Fianna Fáil backbenchers view Barry Cowen sacking as ‘inevitable’

New Government ‘could not have had a worse first few weeks’, says FF deputy

 Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Dáil on Wednesday he was left with ‘no alternative’ but to dismiss  minister for agriculture Barry Cowen after he refused to make a statement to the House about the ongoing controversy. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Dáil on Wednesday he was left with ‘no alternative’ but to dismiss minister for agriculture Barry Cowen after he refused to make a statement to the House about the ongoing controversy. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The decision to sack minister for agriculture Barry Cowen was a depressing but “inevitable” one, Fianna Fáil backbenchers have said.

The new Government “could not have had a worse first few weeks”, one party deputy said, adding Taoiseach Micheál Martin had needed to end the controversy over Mr Cowen’s past drink-driving conviction.

Privately, most TDs and Senators said while there was a “huge level of sympathy” for Mr Cowen, the saga had begun to totally distract from the business of the Government at a crucial time for the country.

Mr Martin told the Dáil on Wednesday he was left with “no alternative” but to dismiss Mr Cowen after he refused to make a statement to the House about the ongoing controversy.

Harshly treated

This followed repeated calls from Opposition politicians and the Green Party leadership for Mr Cowen to respond to suggestions he had initially attempted to evade Garda, according to the force’s report of the incident.

In previous years, the same story might have been left to peter out during the usually quiet July period, but not during a global pandemic. “The fact is it just wasn’t going away,” one Fianna Fáil Senator said.

Mr Cowen “might find he was harshly treated, and he may have a [legal] case that will be thrashed out elsewhere”, he said.

Michael Moynihan TD, who fell out with Mr Martin after he was overlooked for a junior ministry, said he felt “huge sadness” for Mr Cowen.

“There has been a sense of emptiness over the last few weeks” within the party, and the Government had not got off to a great start, he said.

Minister of State for Skills and Further Education Niall Collins summed up the situation bluntly as “not great”.

Many Fianna Fáil TDs thought the issue might have been “put to bed for a while” after Mr Martin defended Mr Cowen during Leaders’ Questions on Tuesday, only to be taken by surprise later that evening, one said.

The saga had become a major distraction during a “serious time” for the country, with the July stimulus plan to boost the economy to be unveiled shortly, the TD said.

Disgruntlement

It was untenable that the “only questions” Ministers were being asked related to the Cowen controversy, another Senator said.

While most backbenchers played down any suggestion Mr Cowen had been harshly treated, Mr Martin’s handling of the matter “will be put in the pocket” by some who may hold it against him later, one party source said.

There was “a lot of solidarity for Barry”, but Mr Martin had to set down a “benchmark for the new Government”, one first-time Fianna Fáil TD said. However, the general feeling was that the new Coalition “could not have had a worse first few weeks”, he said.

Despite some disgruntlement in the ranks towards Mr Martin, there was “no point having a coup and no idea of who would replace him as leader”, he said.

There was also resentment over details of the Garda record leaking to the media. The data breach was a “serious matter”, and if confidential details of a journalist or civil society campaigner were leaked into the public domain by gardaí “there would be uproar”, one Fianna Fáil Senator said.