| 12.1°C Belfast

Government had to ‘draw a line’ under Barry Cowen controversy – minister

Taoiseach Micheal Martin sacked Barry Cowen as Agriculture Minister on Tuesday night.


Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen (Niall Carson/PA)

Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen (Niall Carson/PA)

Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen (Niall Carson/PA)

A line had to be drawn by the Government under the Barry Cowen controversy as it was becoming a distraction, a minister has said.

Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath said the story would have continued “to rumble on” if Mr Cowan had not been sacked.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin sacked Deputy Cowen as Agriculture Minister on Tuesday night after he refused to provide further public statements on his 2016 drink-driving offence.

Mr Cowen said the decision to remove him from office had undermined his entitlement to fair process.

Mr Martin said the Garda file relating to Mr Cowen’s drink-driving offence in 2016 had raised issues that required more explanation.

The Taoiseach said it was was untenable for members of Government to address these concerns in the Dail while Mr Cowen was refusing to do so.

He said the issue had become damaging to the ongoing work of Government.

Mr McGrath told RTE Morning Ireland: “Barry Cowen has absolutely every right to defend his good name.

“The Taoiseach made it absolutely clear in his statement in the Dail last night that his decision was without prejudice – the Taoiseach was passing no judgment whatsoever on the new allegation … which is apparently referenced in the Sunday Times.

“The reality here is the Taoiseach and the Government had a very serious political problem. The scale of the issue we need to deal with … Unfortunately a line had to be drawn and we all had to move on as a collective and address the issues we were elected to deal with.

“The Taoiseach arrived at the view that it was not politically sustainable for Barry Cowen not to come in and deal with this head-on. That was his decision but that resulted in political implications from that.”

Mr Cowen, who was in office for just 17 days, denies any allegation that he attempted to avoid a garda checkpoint in 2016.

He said he was “surprised and disappointed” by Mr Martin’s decision to sack him and that it had also undermined his entitlement to fair process.

In a statement on Twitter he said He added: “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.”

Mr Cowen “adamantly denies” evading or attempting to evade a checkpoint on the night he was found to be drink-driving, and believes the Garda record is inaccurate.

Mr McGrath said he has a “huge amount of sympathy” for Mr Cowen and his family.

“This has beeen a a very difficult issue but not least for Barry and his family. He is someone I have soldiered with for many years and I know first-hand the amount of work that he put into getting this Government formed when we were a long way from getting back into government.”

“He has paid a huge personal price for this issue.”

Mr Martin is set to appoint a new Agriculture minister on Wednesday.