Heroes get deserved recognition - People of the Year

It is unprecedented — but entirely fitting — that two individuals who triggered the resignations of a minister for justice and a Garda commissioner, while forcing a Taoiseach to change his tune, should be honoured among the recipients of the People of the Year awards. But that is precisely what happened at the weekend, bringing to a close, for now, a chapter of the saga surrounding garda whistleblowers Maurice McCabe and John Wilson who have exposed wholesale corruption within the gardaí.

Heroes get deserved recognition - People of the Year

Despite being a target of relentless intimidation at the hands of their peers, and in the face of a spate of vicious rumours about their motives, they have set an extraordinary example of courage. They have endured a torrent of insult and anger from people who should have heeded the allegations of wrongdoing within the force. Thanks to the bravery of two whistleblowers, reputations have fallen as those in authority turned a deaf ear to the persistent claims about widespread abuse of the penalty points system and of its cost in terms of lives and money.

At a time when the bulk of the media were accepting the official line, the Irish Examiner stuck by the whistleblowers, giving them a hearing and, in the public interest, giving them the space they needed to lift the lid on a can of stinking worms in the face of constant pressure. The scandal led to the resignation of former justice minister Alan Shatter while ex-Garda commissioner Martin Callinan had no alternative than to fall on his sword, a weapon reportedly driven home by Taoiseach Enda Kenny. And having poured scorn on the claims, Mr Kenny was subsequently forced to admit gardaí “did not do enough” to engage with the whistleblowers.

Similar stories of courage echo throughout the awards sponsored by the National Rehabilitation Clinic and should not go untold. They are: Rory O’Neill, figurehead of Ireland’s equality campaign; Mary and Tony Heffernan, who set up the Saoirse Foundation which transports children with rare and genetic diseases ; Paul Kelly who formed a suicide prevention service after the death of his sister; Louise O’Keeffe who was abused in primary school and defeated the Coalition in the European Court of Human Rights; and Owen Condon, a 17-year-old hero who saved a man’s life by performing CPR.

The Young Person of the Year awards were won by 15-year-old Adam Horgan, who saved the lives of a woman and her toddler when they got into difficulty off the coast of Youghal, and Shane Kennedy who devoted himself to looking after his younger brother who had a chromosomal disorder. The International Person of the Year is Dublin-based Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental. Considering the season it was most appropriate that the Community Group award was won by the St Vincent de Paul charity.

It is equally fitting that as this chapter of the whistleblower scandal comes to an end with public recognition of what has been achieved, the final word should go to Sgt Maurice McCabe: “I believe I did my job. I did my duty and that’s all that matters.”

Because of men like him, Ireland is a better place.

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