Note from Editor: In recent days, Thomas Byrne TD has denied many of the allegations made in this piece, as reported here. However, given that Mr. Byrne is a member of the Government, and that these allegations are being levelled, credibly, by a long-term associate of his, and given that they go directly to the question of his character, Gript believes it is in the public interest to allow Mr. McFadden to be heard in full. Readers should consider Mr. McFadden’s account, Mr. Byrne’s denial, and draw their own conclusions.
Ken McFadden is a Fianna Fáil member and activist from County Meath. He has worked closely with Thomas Byrne TD for over a decade, acting as his driver in three elections, and being one of Byrne’s closest confidantes. Here he writes about how he was betrayed by the Minister, and how the Minister, he alleges, is responsible for the story that sank Barry Cowen’s Ministerial Career.
On the night Thomas Byrne was elected in February, his supporters, of which I was one, were leaving the count centre around midnight. Thomas asked a group of us to come back to his house to celebrate.
As someone who has worked for him for years, I was the only one who accepted the invitation. I sat watching election coverage with a beer, In the company of his family members. Around 1am, Micheal Martin, phoned Thomas, and the two men spoke for around ten minutes. When he hung up, Thomas rubbed his hands together, and said “Micheál is talking about government”, and that he (Martin) “wants guys like him (Thomas) to get ministerial experience”. Although the next few days would prove disappointing, at the time this conversation took place, the party looked set for about 45 seats.
Thomas asked me then whether, if he were to be made a minister, I would accept a role as his driver. Without hesitation, I said yes. I had driven Thomas in most elections in the final 2/3 weeks of the campaign, always taking my work holidays to do it, and had previously been employed by Fianna Fáil in 2014 to drive him during his campaign for the European Parliament. The fact that he made this offer, and subsequently withdrew it, has been a subject of controversy for some days. Those are the simple facts of the matter though – an offer was made, and accepted.
Between election night and the commencement of the government formation talks Thomas and I spoke almost daily. He and I have been politically close for years, and he has often used me as a sounding board. But in the most part these conversations were simply speculative, about whether a deal could be done, and who would get what job if it were.
In the course of one of these chats, about three weeks before the formation of the Government, Thomas asked me who I thought would be in Cabinet. I told him that I thought it certain that the five members of the FF negotiating team would get jobs. Thomas disagreed, saying that Barry Cowen would not be appointed, on the basis that “sure wasn’t he done for drink driving, didn’t you know that?” I expressed my disbelief, and considered that the end of the matter.
On the day the Government was formed, Thomas was on the phone to me throughout the day. He was especially hopeful when the news came through that Fianna Fáil had won the education portfolio, since this had been his front bench assignment. He believed himself to be the natural choice for the position. Needless to say, the announcement that Norma Foley had been appointed, and that Thomas was not in cabinet, came as a massive shock to him, and to me. He was very angry, and I was angry on his behalf. He mentioned others who were very angry also. He was considering turning down the offer of a junior ministry, should one come his way, and “going back to the law”, instead – a threat he regularly made when especially disillusioned with politics.
I advised him to wait and see what was offered to him, offered further commiserations, and hung up. At around 1.25am I either tweeted, or retweeted, something, and, seeing that I was awake, Thomas called me again. He was very low, and said his wife was asleep in the bed, but that he was still up. He had negative things to say about one or two of the newly appointed ministers, and then he told me that he had given the Barry Cowen story to the media, mentioning the Irish Independent and Fionnán Sheahan, its political editor. I replied “oh, you didn’t?” and he reaffirmed that he had.
He said to me that he would speak to me again the next day, which was Sunday.
The Thomas Byrne that spoke to me on Sunday was a different man. He began by urging me to delete several tweets that were critical of Micheál Martin, which had been sent because I felt angry that Thomas had been overlooked. Thomas was worried that somebody close to the Taoiseach reads my tweets, and might think I was speaking on Thomas’s behalf. I complied with his request, not wanting to do him damage.
At about 7.30, he called to say that he had spoken to Mr. Martin, and that “all was fine”. I asked him straight “what job did you get”, and he said “I can’t say”, and told me he would speak to me later.
He did not.
Having been in daily contact with Thomas every day since the election, he suddenly went quiet. Messages on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday went unanswered. On Friday, my employer asked me straight out when I was leaving the job to take up the new role with Thomas, which had been promised, and which, out of a sense of fairness, I had told my employer about so that they would have time to replace me. My employer was to interview two people on Saturday for the vacancy, but by this stage my anxiety was rising.
I sent Thomas an urgent message asking him to call me, and got a three word reply: “talk over weekend”. I shared my concerns with two friends, who are councillors, and was told “Ken, you’re fucked”. I was beginning to feel that they were right.
Thomas eventually called me at 7.05pm that evening, from his car. He began by saying that it was a hard call to make. He had, he said, given one of the two drivers jobs to one of his secretaries, and the other to the driver for the outgoing Minister, Helen McEntee, who was moving to become Minister for Justice. He told me that he thought the world of me but that the other driver “god love him”, would have been out of work. I told him, more or less, that it was a strange sort of person who would show more loyalty to someone he didn’t know than to somebody who had worked for him for years. When I began to tell him how angry I was, he told me that his wife and children were in the car, and had been listening to our conversation, as if to cut me off. I felt humiliated by him, and I still feel humiliated by him.
That evening, the Barry Cowen story broke in the Independent.
Over the weekend, I watched it unfold, and my anger grew. Thomas had not just acted disloyally to me, he had also, in a fit of pure pique, set out to destroy a colleague out of pure jealousy. I cannot defend Barry Cowen’s actions four years ago, but I know him to be a decent, smart, loyal, and capable person, who would have made a fine Minister. Knowing that his family were going through this because of one man’s vanity, while knowing how horrendously I had been treated by the same man, my anger grew. But still, I kept silent, out of misplaced loyalty.
It was not until the following Wednesday, when Thomas appeared on the Tonight Show on Virgin Media, that I could take no more. I watched Byrne almost smirk on television as he said that he had no idea where the leak had come from, and I thought “this has to stop”. That’s when I sent the tweet that has gotten everyone talking:
Thomas Byrne told me in a phone call at 1.30am in the morning the night the cabinet was formed he gave the #BarryCowen story to the media, he was bitter at not making cabinet, that is the 100% truth & I will swear it on a bible in any court, Thomas Byrne is a liar #TonightVMTV
— Ken Mc Fadden (@unspeakable28) July 8, 2020
The response to that tweet has been overwhelming, and positive. I know that I am believed, inside the parliamentary party, and amongst the wider public.
I address the question of my being denied a job here because there is no point denying the truth – yes, I felt horrendously treated by Thomas, somebody who went from calling me daily, to avoiding me totally, once advancement was dangled before him. For three elections in a row, I delivered his election leaflets, knocked on doors, took abuse on his behalf, and did all the drudgery and work of an election campaign, without any pay, or reward.
There is much more I could say about Thomas, but residual loyalty – because I remain a Fianna Fáiler – means that I will not. But on this one issue, he deserves to be known for what he is, and to have what he did be widely known.
Some will say I should have stayed quiet. Many will wish that I had. I believe, though, that I have done the right thing, and I would do it again.
Simpler times pic.twitter.com/SnyaEDqbH4
— Ken Mc Fadden (@unspeakable28) July 9, 2020