Credit where credit is due. When RTÉ sets its mind to doing something well, it usually succeeds. (The reverse, of course, is equally true, and there have been programming disasters in the past which are best forgotten.)
The two-part documentary on the Maurice McCabe saga, presented by Katie Hannon, made for absorbing and unsettling viewing. But it also went to demonstrate the power of public service broadcasting and the importance of maintaining clear blue water between RTÉ and those who might wish to influence what we, the public, get to see and hear. The relation between RTÉ and its political masters has not always been a happy one, all the better for the public whose interest professedly comes first.
The courage and tenacity of Maurice and Lorraine McCabe – and she possibly more so – as revealed in the documentary was nothing less than extraordinary. How much easier it might have been to walk away with head down and gaze averted the other way? How great the temptation must have been to trade the integrity that was their hallmark in exchange for the warmth and companionship of colleagues and the wider local community? And how great the strain of ostracisation must have been on the McCabes and on their young family.
Were it not for the intervention of Castlebar man, Noel Brett, then head of the Road Safety Authority, it is likely that Maurice McCabe would have grown tired of beating against a stone wall and would have given up. It was Noel Brett who listened to what he had to say and then set the wheels in motion for the full-scale enquiry into the penalty points scandal.
Even then, the wall of resolute opposition to McCabe remained firmly in place. The official enquiry, led by Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahoney, concluded that there was no evidence of the alleged deception or irregularities. Justice Minister, Alan Shatter, with a naïve trust in the advice being given to him by his department officials, welcomed the findings. And he went even further, wrongly claiming that neither McCabe nor John Wilson, the other whistleblower, had co-operated with the enquiry.
It was a glib mistruth that dismayed McCabe but would eventually cost Shatter his job.
But it was then that our oft-derided politicians showed their true mettle by choosing to stand with McCabe. John McGuinness, Clare Daly and Mick Wallace opted to make life less cosy for themselves in support of the embattled Garda sergeant. They in turn came under immense pressure to remain silent, and the shameful leaking to the media of Daly’s arrest for drunk driving was an indication of how far the establishment was prepared to go to guard its patch.
If the vindication of Maurice McCabe was a story with a happy ending, there is another darker side to the coin. The outcome raises as many questions as it answers. The observer must ask, just how embedded is the culture of wrongdoing in the garda when the most senior officers were prepared to go to such lengths as to ruin a dedicated serving member of the force? Is the level of corruption so endemic in the organisation that Gardaí must tread ever warily in doing their duty and must, in their own interests, turn the blind eye to behaviour that runs counter to everything they have sworn to honour and respect ?
And how many other Maurice McCabes are there who, having witnessed the hell on earth that he had to endure for so long, have concluded that the game is not worth the candle?