Charlatans, crooks and chancers on the Liveline

The radio show ‘Liveline’ is a barometer of the Irish day. Sat snugly in the after-lunch snooze period, it either facilitates that slumber, or raises the eyelid of the nation with indignation or empathy. It has achieved enough fame (or should that be familiarity) for parody, and yet it sticks to the same formula every day. There is no attempt to think of anything new on the ‘Liveline’ – the gameplan is the plain people of Ireland, speaking their minds, on the issues of the day.

And yet. And yet. There is a large and growing constituency of people living in Ireland who would consider themselves to be average and normal, but they are not represented in the national conversation, as it is conducted by the presenter of Liveline,  Joe Duffy. That group can be classified in various ways, but the simplest and crudest would be those people that don’t find Brendan O’Carroll to be particularly funny, or those that don’t spend their days longing for former great days in the poverty-striken tenements of ‘Dubbalin in the rare ould Times‘.

Joe Duffy has achieved some status as a presenter – almost that of his erstwhile promoter and mentor, Gay Byrne. It was on The Gay Byrne Show that  Duffy first came to prominence as a radio personality, albeit as a reporter and a kind of enthusiastic nephew to Uncle Gaybo. But the difference between the two becomes more apparent each day Duffy eases his frame into the Liveline Chair.

Gay Byrne would never have allowed people to spout out nonsense unchallenged, and he called people on their bullshit. He generally took the line of most of his audience in terms of religion and sex (the two were very closely related in Ireland in the 70s and 80s) while being strongly anti-nationalist. He interviewed the author of In God’s Name, for example, David Yallop, on The Late Late Show and treated him, if not with ridicule, then deep and palpable disbelief and skepticism.

While Byrne never ‘came out’ publicly as a devout Catholic, there was always a sense about him that he took his religion seriously, and while outraged at some of the outcomes of Catholic dogma (such as the death of Anne Lovett in 1984) he always had plenty of time for clerics spouting rubbish, and rambling on himself about his schooldays with the Christian Brothers in Synge Street.

But whatever you might say about him, Byrne never facilitated people with mental illness to make fools of themselves, or never gave a platform to the deluded. This is a more important point than it seems because of his important role and contribution to the style of Irish broadcasting.

He did have a weakness (like many RTE presenters) of popping down the hall to grab a pal (or, as they think of themselves, celebrities) to fill a spot, and those moments tended to be his worst. But generally, Byrne brought interesting subjects and debates into the public sphere, and didn’t allow or encourage people to make fools of themselves. (Well, unless it was self-inflicted, as in the case of Oliver Reed)

Sadly, Joe Duffy crossed that line today (Tuesday, February 3) with a discussion about one “Maria Divine Mercy” and “visionaries” who speak to “the Lord”. One of them claimed that she had spoken to Jesus, of all people, and he had said to her: “Did you not think I would never come back and save you”?

Which is very re-assuring for me, as it means there may be a spot for yours truly in heaven, polishing up the Lord’s English, or at least cutting out the double negatives. It strikes me as unsettling that Creator of the Universe, the Alpha and Omega, He that was and He that is to come again, should have such a poor grasp of the English language. (Especially since the King James Bible is some of the most beautiful English ever written.)

I don’t doubt Duffy’s integrity and I think I can imagine what he was trying to do – which was to show the mis-direction of some of the true believers. The first woman on started out by claiming that all the investigations into the House of Prayer in Achill had ended without any convictions. She found this out ‘on the feast of St Joseph’.

And there it is. Here we have someone who is so deep into the Catholic myth that each day has relevance, because somewhere way back in time, some Pope or cleric decided that this day would celebrate this, and another that. And so she does. There is no question of independent thought. She has bought it all, and from now on is just simply ‘accepting the message’. (From where? Voices in her head?)

And this line of thinking is so dangerous and destructive, that to allow it on national radio and to present it as the thoughts of a rational person is immoral in itself. Duffy then asked her if she had given a donation at the House of Prayer, and after much too-ing and fro-ing, she admitted that she had given a donation, and had been given a receipt.

Duffy then played her a tape of Christina Gallagher (head of the same House of Prayer) claiming that she never asked anyone for a donation ‘nor did I take directly from anyone’. Which may be true. Her ‘apostles’ or whatever they are called in that particular cult may have done the taking, but the money ended up in her pockets all the same (assuming we believe her in the first place).

The caller did at least clarify that she paid out the money because she would do the same if she went to Mass. The implication, to anyone in doubt, is that Christianity is a cash business. Those that put on a show deserve to be paid, and adherents are expected to contribute to those who are dispensing the ‘message from God’.

(I’m sure Joe Duffy has the same type of belief structure about his own show, and he certainly has a powerful tool in extracting the money from the public (the RTE licence fee) but that story is for another day.)

Lena (the caller) had many other useful things to say. When told that Bishop Diarmuid Martin didn’t approve of the visionaries or their message, she said that as a member of his ‘flock’ (his what?), she had issues with him not allowing ‘proper’ Catholic instruction in schools, just ‘wishy-washy’ stuff so as not to offend ‘heretics’.

I apologise for the profusion of inverted commas in that last sentence, but read it again just to get a flavor of the world according to Lena. It is a world of unwanted pregnancy and back-street abortions. It is a world or heretics and infidels and (eventually) riding out from the Castle to destroy them all – perfectly in line with the philosophy of the avenging God of the Bible who visits ‘the sins of the fathers on the children up to the third and fourth generation’.

It is unthinking religious mania every bit as insane as the activities of ISIS, though lacking that organsation’s military capabilities.

But mainly it is using credulous and delusional people as a form of entertainment – knowing that while no useful public debate can ensue, ratings, and therefore salaries can be maintained. Sadly, it seems, when it comes to the making of money and radio shows, Christ calls us, not to poverty, but to what might be described by one of our Celtic Tigers as ‘exceptional revenue opportunities’.

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