Controversy surrounding Cowen was ‘damaging to the government’: Taoiseach’s Dáil speech

“It is in everyone’s interest that the government not be distracted in any way from doing what is necessary to protect public health and our efforts to rebuild our society and our economy.”

These were the words of Taoiseach Micheál Martin in his speech in the Dáil yesterday evening, Tuesday, July 14, announcing the removal of Barry Cowen as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Describing the controversy surrounding Cowen, Martin said it was “damaging to the government”. The announcement of Cowen’s departure from his ministerial role came after he was “the subject of significant criticism and condemnation for a road traffic offence that took place in 2016”, according to the Taoiseach.

In his speech to the Dáil, the Taoiseach said that President Michael D. Higgins had, on the Taoiseach’s advice, terminated Cowen’s appointment as minister. Micheál Martin will temporarily take over the portfolio himself.

The speech is as follows:

“I wish to announce for the information of the Dáil that the President, on my advice, this evening terminated the appointment of deputy Barry Cowen as a member of the government. Pursuant to Section 4(1) of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1946, I have assigned the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to myself.

“I will propose the appointment of a new member of the government, if the house can facilitate.

This is a very sad day for Barry, for his family and for me. He has been a very committed public representative; very dedicated; very diligent. Over the last 10 days, he has been the subject of significant criticism and condemnation for a road traffic offence that took place in 2016.

“He has been completely clear and unambiguous regarding his drink driving offence.

“He gave a personal statement to this house on July 7, 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.”

‘When confronted with the allegations…’

Yesterday evening’s development came on the back of a controversy involving Cowen in which it was alleged that he attempted to avoid or evade a Garda checkpoint in 2016.

Cowen denied these allegations, saying over the weekend: “I did not evade, or attempt to evade, a Garda. Such an act would constitute a serious criminal offence and I was not charged with such an offence.”

Taoiseach Martin’s speech continued:

When he was first confronted with the allegations, Minister Cowen was immediately clear and emphatic about his drink driving offence and understood the need to acknowledge this. However, he was equally clear and emphatic that one detail of the allegation he was being presented with was completely untrue – namely that he sought to evade Gardaí at the time.

“We have had extensive discussions on this point last evening [July 13] and again this morning [July 14], when he shared with me for the first time the actual Garda record under dispute.

“Following these discussions and having seen the Garda report this morning [July 14], it was my view that it raised additional issues requiring further explanation and clarification. I made this view clear to him and gave him space today [July 14] to consider the matter further.

“However, he has decided that he is not prepared to address this allegation publicly and will not make any further statement or answer any questions on the issue in this house.

“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.”

‘This issue is damaging…’

Micheál Martin described the controversy surrounding Cowen as “damaging to the ongoing work of government”.

He explained: “It is my view that Minister Cowen had an obligation to come before the house. It is also my view that this issue is damaging to the ongoing work of government.

“Throughout this, I am conscious that there are important and legitimate legal processes underway, where deputy Cowen is questioning the accuracy of the Garda record and seeking to establish how his personal information became public.

I have sought to respect these processes and I would ask that colleagues do the same. This decision I have made is without prejudice to those proceedings.

“The challenges facing this government are unprecedented in scale and the Irish people require nothing less than our full and undivided attention.”

The speech concluded: “It is in everyone’s interest that the government not be distracted in any way from doing what is necessary to protect public health and our efforts to rebuild our society and our economy.”

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