Minister for Agriculture Barry Cowen has been relieved of his duties just 17 days after being appointed.

The minister was sacked by An Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Tuesday evening following 10 days in which a drink-driving offence from 2016 dogged his short tenure. Cowen apologised in the Dáil, but further allegations followed.

RTÉ News reports that the Taoiseach first asked Minister Cowen for his resignation but he refused. The move leaves the Department of Agriculture without a head at a time when it needs it most in the face of market challenges.

Cowen had been well received by the farming community in his short tenure, having committed to funding a €1.5bn REPS scheme, defending the industry in the face of environmental pressure and promising the quick delivery of the €50m beef compensation fund.

The Taoiseach has assigned the agriculture and marine portfolio to himself and stated in the Dáil on Tuesday evening that he will announce a successor to Cowen on Wednesday.

Barry Cowen: 'surprised and disappointed'

Barry Cowen has issued a statement on his dismissal.

"The Taoiseach informed me this evening by phone that he was removing me from office as Minister for Agriculture. I am both surprised and disappointed with this decision," he said in a statement issued on social media.

"Previously I furnished the Taoiseach with all the facts about my drink-driving conviction and the story that The Sunday Times proposed to publish about my alleged evasion of a Garda checkpoint.

"In doing so, I provided him with confidential details about my interaction with An Garda Síochána. I have made my position on these matters known publicly and I have acknowledged my wrongdoing for something that occurred four years ago," he wrote.

"I have sought an explanation - not as a Government minister but as a citizen - as to how details relating to the incident were leaked to the media. The authorities have agreed to investigate the matter.

"One point warrants emphasis: at no time did I attempt to evade the gardaí. Had I done so, the charges brought against me would, quite correctly, have been of a different tenor to those with which I was charged," he continued.

"I am responsible for the offence with which I was convicted four years ago - not for an inaccurate Garda entry on Pulse about that event.

"Ten days ago and this afternoon, the Taoiseach believed my failure of 2016 didn’t warrant my removal from office but he now appears to have changed his mind based on a Pulse report I gave him this morning.

"It is important to re-emphasise that report was leaked in contravention of the protections that I and every other citizen is entitled to expect in respect of their interaction with the gardaí.

"Unfortunately, the decision of the Taoiseach to remove me from office, when he supported me this afternoon in the Dáil, has undermined and potentially prejudiced my entitlement to fair process," he concluded.

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