Barry Cowen ‘never sat his driving test’ before drink-driving ban in 2016

The chairwoman of PARC Road Safety Group has said Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen told her he never sat a driving test before his drink-driving ban in 2016.

It emerged in recent days that Mr Cowen served a three-month driving ban after being found by gardaí to be drink-driving after attending the All-Ireland football final.

Mr Cowen apologised in the Dáil on Tuesday night for a “grave” error of judgment following his 2016 drink-driving conviction.

He said his subsequent “humiliation” will hopefully serve to highlight the “terrible dangers and consequences” of such offending.

Susan Gray – who founded PARC in 2006 after her husband Stephen died in a road traffic collision involving an unaccompanied learner driver in 2004 said Mr Cowen told her he had never sat his driving test up until the incident.

She said: “Yesterday on the phone he admitted to me he had never sat a driving test – he applied for it years and years ago and did not attend. Until he passed the test a few years ago, he kept letting his permit roll over.

She told RTÉ radio: “He rang me yesterday morning and he assured me that the outstanding questions we had – mainly about him driving on a learner permit to the age of 49 and all the issues surrounding that.

“He has not answered all of the questions we have asked him so we are calling on the new Taoiseach to get answers on the outstanding issues.”

Ms Gray said she wants to know how many learner permits Mr Cowen had before he passed his driving test, when he passed his test and if he displayed “N” plates for two years after passing his test.

“We’re calling on Micheál Martin to call in Barry Cowen, sit down with him and clarify every law that he has broke… what kind of man are we dealing with here?,” she said.

Ms Gray said despite Mr Cowen’s apology – the issue “cannot be allowed to go away”.

In his statement, Mr Cowen said he had two drinks before driving home from a match in 2016.

“My decision in September 2016 to drive home after consuming any alcohol was a stupid, stupid mistake.

“It never happened before the 18th of September 2016 and it has never happened since.

“It is a mistake for which I am profoundly sorry.”

He said he consumed a light meal before setting off and was subsequently stopped and breathalysed by gardaí.

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

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

He added: “Criticism that I have attracted for such a serious lapse of judgment is fully deserved.

“This grave error and my subsequent humiliation will hopefully serve to highlight the terrible dangers and consequences of drink-driving.”

Mr Cowen told fellow deputies he now holds a full, clean licence.

Before the “recent and proper” legal reforms he said it was not uncommon for people of all ages to drive without a full licence.

“This was bad practice and I clearly should have regularised my position much earlier.”

He admitted receiving parking and speeding fines over the years and said a drip feed of new information in the media about such matters could be damaging.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Barry Cowen disclosed an additional failure to display a tax disc 14 years ago (Niall Carson/PA)</figcaption>
Barry Cowen disclosed an additional failure to display a tax disc 14 years ago (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Cowen disclosed an additional failure to display a tax disc while parked in Tullamore 14 years ago, for which he was fined.

He said such offences should not be conflated with the more serious one of drink-driving.

Mr Cowen was appointed by Taoiseach Micheál Martin to the agriculture portfolio as part of the new coalition following February’s election.

He did not tell his leader about the offence before his elevation.

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