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Republic's ex-Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen defiant after sudden sacking

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Fianna Fail’s Barry Cowen

Fianna Fail’s Barry Cowen

Fianna Fail’s Barry Cowen

Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen gave Taoiseach Micheal Martin no option but to sack him last night after he refused to publicly address the remaining questions about his drink-driving ban.

Hours after defending Mr Cowen in the Dail, the Taoiseach returned to the chamber just before 9pm to announce he was sacking his minister just 17 days after he was appointed.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mr Cowen was replaced by Dara Calleary. While not from a farming background, he represents a large rural area and also plugs the hole in the Cabinet on the lack of representation from the west of Ireland. Mr Calleary is the Fianna Fail deputy leader.

Mr Martin said he asked Mr Cowen to publicly address new questions about the night he was stopped for drink-driving but the Offaly TD said he would not be making any further comment.

"This decision has created a situation where legitimate doubts and additional questions are being raised, and Government colleagues are expected to address these. This is simply untenable," the Taoiseach said.

Mr Martin said he was forced to contact President Michael D Higgins to "terminate" Mr Cowen's appointment as a cabinet minister.

The Taoiseach had given Mr Cowen the day to consider addressing the outstanding questions but when he called him yesterday evening the minister still refused to publicly address the matter.

Mr Martin asked Mr Cowen for his resignation but this too was refused and the Taoiseach was left with no choice but to sack the minister. The Taoiseach discussed his decision to sack Mr Cowen with Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, who both supported the move.

In a statement, Mr Cowen said he was "surprised and disappointed" by the Taoiseach's decision to fire him via a phone call yesterday evening.

He said he furnished the Taoiseach with "all the facts" regarding his drink-driving case, including "confidential details" of his interactions with gardai.

"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 file I gave him this morning," Mr Cowen said.

He said the file was leaked in "contravention of the protections every citizen is entitled to expect" in their interaction with gardai.

He said Mr Martin's decision to remove him from office had "undermined and potentially prejudiced" his entitlement to fair process.

Last night, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney told RTE's 'Prime Time' that Mr Varadkar did not demand Mr Cowen's removal from Government. He said the sacking was "something that Fine Gael obviously are not happy about" and that it is "clearly not good for the Government".

A senior Fianna Fail source said a "series of questions" had been emerging, and specifically from the weekend, and it was unfair that Mr Cowen's other Government colleagues were being forced to address them.

It came as the Government looked set to be on a serious collision course with An Garda Siochana over accusations made by Mr Cowen about his drink-driving ban.

Mr Cowen sparked a new crisis for the Government after alleging gardai incorrectly entered information about his arrest into official records and leaked the file.

The move has sparked anger in Garda Headquarters, with one senior source saying it was "very strange" for a Cabinet minister to launch an attack on serving members of the force.

"If the guards involved stand over the version of events on the file, we won't be changing the record," the senior source added.

Gardai are currently investigating Mr Cowen's claim that his Garda record is inaccurate.

Belfast Telegraph