Barry Cowen sacking ‘not good news for the Government early on’ - Coveney

Darragh O’Brien defends Taoiseach’s decision as he acted ‘decisively’ to ‘draw a line’

Minister for Agriculture Barry Cowen has been sacked by Taoiseach Micheál Martin who told the Dáil that the Offaly TD would no longer serve in Cabinet arising from continuing controversy over his drink-driving conviction. Video: RTE News/Oireachtas TV

 

The sacking of Minister for Agriculture Barry Cowen on Tuesday night was “not good news for the Government this early on”, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.

He was speaking on RTÉ’s Prime Time programme, shortly after Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin made the announcement to the Dáil. The sacking two weeks after his appointment came as the Laois-Offaly TD refused refusing to make a second public statement about a drink driving ban imposed on him four years ago.

Mr Coveney said Fine Gael leader Tánaiste Leo Varadkar had not requested Mr Cowen’s resignation, but could not give a detailed account of the day’s events as he said he had only learned of the sacking shortly before going on air.

“Unfortunately we’ve seen the removal of a minister from government, that’s not good news for the Government this early on. It’s something Fine Gael obviously aren’t happy about, and it’s something that on a personal level is very difficult for Barry Cowen and his family. But we need to move on from this and I’m sure we’ll get a clear explanation from the Taoiseach as to what exactly happened and why,” he said.

“That is clearly not good for the Government, many of us in government wish it hadn’t happened, but that’s politics, and this government needs to pick itself up and move on.”

He said he was not familiar with the conversations various senior politicians in government had held on Tuesday. “All I do know is that this was a decision the Taoiseach felt he had to make following conversations with Barry Cowen today”

“Presumably new information came to light as a result of those conversations and Micheál Martin felt he had to take action this evening and we have to respect that,” he said.

However Minister for Housing and Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O’Brien defended Mr Martin’s decision, whom he said had acted “decisively” in seeking to draw a line under the controversy.

Speaking on The Tonight Show, Mr O’Brien said it was a “sad day for Barry and his family.” Mr Martin had given Mr Cowen some time on Tuesday to consider committing to answer further questions on the Garda matter, before moving to sack him.

“Barry has obviously taken a view himself that what he said to date is enough,” he said.

“The reality is the Taoiseach has acted decisively this evening, he has acted in the interest of the Government”, the Fianna Fáil TD said. “It has brought an end to any of the controversy around this particular issue,” he said.

Mr O’Brien said he was not aware if any discussions with coalition partners such as the Green Party had taken place or contributed to Mr Martin’s decision.

Minister of State for Employment Affairs Damien English confirmed a meeting had taken place between Mr Martin, Eamon Ryan and Leo Varadkar to discuss the matter on Tuesday. During the meeting Mr Martin outlined his intention to first give Mr Cowen an opportunity to provide further clarity.

Mr English said the decision to remove Mr Cowen as Minister of Agriculture was agreed by the three leaders.

“This was a decision taken by the Taoiseach, both Leo and Eamon Ryan agreed with the position that was taken on that,” he said.

Commenting on the matter Social Democrats co-leader Roisin Shortall said “the whole thing is a sorry mess,” and within a number of weeks the new Government already had “a Minister overboard.”

There was strong reaction from Sinn Féin whose leader was very critical of Mr Martin in the Dáil on Tuesday over the issue.

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin said the scandal was “much bigger than a historic offence” and went “right to the heart” of whether people could trust the coalition Government.

Mr Ó Broin said answers were need on “what happened” between Mr Martin taking questions on the matter from Mary Lou McDonald in the Dáil on Tuesday afternoon, and the decision to sack Mr Cowen later that evening. The Sinn Féin TD was critical of Fine Gael and Green Party Cabinet colleagues who initially “all rode in” behind Mr Cowen.

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said the first days of the new coalition Government had “served up chaos and disunity.” In a post on Twitter Mr Cullinane said “It’s like the dying days of the last FF Gov repeating itself!”

Green Party councillor Lorna Bogue said there was “accountability” needed in her party’s response to the controversy, which she said “clearly didn’t take this as seriously as we should have.” Party leader and Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan and deputy leader Catherine Martin had both called for Mr Cowen to answer further questions on the controversy on Monday.

There was disappointment among Fianna Fáil party members in Co Offaly.

Veteran Fianna Fáil Offaly councillor and long time Cowen family friend Eamon Dooley said this was a “devastating night for the Cowen family - for Barry, his wife, his mother, his brother Brian, but it was also a devastating night for Fianna Fáil in Offaly.”

“We never needed a Minister at Cabinet as much as now with the Just Transition. We desperately need someone to put the train back on the tracks.

“When I think of the Cowen family in Fianna Fáil I think of the word loyalty, sadly that is lacking tonight,” said the former Cathaoirleach of Offaly County Council.

Offaly Fianna Fail councillor Eddie Fitzpatrick said that the sacking of Barry Cowen was a blow to the organisation in Offaly.

“We were expecting good things from the appointment and were hoping it would work out well for him.

“I am very disappointed for Barry and his family that it has come to this. As a person involved in agriculture I was looking forward to working with Barry. This was a huge opportunity for him as a senior minister in government.

“It must be very tough on him and his family.”

Cllr Fitzpatrick said that Mr Cowen had contacted the local Fianna Fail group of councillors to let them know what had happened.