Minister for Agriculture sacked after just 17 days for drink-driving controversy

Minister for Agriculture sacked after just 17 days for drink-driving controversy

THE NEWLY appointed Minister for Agriculture has been sacked by the Taoiseach after just 17 days in the role.

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen, brother of the former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, has faced controversy from almost the moment he set foot in the role of Minister for Agriculture.

A drink-driving ban from 2016 came to light shortly after he accepted the role, for which he apologised in the Dáil just days after becoming a minister, saying he was "profoundly sorry" for his "stupid, stupid mistake".

The story continued to dog him, however, and both he and the Taoiseach were criticised by opposition parties for not taking questions after his apology.

A story from The Irish Independent who had seen the police report from the incident in 2016 then alleged that Mr Cowen had performed a U-turn on the road when he noticed the Garda checkpoint ahead, in an attempt to evade justice.

Mr Cowen has strongly denied this, accusing Gardaí of making a mistake when filing his police report.

Ex-Minister for Agriculture Barrow Cowen had apologised in the Dáil last week for his 2016 drink driving ban which had recently come to light

Despite having vouched for him earlier in the day, Taoiseach Micheál Martin yesterday evening confirmed that Mr Cowen had been sacked from his role as Minister for Agriculture, saying the Garda report that came to light had raised issues that required more explanation.

The controversy was distracting and damaging the work of the Government in a very difficult time, Mr Martin added, however he said it was "a very sad day for Barry, his family and for me".

"He has been completely clear and unambiguous regarding his drink-driving offence, he gave a personal statement to this house on July the 7th in which he talked about the stupidity of his actions.

"He accepted what he did was absolutely wrong and he apologised to all members.

"I accepted that his remorse was genuine and I accepted his apology."

In a frustrated statement posted to Twitter, Barry Cowen said he was "surprised and disappointed" to learn that he was being sacked as Minister for Agriculture.

Previously I furnished the Taoiseach with all the facts about my drink-driving conviction and the story that the Sunday Times proposed to publish about my alleged evasion of a garda checkpoint.

"In doing so I provided him with confidential details about my interaction with An Garda Síochána.

"I have made my position on these matters known publicly and I have acknowledged my wrong doing for something that occurred four years ago.

"I have sought an explanation - not as a government minister but as a citizen - as to how details relating to the incident were leaked to the media.

"The authorities have agreed to investigate the matter.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the controversy was distracting and damaging to the Government but sacking him was "a very sad day for Barry, his family and for me". (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

"One point warrants emphasis: at no time did I attempt to evade the gardaí. Had I done so, the charges brought against me would, quite correctly, have been of a different tenor to those with which I was charged.

"I am responsible for the offence with which I was convicted four years ago not for an inaccurate garda entry on Pulse about that event.

"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.

"It is important to re-emphasise that report was leaked in contravention of the protections that I and every other citizen is entitled to expect in respect of their interaction with the Gardaí.

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