‘It’s a disgrace’: Clara reacts to the sacking of Barry Cowen

Co Offaly town expresses disappointment at removal of local Fianna Fáil TD from Cabinet

The picturesque green in the centre of Clara has been the location for many memorable events over the years. It was where the town celebrated when Brian Cowen became taoiseach, and it also hosted the celebrations when Shane Lowry won the British Open.

On Wednesday afternoon the only people on the green were four teenage girls wearing Offaly jerseys who were dancing in the sunshine to music from a mobile phone.

Up the street, Peter Dunican's pristine butcher shop is quiet. The local butcher, who is also a farmer, expressed shock at the sacking of Barry Cowen from his post as Minister for Agriculture, amid the continued controversy after it emerged that the Fianna Fáil TD had had a drink-driving ban.

“The people of Clara are very disappointed, it is a bad blow for the area, for the region, a Minister is very badly needed.


“I couldn’t believe it when I heard. I thought it was all past. I thought having a Minister for Agriculture in the area would be good, it would complement my line of business. It’s tough out there for farmers at the moment. The Cowen family has been good to the town. It’s a sad end.”

Next door in the post office, All-Ireland referee Brian Gavin also expressed disappointment at the news, particularly in relation to the manner in which the Taoiseach handled the sacking. "We needed to hear the full evidence and the full case from the Garda report and we haven't heard that.

“It’s all a bit of a shock, we’re stunned to be honest with you. We were looking forward to seeing Barry in his new ministerial post and it’s all ended very abruptly.

“It’s like someone in power only two weeks, someone starting off and things getting out of hand a bit, you try to lay down a marker as we say. I’d say Micheál Martin tried to lay down a marker. He was probably coming under pressure from the Opposition, but I thought he moved way too quickly.

“I think there’s other, more worrying issues at the moment, with flights coming in and out of the country. Business is trying to reopen – there’s way more important issues than what has happened to Barry.”

‘Political expediency’

Across the street, close to the town's Centra outlet, Jimmy Hughes was concerned about the upset to the Cowen family.

“To be honest everyone knows him, everyone knows his family . . . they’re good people. They’ve been hard done by. To me it was political expediency – the decision last night was made so late, the way it was done, I think it was wrong.”

Outside the town's other supermarket, a Londis outlet, Roy Cronin said he could not understand how the vetting procedure that is usually held before a Ministerial appointment had not raised any concerns.

“People are very disappointed. He made a mistake, he did his time, I can’t understand it. I wouldn’t be into politics in a huge way, but it seems there’s some skullduggery somewhere. How did this get out? Who could put it out? Who is responsible?

“I just feel the man himself and his family have been castigated in a big way.

“I can’t understand how Micheál Martin didn’t know what was happening before he appointed him with the vetting procedure. We’re all vetted, I’m around young football teams, I’m vetted; in fairness I think he’s being very hard on Barry Cowen.”

However, not everyone was even aware of what had happened to the local politician. Outside a beauty salon two young women said they didn’t know what was happening, while a young man on the green said he knew nothing of politics, only what his parents told him, and he knew they were upset.

A masked Matt Guinan, who was sitting on a bench outside St Brigid's Church to the side of the green, told of how he knew and liked all of the Cowen family, going back three generations.

“It’s a pity about poor Barry, the pressure was on him, if someone does something wrong, well, they’re all down on them, and that’s it. I know all the family. They did great things for the town.”

Returning to the Centra, another local, who declined to give his name, said he did not know who had “told the truth and who had told lies. I don’t really care.”

‘Very unfair’

In Penthouse Barbers Niall Keegan was taking a break, but did tell The Irish Times that he felt the treatment of Barry Cowen was "very unfair".

“The locals are all very disappointed, they feel it is very unfair, that he wasn’t given a real chance at being a Minister. He should have been allowed more time to explain, it was four years ago, it was in the past.”

Local ladies Mairead Heffernan and Bridgie Cantwell also expressed sympathy for the Cowen family. "His appointment was very important for our area, so I'm very sorry that it [the sacking] happened. It's going to be a huge disadvantage not having someone at the Cabinet table for where we're living, for Laois-Offaly. A huge loss. The situation could have been handled better all round," said Ms Heffernan, while Ms Cantwell said it was "a big disappointment".

Eamon Fleming was annoyed at the manner in which Barry Cowen was sacked. "It was a disgrace the way he was treated by Micheál Martin.

“Micheál Martin shouldn’t have done what he did, on the phone, he should have went over, at least got the man in and talked to him, told him in person.

"It was a disgrace for Barry Cowen, for Brian Cowen and Ber Cowen – for what they did for Micheál Martin over the years."