Taoiseach sacks Barry Cowen after he refuses to resign

Offaly TD also refused to make second public statement about drink-driving ban

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

 

Minister for agriculture Barry Cowen was sacked last night by Taoiseach Micheál Martin after refusing to make a second public statement about a drink-driving ban imposed on him four years ago.

In an unprecedented development in the 10-day controversy arising from the 2016 incident, Mr Martin rose to his feet shortly before 9pm to announce he had sacked Mr Cowen.

While Mr Cowen had made an unreserved apology in the Dáil last week, new disclosures had come to light since then over the Garda report of the incident which suggested Mr Cowen might have tried to avoid a Garda checkpoint.

Mr Martin seemed to give Mr Cowen strong backing in the Dáil on Tuesday afternoon when questioned by Opposition leaders. However, less than seven hours later, he announced that he was sacking the Offaly TD from the ministry, a little over a fortnight after he was appointed to Cabinet.

Mr Martin had been shown the Garda report of the incident for the first time on Tuesday morning. He had discussed it with Mr Cowen and told him he would need to made additional public clarification. However, the minister refused to do so. Later Mr Martin asked him to resign but the Offaly TD refused.

Coalition leaders

Sometime after Leaders’ Questions, Mr Martin informed the other Coalition leaders, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, that he has asked Mr Cowen to consider his position.

Both leaders are said to have agreed with the Taoiseach’s judgment and said they would support the decision. He was sacked by Mr Martin shortly before 9pm. The Taoiseach will appoint a new senior minister on Wednesday.

In his short statement to the Dáil, he said it was his view that the Garda report “raised additional issues requiring further explanation and clarification. I made this view clear to him and gave him space today to consider the matter further.

“However, he has decided that he is not prepared to address this allegation publicly and will not make any further statement or answer any questions on the issue in this House.

“This decision has created a situation where legitimate doubts and additional questions are being raised, and Government colleagues are expected to address these. This is simply untenable.”

In what amounted to a robust defence of his position, Mr Cowen issued a statement some half an hour after his departure was announced saying he was surprised and disappointed by the decision.

Taoiseach’s decision

In a lengthy post on Twitter, Mr Cowen directly criticised the Taoiseach’s decision to sack him on Tuesday evening, only hours after publicly backing him in the Dáil.

“Ten days ago and this afternoon the Taoiseach believed my failure of 2016 didn’t warrant my removal from office but he now appears to have changed his mind based on a Pulse report I gave him this morning.

“Unfortunately, the decision of the Taoiseach to remove me from office, when he supported me this afternoon in the Dáil, has undermined and potentially prejudiced my entitlement to fair process.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the discussions Mr Cowen had on Tuesday with the Taoiseach led to his removing him from office.

“This is clearly not good for the Government. Many of us in Government wish it hadn’t happened. But that is politics and we have to move on.”

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said there were still questions to answer. “The question we need answering now is what happened in the intervening period when he went from backing his minister at 2 o’clock to sacking his minister before 9 o’clock?”

Labour leader Alan Kelly said he was glad the Taoiseach had made this “decisive decision” but he too said they needed to know what had changed since Mr Martin’s earlier comments to the Dáil and he called for Mr Martin to “come out clearly and tell us what that is, that informed his decision to take this action”.