Fianna Fáil ‘bigger’ than Micheál Martin, Cowen tells party activist

Taoiseach said he was left with ‘no alternative’ but to sack minister, he tells Dáil

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

 

Sacked minister Barry Cowen has told Fianna Fáil activists that the party was bigger than him but “definitely bigger” than Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

On Wednesday, a Fianna Fáil organiser in Co Offaly posted on social media the text of a message he received from Mr Cowen just hours after he was sacked as questions lingered over a Garda record relating to a drink-driving incident.

The message, released by Ógra Fianna Fáil organiser and member of the party’s Offaly branch Eimhin Boland, read: “FF is bigger than me. It’s definitely bigger than M Martin. I have apologised for my actions. I made a stupid mistake but I did not do what they have accused me of.

“Firstly, I do think I have a right to find out how my records were released and secondly the options I have then to engage in a process to discuss such records with authorities, (DPC) [Data Protection Commissioner].

“We’ll then regroup, deal with issues in our constituency and give leadership and representation to communities. That’s what we do best. These few weeks and yesterday have been difficult but I hope we can find a pathway forward together.”

Earlier, Mr Martin told the Dáil he was left with “no alternative” but to dismiss Mr Cowen as minister for agriculture after he refused to make a statement to the House about the controversy over his drink-driving offence.

Mr Martin sacked the minister in the Dáil on Tuesday night over his refusal to address further allegations that emerged in the media at the weekend.

He said the fundamental difference between him and Mr Cowen was that Mr Cowen chose to go the “legal route” to defend his position.

“In my view the only route was the political route.”

Former minister for agriculture Barry Cowen arrives for the Dáil sitting at the Convention Centre in Dublin on Wednesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Former minister for agriculture Barry Cowen arrives for the Dáil sitting at the Convention Centre in Dublin on Wednesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The Taoiseach also rejected claims by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald that he knew the full “sorry story” over a week ago.

The Taoiseach said that “allegations and assertions and media statements are not facts” in relation to claims that Mr Cowen sought to evade a Garda checkpoint – allegations the former minister adamantly rejected.

Mr Martin said it was an issue of “grave public controversy” and that he had asked Mr Cowen to come into the Dáil to share his view and clarify issues.

He said Mr Cowen did not have access to the Pulse file and Mr Martin only saw it on Tuesday morning when he got a copy at 7.30am.

During Leaders’ Questions Mr Martin told Ms McDonald: “Please don’t be asserting that I knew what I knew yesterday morning because I didn’t.

“I was fully satisfied yesterday that he should come in before the Dáil,” he said.

Mr Cowen said he would reflect on the issue.

“As soon as Leaders’Questions was over” he said he asked Mr Cowen again about making a statement “and he still refused to go that route”.

Ms McDonald told Mr Martin: “You knew the whole sorry story from the beginning . . . you knew the full story and you failed to act.

“You chose to back somebody challenging a Garda record.”

She added: “You allowed him to give an incomplete statement to the Dáil” and it “all unravelled completely on the floor of the Dáil”.

“It was only when your lack of judgment was exposed that you acted,” she added. “You went from backing to sacking Barry Cowen.”

Ms McDonald said he had stood behind his political colleague contradicting a Garda record.

Mr Martin said he was not standing by any assertion. He said he read the file and he spoke to Mr Cowen. He said he had never “in any shape or form” attempted to undermine any Garda record.

“I drew my own conclusions,” Mr Martin said, adding that was why he felt Mr Cowen needed to make a statement to the Dáil.

Ms McDonald repeatedly asked if the Taoiseach shared information with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan on July 4th “when you learned the full story”.

Mr Ryan later said he had been informed about the matter “in a timely and fair manner”.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said citizens did not get Pulse files “so it’s really worrying what information you’ve got here” and the premise by which a Government minister got this information.

“How was that information provided?” he asked, adding if that included any detail outside raw data. “Are gardaí named?” He asked because gardaí are “deeply worried” information they put into a Pulse file will be available at some time in the future.

Mr Martin said the implication was that he could act on information provided – but he could not act. He said Mr Cowen was entitled to information about himself.

“There was information coming out about speeding fines, and he rang the gardaí to seek access to his own information given that others had it in the media. He is entitled to his own data if others have it,” Mr Martin said.

Mr Kelly asked where was the Minister for Justice on this. She was “out tweeting about greenways” but there was not a peep out of her on this, he said.