Dáil debates

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Termination of Ministerial Appointment: Announcement by Taoiseach


8:25 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I understand the Taoiseach has an announcement to make for the interest of the House.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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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 tomorrow, if the House can facilitate it.

This is a very sad day for Barry, his family and me. He has been a committed public representative, very diligent and dedicated. Over the course of the past ten 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 the House on 7 July 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 he was first confronted with the allegations Deputy 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 had extensive discussions on this point last evening and again this morning, 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, 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 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 this issue in this House.

This decision has created a situation where legitimate doubts and additional questions are being raised. Government colleagues are expected to address these. This is simply untenable. It is my view that Deputy Cowen had an obligation to come before the House. It is also my view that this issue is damaging to the ongoing work of the Government.

Throughout this I am conscious that there are important and legitimate legal processes under way. 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. 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 economy. Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for facilitating this statement.

Sitting suspended at 9 p.m. and resumed at 9.20 p.m.