The Minister for Agriculture has told the Dáil that he made a "stupid, stupid mistake" which had never happened before or since and he is profoundly sorry.
In a personal statement on his 2016 drink-driving ban, Barry Cowen said his grave error should highlight the consequences of drink-driving and he said the criticism of him was fully deserved.
Mr Cowen said he sincerely wanted to apologise to his peers and colleagues.
Minister for Agriculture Barry Cowen says his decision to drive home after having consumed any alcohol was a "stupid, stupid mistake" pic.twitter.com/EIHnLT10ow— RTÉ News (@rtenews) July 7, 2020
The Offaly TD added that he has apologised to his family, the Taoiseach, the Government, constituents and the general public.
Earlier today, he spoke to Susan Gray of PARC Road Safety Group and Donna Price of the Irish Road Victims' Association to apologise to them.
The minister said his only other issue, besides a reported speeding fine, was another fine for failing to display a tax disc 14 years ago in Tullamore.
He said he hoped such infractions would not be conflated with drink-driving.
Minister for Agriculture Barry Cowen says criticism of him is fully deserved, and says that he has apologised to his family, to the Taoiseach, to his constituents, and to the general public | More: https://t.co/xSEMtfqEin pic.twitter.com/JBa8dBILpe— RTÉ News (@rtenews) July 7, 2020
On questions about why he did not have a full licence at the age of 49, Mr Cowen said that before the reforms of the licencing system, it was not uncommon to drive on a learner permit but it was bad practice and he should have regularised his position sooner.
Mr Cowen said he would now invest his full energy in his ministerial role and his work as a TD.
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Ms Gray of the PARC road safety group, said that Minister Cowen still has questions to answer.
Speaking on RTÉ's Prime Time, she said that she was "so disappointed" with the statement made in the Dáil, and that clarity is needed over when Mr Cowen did get his full driving licence.
Ms Gray said that PARC will be issuing a statement tomorrow.
Tonight, a Sinn Féin source said drink-driving is "a serious issue" and politicians "need to lead by example".
However, indicating that the minister had clarified the situation adequately, the source added: "Barry Cowen has thrown his hands up and said what he did was completely wrong and has apologised."
They said that the row is "a distraction from issues that need to be urgently dealt with - issues such as affordable housing, getting people back to work, profiteering by banks from the Covid crisis and extending maternity leave".
A Social Democrats source said there were still "lots of unanswered questions" following Mr Cowen's statement.
They suggested that this meant his address to the Dáil tonight "does not" draw a line under the controversy.
RISE TD Paul Murphy, who tried but failed to get Dáil business changed so that Mr Cowen would answer questions on the matter, contended the minister "failed to answer the questions the media have asked about his driving on a learner permit".
He argued that outstanding questions included: "Did he drive unaccompanied? Did he display L plates? Did he ever pass a driving test?"
Earlier, Labour Leader Alan Kelly said Minister Cowen must confirm in the Dáil that he never at any point drove without some form of driving licence.
Mr Kelly said that if this confirmation is forthcoming then politicians can move on from the controversy.
Road safety campaigners had called on the minister to detail the reasons why he still had only a provisional driving licence at the age of 49.
Mr Kelly said this morning that many people from rural areas learn to drive young and strive to get a full driving licence as quickly as possible.