Barry Cowen says drink-driving after All-Ireland was ‘terribly stupid mistake’

Fianna Fáil Minister says he was on provisional driving licence at the time

Barry Cowen on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics programme on Sunday. Photograph: RTÉ screen shot

Newly appointed Minister for Agriculture and Marine Barry Cowen has described drink-driving home from the All-Ireland four years ago as a "terribly stupid mistake".

Mr Cowen has confirmed he was on a provisional driving licence at the time but that it has since been regularised to a full licence.

It was revealed earlier this week that Mr Cowen served a three-month disqualification from driving after he was found to be driving under the influence of alcohol in September 2016.

The Fianna Fáil TD was stopped at a checkpoint and breathalysed on his way home to Offaly from Dublin after the All-Ireland football final.


He was found to be over the limit and was issued with a fixed-charge penalty notice, a €200 fine, and was disqualified from driving for three months.

“The fact of the matter is it was a terribly, stupid, stupid mistake on my part. It’s something that I’m very regretful for,” Mr Cowen told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics on Sunday.

“This publicity associated with it now is part of the punishment which is only right and proper.

"I’m in public life, I have to accept responsibility for my actions. It was a serious lack of and lapse of judgement.

Mr Cowen said that, while he wasn’t driving unaccompanied on that occasion, he had done so previously while on the provisional driving licence.

The Laois-Offaly TD said he was “humiliated” and “embarrassed” by the incident but had to “accept the punishment that has been given”.

Mr Cowen said in hindsight he “maybe” should have told Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin at the time, about the disqualification.

“I wasn’t trying to keep it a secret, I was trying to get on with my job,” he added. “I acknowledged and appreciated the severity of what had happened. I in no way tried to remove myself from the implications and I took the medicine that was dished at the time.”

Mr Cowen said apart from speeding and parking fines there has been “nothing at all of this nature”.

Mr Martin said on Saturday he was “disappointed” that he only learned on Friday afternoon of the driving ban served by Mr Cowen.

Rise TD Paul Murphy said he found it "a bit bizarre" that "someone who was almost 50 and presumably drove most days of his life, didn't have a full driving licence".

Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster said she didn't understand why Mr Cowen hadn't conveyed the incident to his party leader.

“It gives a sense of a fundamental communication breakdown between Minister Cowen and his party leader, the Taoiseach as he is now,” she said.

Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore said it would be "a really good idea" for Mr Cowen to make a statement in the Dáil on the issue. Mr Cowen said he had "no problem" in making a statement.

The law on drink-driving for learner drivers four years ago meant a concentration 10mg-35mg of alcohol per 100ml of breath was considered over the limit.

Mr Cowen’s case did not go to court as the level of alcohol in his system was on the lower scale and did not reach the level required for prosecution.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times