Thomas Byrne denies being source of Barry Cowen drink driving story
Minister of State says he is ‘on good terms’ with his Offaly Fianna Fáil colleague
Thomas Byrne, the Minister of State for European Affairs, on Monday denied being the source of a news story about his colleague Minister for Agriculture Barry Cowen being convicted of drink driving. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.
A Fianna Fáil minister of State has said he was not the source of media reports about a party colleague being convicted of drink driving.
Thomas Byrne, the Minister of State for European Affairs, on Monday said he is on good terms with Minister for Agriculture Barry Cowen despite allegations on social media that he tipped off the press about the Offaly TD’s conviction.
Mr Byrne said he had not known anything about Mr Cowen’s case but understood that journalists “had been talking about it for three years”.
“It does not involve me. I’m on good terms with Barry Cowen, I remain on good terms with Barry Cowen, I’m happy to speak for him now,” the Meath East TD told LMFM.
“My position on this and I have been very clear on this - we live in a country of laws, we live by the rule of law - if you break the law, you get punished and I think that’s exactly what happened Barry Cowen in this particular situation. He got punished for breaking the law.”
Mr Byrne said he could not possibly have been the source for the story and that there was an ongoing civil matter in relation to the issue.
The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) is expected to be asked by the Garda to investigate the alleged leaking of information concerning Mr Cowen’s drink driving offecnce.
It follows a statement by Mr Cowen accusing gardaí of criminality for leaking allegations that he attempted to evade a garda checkpoint before he was caught drink driving.
The Sunday Times reported details of the Garda record of the September 2016 incident, which it said stated that Mr Cowen was pursued by gardaí after doing a U-turn before a checkpoint.
Mr Cowen admits receiving a ban for drink drinking but denies attempting to evade gardaí. He on Sunday said that the garda record was “incorrect” and suggested he would take legal action against the newspaper.
“This incorrect Garda record can only have come into the possession of the newspaper through a criminal act,” he said.
“It is a criminal offence for a member of an Garda Síochána to disclose any information obtained in the course of his or her duties. I am informed that An Garda Síochána has commenced a criminal investigation into the source of this leak.”
Leaking certain personal information is an offence under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 punishable by up to five years in prison.
Mr Cowen has told the Dáil that his conviction was “a source of deep regret” which had “reflected poorly on the work of elected representatives and on my part”. The Minister, who was on a provisional licence at the time, was given a three month ban after being found to be over the limit while driving home from the All-Ireland football final.
He on Monday told RTÉ that he was not going to comment further on the issue after receiving legal advice.
Minister for Media Catherine Martin on Monday called on Mr Cowen to provide “more clarity” on the circumstances of his conviction.
She said “more questions” had arisen since his statement in the Dáil last week .
Ms Martin said the drink driving incident was “a very serious mistake” which Mr Cowen recognised and she hoped he had learned from the experience.
“There was a lot of negative and humiliating coverage last week - rightly so, and he said that himself,” she said.
Mr Cowen has faced calls to resign since news of his drink driving ban emerged a fortnight ago. Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he had not been informed of the matter before being contacted by a newspaper about it just before it came into the public domain.