Micheal Martin humiliation: Leo Varadkar replacement sacks minister after just 17 days

The row has overshadowed the early days of Ireland’s new coalition Government, which was formed last month between leading parties Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, with the support of the Green Party. And it has also added to the existing tensions between Mr Martin’s Fianna Fail and former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael.

Mr Cowen is a brother of former Irish premier Brian Cowen and is part of a long-running Fianna Fail dynasty based in Co Offaly.

He has previously held frontbench spokesman roles on Environment and Local Government and Social Protection.

The married father-of-four and former auctioneer represents the electoral district of Laois-Offaly.

He had refused to make a second public statement about a drink driving ban imposed on him four years ago.

Addressing the Dáil in Dublin last night, Mr Martin said the police file relating to Mr Cowen’s drink-driving offence had raised issues that required more explanation.

He said it was untenable for members of Government to address these concerns in the Dáil while Mr Cowen was refusing to do so.

And he warned the issue had become damaging to the ongoing work of Government.

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Mr Martin said: “This is a very sad day for Barry, his family and for me.

“He has been a very committed public representative, very diligent and very dedicated.

“Over the course of 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 that what he did was absolutely wrong and he apologised to all members.”

Mr Cowen was stopped at a police checkpoint and breathalysed on his way home to Co Offaly after an All-Ireland football final in Dublin and found to be over the limit.

At the time he was holding a legal driving permit because his provisional licence had lapsed.

He was fined €200 given a three-month driving ban.

Mr Cowen said he was “surprised and disappointed” at the Taoiseach’s decision to sack him.

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

Mr Cowen “adamantly denies” evading or attempting to evade a checkpoint on the night he was found to be drink-driving and believes the Garda record is inaccurate.

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Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney admitted the Mr Cowen’s sacking was “not good news for the Government this early on”.

He said: “Unfortunately we’ve seen the removal of a minister from government, that’s not good news for the Government this early on.

“It’s something Fine Gael obviously aren’t happy about, and it’s something that on a personal level is very difficult for Barry Cowen and his family.

“But we need to move on from this and I’m sure we’ll get a clear explanation from the Taoiseach as to what exactly happened and why.”

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