Irish agriculture minister sacked over drink-driving furore after 17 days on the job

Minister's position 'simply untenable and damaging to the ongoing work of the government', Taioseach says

Vincent Wood
Wednesday 15 July 2020 14:17 BST
Former agriculture minister Barry Cowen arriving for the cabinet meeting at Dublin Castle.
Former agriculture minister Barry Cowen arriving for the cabinet meeting at Dublin Castle. (PA)

Ireland’s agriculture minister has been sacked from his post after a charge of drink-driving he faced four years ago threatened to overshadow the launch of the fledgling government.

Barry Cowen was named as part of Micheál Martin’s cabinet at the end of last month as part of the new coalition government formed between leading parties Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Greens.

However on Tuesday Mr Cowen was removed from the post after it was revealed he had been caught over the legal alcohol limit while driving himself and a friend home from a sporting event in September 2016.

At the time Mr Cowen, who is part of a political dynasty which includes his brother former premier Brian Cowen, had been a serving member of the Irish parliament.

He was handed a €200 (£172) fine and banned from driving for three months.

The slow-burning row over his intoxication at the wheel – reportedly while holding a provisional driving licence – threatened to overshadow the launch of the new coalition government, with the new prime minister forced to answer questions on Mr Cowen’s conduct in parliament on Tuesday morning.

However while Mr Martin had initially defended his cabinet minister over the indiscretion, he ultimately decided to remove him from his role after it was alleged Mr Cowen had attempted to evade officers on the night in question.

In a statement the taioseach said his decision has been due to Mr Cowen’s refusal to address the latest allegations against him – which he denies – publicly.

The situation was “simply untenable and damaging to the ongoing work of the government”, Mr Martin added

However Mr Cowen has since said he is “surprised and disappointed” over his sacking, which was conducted over the phone.

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

Responding to allegations he had performed a U-turn to avoid a police checkpoint, the former minister wrote on Twitter: “At no time did I attempt to evade the Gardaí [police]. 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.”

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