You just have to hand it Gaybo, like him or not!
Gay Byrne, the grand old man of Irish broadcasting, has not gone away, you know. He still does some radio and television work and he is, of course, Road Safety Authority Chairman.
He has always calls a spade a spade. There was a time, God help us, when he was seen as something of a threat to faith and morals, as the Late Late Show gave a public airing to what were considered sensitive social and moral issues.
We have grown up quite a bit since then. But there are many issues we still have to get right. And one relates to An Garda Siochana. Recently, on his Lyric FM radio show, he let fly on the penalty points issue. He said that the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, and the Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, should apologise to whistleblowers, Sergeant Maurice McCabe and former Garda John Wilson. And then, critically, he said that the Commissioner should do everything in his power to reinstate Mr Wilson and ensure Sgt McCabe was promoted.
This was a strong challenge to the Government which deserves careful consideration. After all, the Coalition promised us nothing short of a “democratic revolution’’ when it took over. The old politics would be a thing of the past.
Mr Byrne said that the whistleblowers, who had brought to light the quashing of penalty points by An Garda Siochana, had been “grossly wronged’’. And he added: “I’m talking about John Wilson and Sergeant McCabe…they have been ballyragged and contradicted and made to feel badly, and the right thing to do now would be to come out in the open and say ‘we’re sorry these guys have been wronged and we want to put it right.’’
The veteran broadcaster said the public reaction to such an apology would be wonderful, particularly if the men were reinstated and promoted. He said that the Minister and the Commissioner should say that not alone did they apologise sincerely, but that they would do everything in their power to reinstate Mr Wilson, if that was what he wanted, and saw to it that Sgt McCabe got promoted.
Mr Byrne’s suggestion should be considered, given that he has no vested interest in all of this. It would certainly represent something of a ‘democratic revolution’ and a version of new politics, if it happened.
The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, in the United States, declined to comment on Mr Byrne’s remarks, arguing justifiably that he had not heard the programme. But now, on return home, he should hear a recording and encourage the Minister and the Commissioner to carefully consider.
Nobody is denying the Gardaí do a very good job, sometimes in very difficult circumstances. Gardai have paid the ultimate price in the line of duty: giving their lives in the service of their country.
But garda structures need an overhaul. And a good beginning would be a public acknowledgement whistleblowers’ courage and a recognition that they were not, at a minimum, treated fairly.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Leo Varadkar, called on the Commissioner to withdraw comments in which he described the actions of the whistleblowers as “disgusting”.
The Commissioner has said that he used the term “disgusting” to describe the leaking of details of the quashing of penalty points but added that this was not a reference to their character.
Nevertheless, the Minister said that the comment should still be withdrawn. He said it was very important to bear in mind that the whistleblowers released information after they tried to use correct procedures which had failed them.
And, as the Minister pointed out, when they did release the information, they did it through Oireachtas members which was provided for under the Garda Act of 2005.
In his St Patrick’s Day trip to the US, he spoke at the all-male Hibernian Society’s St Patrick’s Day dinner in Savannah, Georgia - previously boycotted by the Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore, over the exclusion of women. Mr Varadkar reminded his hosts that Irish people aspire to a society that included “Catholic, Protestant, believer and non-believer, gay, straight, male, female’’.
The Minister’s courage should not be underestimated. There was no Dail sitting last week to facilitate the exodus of Ministers, all but two of whom travelled the globe. The number was utterly excessive.
Now that they have returned, and the Dail has resumed, and the last of the party conferences, Fianna Fail’s in this case, has been held, could we have some real debate ?
And let’s start with Gaybo’s suggestion about the whistleblowers.