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Barry Cowen drink-driving was wrong – Justice Minister

The newly appointed Agriculture Minister was barred from driving for three months in 2016 after he was found to be drink-driving.

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Justice Minister Helen McEntee (Niall Carson/PA)

Justice Minister Helen McEntee (Niall Carson/PA)

Justice Minister Helen McEntee (Niall Carson/PA)

Justice Minister Helen McEntee has said that Barry Cowen drink-driving home from a football game was “wrong”, but added she has accepted his apology.

The newly-appointed Agriculture Minister acknowledged it was a serious lapse of judgment.

Mr Cowen said he was embarrassed after it emerged last week that he was barred from driving for three months in 2016 after he was found to be drink-driving.

He was stopped at a checkpoint and breathalysed on his way home to Co Offaly after an All-Ireland football final in Dublin.

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Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen (Cate McCurry/PA)

Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen (Cate McCurry/PA)

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Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen (Cate McCurry/PA)

Ms McEntee, who was visiting Slane Garda station in Co Meath where she held a meeting with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, said the incident “shouldn’t have happened”.

She added that the focus of the new Government should be on road victims and their families.

“What happened was wrong. It shouldn’t have happened and I think the minister has acknowledged what he did was wrong and I think what’s important at the time is that the law was applied,” Ms McEntee added.

“Obviously what was given out to the minister, he accepted it and took that as he should have.

“I think we need to focus on victims, those who have lost family members due to drink-driving, making sure that we have measures in place that protect people, that make our roads as safe as possible.

“Obviously there was a huge amount of changes implemented in the last government and we want to continue to implement them.

“I don’t agree with what happened, he has apologised, I accept that and I think it’s important that the law was applied.”

Ms McEntee said Mr Cowen is to make a statement to the Dail and answer questions on his driving ban.

I was not trying to keep it secret, I was trying to get on with my jobBarry Cowen

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said he did not know until Friday about the Fianna Fail deputy’s record and was disappointed that he had not been told about it before then.

Mr Cowen, who was appointed minister as part of the coalition deal to form the new government, said over the weekend: “Maybe I should have stood up in the Dail, and led from the front and acknowledged my stupid mistake.

“I was not trying to keep it secret, I was trying to get on with my job.”

Mr Cowen is expected to make a statement to the Dail this week about the incident

Sinn Fein TD Eoin O Broin said the key issue is that Mr Cowen was driving under the influence of alcohol, not that he was on a learner’s permit.

He said: “The issue is driving while under the influence of alcohol. It is a very very serious issue. We have had many events outside the gates of Leinster House  where families who lost loved ones to drunk drivers have raised the need for tougher measures.”

“I do think a statement to the Dail is the right thing to do and obviously we need to listen very carefully to that statement and judge it by its content.”

PA