Taoiseach says Garda document on Cowen case ‘not quite as portrayed’
SF leader says ‘unprecedented’ for a Minister to challenge Garda Pulse record
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he had a lengthy conversation last night with Barry Cowen and he saw the Garda Pulse document this morning. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said he has seen the disputed Garda Pulse document in relation to Barry Cowen’s drink-driving offence and it “is not quite as portrayed”.
He rejected claims by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald that he stood over an incomplete statement by the Minister for Agriculture about the drink-driving incident he was convicted of four years ago.
Ms McDonald said said it was unprecedented and a “very, very serious matter” for a Government Minister to “openly contradict” the Garda Pulse record and that everyone had to rely on the truthfulness and accuracy of the Pulse record.
She also told the Taoiseach that “I find it extraordinary that you would stand over an incomplete statement” from the Minister as she asked him about claims that Mr Martin had been told more than a week ago about claims that Mr Cowen attempted to evade the Garda checkpoint.
Ms McDonald said during Dáil Leaders’ Questions that “you haven’t indicated that you challenged him on the fact that his statement was incomplete” and she said it was “imperative” that the Minister come before the Dáil to make a “fuller account” and answer questions.
She was backed by Rise TD Paul Murphy and Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy who said there were also outstanding issues about Mr Cowen’s licence that had not been addressed.
Mr Cowen gave a statement to the Dáil last week in which he said he was profoundly sorry for the drink-driving offence for which he was banned from driving for three months and fined €200. He had been driving with a learner permit.
The Sinn Féin leader said that the Minister did not make reference to the Garda Pulse record that he was stopped after an attempt to evade a Garda checkpoint and she claimed that the Taoiseach stood over this incomplete account which alleged he knew about more than a week ago.
The Taoiseach told Ms McDonald “don’t be making suggestions that are untrue”.
Mr Cowen has said he did not evade or attempt to evade a garda on the night he was found to be drink-driving in September 2016 following a report in the Sunday Times newspaper.
The Minister said in a statement he is seeking to have the Garda record of the case corrected and has challenged breaches of data privacy. A Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) investigation is under way into the case.
Mr Martin stated that the Minister said he was unaware of the record until he saw the record. “For the last four years he was unaware of any suggestion that that was on the record.”
The Taoiseach also said that “I was not aware of any Pulse record”. He said he did not see the Pulse record and that a journalist gave his chief of staff information “but I can’t work on the basis of the sources of media. I can’t verify without seeing the document myself”.
“Just because a journalist says to somebody ‘I have a source here, I have a paper that says X’, I cannot work on that basis,” he said.
He said he had a lengthy conversation last night with Mr Cowen and he saw the Garda Pulse document this morning. “Having seen the document, it is not quite as portrayed,” Mr Martin said.
Mr Martin said the Minister was “very adamant” that he did not turn away from a checkpoint and “there was no issue made of it at the time and no reference to it at the time”.
The Taoiseach added that Mr Cowen is “entitled to seek a correction of the record in so far as he believes it does not accurately convey what transpired, or implications can be taken from it that may not necessarily be the case.
“He is pursuing that and he believes the entire issue has become public because of the illegal procurement of the information. He believes his rights have been transgressed and he is entitled to due process”.
Pushed by Opposition TDs for Mr Cowen to address the Dáil again on the issue, Mr Martin said the Minister did not wish to comment further until the Gsoc investigation into the incident was completed.
Ms McDonald said that was an evasion. Mr Murphy said the Gsoc investigation could take up to a year and the Minister was accountable to the Dáil and could not act as a Minister until he was accountable to the House.
Independent TD Mattie McGrath said the Opposition was “grandstanding” and it would be wrong to have further debate on the matter until the current investigation was complete.
Independent TD Peter Fitzpatrick said that following the completion of the Gsoc investigation Mr Cowen should address the House.
A vote was called challenging the Order of Business for the day’s proceedings over the decision not to have any further statement from Mr Cowen on the issue. It was defeated 29 votes to 16.