to re-emphasise that report was leaked in contravention of the protections that I and every other citizen is entitled to expect in respect of their interaction with the Gardai,” Mr Cowen said.
Mr Martin said he will take temporary charge of the Department of Agriculture and will appoint a full time successor tomorrow with Dara Calleary the most likely replacement.