Barry Cowen profile: Brother of ex-taoiseach described as 'no nonsense'

‘No nonsense’ TD was in trouble from the moment drink-driving offence was reported

Minister for Agriculture Barry Cowen has told the Dáil he is "profoundly sorry" for a drink-driving offence in 2016. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

Barry Cowen’s period as a Cabinet minister is not the shortest in Irish political history, but it is, nevertheless, an outcome that no one would have predicted just a few weeks ago.

It is virtually unprecedented for a Minister to be dismissed just two weeks after a government is formed. The only shorter ministerial career was that of newly appointed minister for defence Jim McDaid who handed back his portfolio on the same day he was nominated by then taoiseach Charlie Haughey in 1991 over a photo of him with an IRA Maze prison escaper.

Cowen, whose brother, Brian, served as Taoiseach up to 2011, had been an influential player during the months of negotiations that led to the Programme for Government with Fine Gael and the Greens.

He is credited, or blamed, for playing a key role in ending the 2011/2016 Fine Gael/Labour government’s plans to introduce national water charges during the 2016 government formation negotiations that saw FF agree a confidence and supply deal to Fine Gael.

Described as “no nonsense” by some, Cowen was in trouble from the moment it was first reported earlier this month that he had received a three-month suspension for a drink-driving offence in 2016.

An abject apology to the Dáil settled matters temporarily, particularly as few in the Dáil were ready to demand the resignation of a politician for a four-year-old offence, for which he had already paid a penalty.

However, the controversy passed the so-called “10-day test” after the Sunday Times reported that the Garda file on his drink-driving alleged that he had tried to evade the Garda patrol.

Cowen strongly denied this and insisted that he would seek to have the Data Protection Commissioner insist that the Garda record be amended. Even then, fellow Ministers were reluctant to demand his ousting.

Instead, the Greens said it appeared that he had more questions to answer, while Fine Gael indicated that they wished to see the matter referred to the Garda Ombudsman for an investigation – which would, of course, buy time for the affair to fade.

Born in 1967, Cowen, a former member of Offaly County Council, took over the Laois/Offaly seat previously held by his brother in the election that saw Fianna Fáil receive its worst drubbing in decades.

He  worked as an auctioneer and valuer, and later, briefly, as manager of a greyhound racing course before winning a Dail seat. He served on Offaly County Council between 1991 and 2011 and was chairman of the local authority from 2000 to 2001.