- 12 Jul 20
In a story in the Sunday Times today it is alleged that the recently appointed Minister for Agriculture Barry Cowen attempted to evade a Garda, who went on to breathalyse him in 2016 – resulting in a three-month ban from driving. The Minister has categorically rejected the allegation – which, however, remains on the Garda record.
The Minister for Agriculture, Barry Cowan, has issued a statement denying that he attempted to evade a Garda, who was engaged in spot-checking drivers for road traffic offences. The incident is alleged to have taken place on the day that Barry Cowen was breathalysed and found to be over the limit in 2016.
It also emerged that he was driving on a provisional licence – which in fact was the reason that he was over the relatively low alcohol limit allowed for learner drivers under the Road Traffic Act.
The story represents another extraordinary difficulty for the Taoiseach Micheál Martin (pictured), who has had a torrid and hugely challenging baptism of fire since he was appointed Taoiseach.
The statement says that the Minister will be using all legal resources available to him to vindicate his good name. The Minister has been embroiled in controversy since his appointment to the Cabinet, following the revelation that he had been banned for driving for three months having failed a breathalyser test in 2016.
It subsequently emerged that the Minister was also fined for not showing a tax disc, fourteen years ago, an offence for which he was fined at the time. These, it might reasonably be said, are minor indiscretions, about which most people would barely raise an eyebrow. However, the allegations made in the Sunday Times are of a different order entirely. If they were true, and proven to be true, then they would surely mean the end of Barry Cowen’s career as a Minister.
And in his statement, he has responded with a heightened sense of urgency to reflect that.
"The Sunday Times has today published an article,” the statement, issued to media by Mary Cowen on behalf of the Minister says, "referring to an incorrect Garda record dealing with the incident which occurred on 18 September 2016 despite the fact that my solicitors wrote to the newspaper in advance of publication.
“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. On being informed of its existence I sought a copy of this incorrect record and am taking steps under the Data Protection Act to have it corrected.
“This incorrect Garda record can only have come into the possession of the newspaper through a criminal act. It is a criminal offence for a member of An Garda Siochana to disclose any information obtained in the course of his or her duties. I am informed that An Garda Siochana has commenced a criminal investigation into the source of this leak.
“It is obvious that the disclosure of this information at this time in flagrant breach of the criminal law and my rights under data protection law is a disgraceful attempt to cause me the maximum personal and political harm.
“By publishing this story the Sunday Times has consciously participated in, and facilitated, this and I will be instructing my lawyers to take all necessary steps to vindicate my good name and data protection rights.”
Whether this statement will be enough to satisfy the Taoiseach Micheál Martin or Fianna Fáil’s new partners in coalition, Fine Gael and the Green Party remains to be seen. Of the two, the Greens are the more likely to look for a head on a plate.
The view within journalistic circles is that the Sunday Times will certainly stand over a story that is based on Garda records, so a long battle may be looming for both Barry Cowen and the newspaper. What the internal Garda investigation is likey to yield is another matter entirely.
The consensus had been that Micheál Martin would tough it out, and that remains the most likely outcome. But it is just one more Beecher’s Brook, for the new Taoiseach to surmount, in what has been a very messy few weeks for him as leader of Fianna Fáil and of the Government.