Calleary in but Cowen issue lingers 

Martin grilled over drink-driving controversy and what he knew
Calleary in but Cowen issue lingers 

During a mini-reshuffle of ministers, Dara Calleary was elevated to the Cabinet table as the new Agriculture Minister. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The drink-driving saga that triggered the sacking of Barry Cowen from government has continued to plague the coalition, despite the appointment of Dara Calleary as the new Agriculture Minister.

During a mini-reshuffle of ministers, Mr Calleary was elevated to the Cabinet table as the new Agriculture Minister.

He replaces Cowen, who was sacked after refusing a request by Taoiseach Micheál Martin to face questions in the Dáil on his drink-driving record. 

The fall-out has seen questions raised about what Mr Martin knew about the incident.

But the Fianna Fáil leader told the Dáil that he was nominating Dara Calleary, the government chief whip, to the position of Agriculture Minister.

Mr Calleary had originally expressed disappointment when overlooked for a senior Cabinet role last month when the three-party coalition was formed.

The Mayo TD's appointment will also put to rest questions over why there was a lack of representation for the West of Ireland at Cabinet.

Mr Martin also announced the role of Chief Whip would be filled by Dublin-West TD Jack Chambers, who moves up from the role of junior finance minister.

Laois-Offaly TD Sean Fleming will in turn fill that role, coming from the backbenches.

Praising Mr Calleary, Mr Martin said he would be a very “effective minister” overseeing CAP payments and supports for farmers.

But Mr Martin still faced a grilling over Barry Cowen's drink-driving controversy and claims he tried to avoid gardaí when stopped in September 2016.

The Taoiseach said he sacked Mr Cowen from government because of his refusal to address the Dáil over the incident.

Mr Martin insisted he did not last week have access to the garda details about claims Mr Cowen tried to avoid gardaí when he was drink-driving, a charge the former Agriculture Minister denies. 

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald asked Mr Martin if he had misled the Dáil over his knowledge about the incident. 

But the Fianna Fáil leader “strongly” disagreed with her claim he was fully aware of the details of the garda file or claims about evading gardai last week. 

He said he didn't see the garda details until Tuesday morning, that it was a Pulse file and had been with Mr Cowen's solicitor when the two spoke on Monday night.

Mr Martin said he tried to ask Mr Cowen to answer questions in the Dáil but that the Laois-Offaly TD refused.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Dara Calleary would be a very "effective minister". Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Dara Calleary would be a very "effective minister". Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

He said the former minister “took a legalistic approach to defend his rights” but that the issue could “only be resolved through the political route”. 

“If you are a minister, an officeholder, you should come before the house [Dáil],” added Mr Martin.

But when Mr Cowen refused to come into the Dáil and answer questions, Mr Martin said he had no choice but to sack him.

“In the afternoon, when he still refused, I was left with no alternative.”

Mr Martin said the garda file related to two issues, the drink-driving incident and a speeding fine.

But he said that “allegations and assertions and media statements are not facts” in relation to claims that Mr Cowen sought to evade a Garda checkpoint

But despite the answers, opposition TDs continued to press Mr Martin on what had changed yesterday since he defended Mr Cowen during Leaders Questions at 2pm on Tuesday and then came into the Dáil at 9pm and announced he had fired the minister.

Mr Martin also said he had kept the other two coalition leaders, Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan, fully informed in recent days about the issue. 

But he refused to say what they were told and when since the controversy erupted.

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