Leaders Questions, Dáil, Leinster House
Taoiseach Micheál Martin responds to questions about Barry Cowen’s drink drive arrest record following revelations on the Sunday Times.
The Garda report apparently states the Fianna Fáil minister performed a u-turn and was pursued by gardai before his arrest in 2016, something which Mr Cowen denies took place.
He says he plans to sue the paper.
Mr Martin said:
“Having seen the document, it’s not quite as portrayed. But nonetheless the document is there. Now it’s not for me to publish, it’s not my record. With respect now, it’s not my record and people have entitlements here. It’s not my record.
Deputy Cowen himself was unaware of the record until he actually got possession of it himself in terms of exactly what was on the record.
That’s the only basis upon which one can comment on any record is when one sees the record. For the last four years he was unaware of any suggestion that that would be on the record.
That’s his point of view. And I certainly wasn’t going to be pre-judging or pre-emptive in terms of something until I see the record for myself.
And I’ve seen it early this morning. He sought it himself during the week, he contacted, I believe, the gardai to get possession of the record because he didn’t have it.
Others had it before he had it. And there’s an issue there too in terms of the individual, any individual in that situation.
And he was, I mean, in my view, he didn’t want to, in terms of his contribution to the House, last week, again, he hadn’t the document and he didn’t want to incriminate himself in relation to it
But I think he has really, all I can convey to you is that he has very, very serious concerns about it and how the whole thing has developed in relation to the how his own personal information was procured, or was disseminated from the PULSE record and that’s an issue that he’s extremely angry about.”
Earlier, the Taoiseach had the following exchange with Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald:
Mary Lou McDonald: “We now have an unprecedented situation where a Minister is disputing the Garda PULSE record of a drink-driving offence he was involved in and looking to have that record changed. Last week in his personal statement, the Minister stated he was “conscious that a constant drip feed of new information can be damaging and destabilising”. He said it was for that reason he had conducted a full examination of all records that he could obtain. Yet here we are a week later and the drip feed of new information continues.
“On 4 July, according to The Sunday Times, contact was made with the Minister regarding the Garda record from 18 September 2016, stating that he sought to evade a Garda checkpoint on the evening of the drink-driving offence. The Irish Times today quotes sources saying the Taoiseach was made aware of these records at the time of this media query, that is, the weekend before last.
“Can the Taoiseach confirm when he was made aware of the Garda record of the Minister’s attempt to evade a Garda checkpoint? Was he aware of this before the Minister made his statement to the Dáil? Did the Minister discuss with the Taoiseach or seek advice from the Taoiseach regarding his decision to seek to amend the record relating to his 2016 drink-driving conviction? Does the Taoiseach accept that the Minister’s statement to the Dáil was incomplete, as it made no mention of this Garda record? When did the Taoiseach inform his coalition partners about all of this? Has he challenged the Minister on his incomplete statement?
“Does he accept that a Minister challenging the accuracy or, indeed, the truthfulness of a Garda PULSE record is a very serious matter?”
Micheál Martin: “As the Deputy said, the Minister came into the Dáil and publicly admitted that he was convicted of a drink-driving offence four years ago, that he was penalised for that offence and that justice was meted out in accordance with the charge and with the offence that he committed. He adamantly denies any suggestion or implication that he sought to evade any checkpoint. That is his very strong position. He is very concerned that data related to his personal files have found their way to others and he feels that is a very serious issue.
“Irrespective of what side of the House we come from and irrespective of the matter at hand, this is an issue that will have to be dealt with at some stage. I am aware that the Garda Commissioner has referred the issue to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, and it is one we cannot ignore. I am not apportioning blame anywhere in this, because I do not know how that material left the PULSE file and ended up with various media outlets or others. I do not know how that process happened.
“I spoke to the Minister, Deputy Cowen, the weekend before last and he adamantly denied any suggestion or implication that he evaded or attempted or avoid a checkpoint. At this stage, someone was saying that I was told about this. I believe it was a newspaper which said it gave information to my chief of staff, but I cannot work on the basis of media sources. I cannot verify anything without seeing the document myself. I had a lengthy conversation last evening with the Minister. Early this morning, with the Minister’s permission, I saw the actual document.
“The Minister has made it very clear to me that he wants to pursue both issues through the mechanisms that are available to him to pursue them. First, under the data protection process and by way of the Data Protection Commission, he is entitled to seek a correction of that particular record insofar as he believes that it does not accurately convey what transpired or that implications can be taken from it which may not necessarily be the case. He is pursuing that.
“Second, he feels the entire issue has become public because of what he sees as illegal procurement of the information. We now know that this aspect is being investigated. The Minister feels his rights have been transgressed and undermined in that regard and he believes he is entitled to due process in respect of both issues.
“He has pointed out to me that when it was first put to him – I think it was by a reporter or member of the media – he was very taken aback by the suggestion that he had turned away from a checkpoint. He was very adamant about that to me. He said there was no issue made of it at the time, there was no reference to it at the time and he wants to seek to correct that aspect of it. In that context, he was clear to me that he wants to pursue his legal rights and entitlements in that respect.
“I have kept both my colleagues in government, namely, the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Eamon Ryan, fully up to date in regard to my conversations with the Minister, Deputy Cowen, and in respect of the fact that I have seen the Garda file. I am not at liberty to disclose the contents of that file because it is not my property and it was shared with me in that context. That is the up-to-date position on this matter.”
McDonald: “It is becoming clear that the Minister, Deputy Cowen, will have to come before the House and take questions on all of these issues. However, for the purposes of today’s discussion, I am more concerned with what the Taoiseach, as Head of Government, knew. He has confirmed that he did, in fact, know about the Garda PULSE record and that there was an allegation that the Minister had sought to evade a Garda checkpoint. He has confirmed that he knew that information as or before the Minister was making his statement.
“I find it extraordinary that the Taoiseach would stand over a Minister who has made an incomplete statement to the Dáil on a matter of this importance. Were the Taoiseach’s coalition partners, the leaders of Fine Gael and the Green Party, aware of the PULSE record and the allegation that the Minister had evaded a Garda checkpoint at the time the Minister, Deputy Cowen, made his statement? The Taoiseach said he has had a conversation with the Minister, but the Taoiseach did not indicate that he challenged the Minister on the fact that his statement was incomplete.
“I accept the Minister’s point on data protection. That matter should be investigated by the appropriate authorities but it is not the net point here. The net point is that a Minister is now contradicting a Garda record. He came before the House to make what was to be a complete, no-holds-barred statement on all the material matters and did not state that this Garda PULSE record existed and that an allegation had been made that he had sought to evade a Garda checkpoint. That is absolutely extraordinary.
“It is even more extraordinary that the Taoiseach, as the Head of Government, would accept that. Do the Taoiseach’s coalition partners similarly accept that the Minister was right to come before the House and not give us all the information? Do they also accept that he is right to challenge the Garda PULSE record? It is extraordinary that a Minister is now openly contradicting the PULSE records.
“This is not just about Deputy Cowen, because we all must rely on the truthfulness and accuracy of PULSE records. The Minister has brought that accuracy into question but he has also failed to give a full account of events on that night. The Taoiseach was aware that there was another twist in the tale and yet it seems he has not challenged the Minister on it. Does he believe in full and frank statements to this House, or does he not?
Martin: “The Deputy has drawn two wrong inferences and made two incorrect assertions. I was not aware of the PULSE record and did not see it. I cannot work on the basis of a journalist saying that he or she has a source or paper that shows X. I saw the document myself this morning and having seen it, I can say that it is not quite as it has been portrayed. Nonetheless, the document is there.”
Transcript via Oireachtas.ie
Earlier: Blue Turn
Yesterday: No Turning back
Top pic: Rollingnews