Joan Burton, the C-word and a revenge pornography ordeal

Radio review: Threats to women were to the fore of Sean O’Rourke’s shows after the murder of Jo Cox

“The C-word, which is the word of choice in these matters, is meant to dehumanise and belittle women,” says former Labour Party leader Joan Burton on Today with Sean O’Rourke. Photograph: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

“The C-word, which is the word of choice in these matters, is meant to dehumanise and belittle women,” says former Labour Party leader Joan Burton on Today with Sean O’Rourke. Photograph: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

 

When it comes to public admiration, our politicians won’t be troubling our footballers in the popularity stakes any time soon. So when two of the political class plea for sympathy it seems like the cue for tiny violin cases to be broken open across the nation.

Yet when the former Labour Party leader Joan Burton and the Fine Gael MEP Mairéad McGuinness appear on Today with Sean O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) to talk about the abuse routinely aimed at them, unaccustomed feelings of charity and even concern well up. On Monday, with the murder of the British Labour Party MP Jo Cox fresh in the memory, McGuinness tells O’Rourke about offensive graffiti painted near her home in Co Meath, for the second time in a year.

McGuinness says that although she has been tempted to ignore the slogans she now feels more worried. But, aside from any physical threat, the hostility to politicians on social media is such that she is wary of even raising the issue. “I’m conscious that I might provoke a reaction, that if I say nothing it might go away, so there’s a bit of a coward in me,” she says.

Burton is worried about the wider ramifications of this “coarsening” of political discourse, which has a particularly sexist slant. “The C-word, which is the word of choice in these matters, is meant to dehumanise and belittle women,” she says, adding that although those who spew such insults may not be violent, they can embolden others.

It says something that as the item progresses one feels sorry for a minister who oversaw large public-service cuts. But O’Rourke ensures that countercurrents are present too. When Burton repeatedly compares online abuse to propaganda that preceded the genocide in Rwanda, O’Rourke pointedly remarks that “we’re a long way back from that here”. The host also reads out a listener’s tweet : “If you implement austerity we will be angry.” Burton’s response is pithy: “Is this talk helping us recover as a society?”

Lest there be any doubt about the corrosive effect of misogyny in the online world, a woman called Jane appears on Tuesday to recount what O’Rourke, using atypically emotive language, calls a “revenge-porn nightmare”. Jane – not her real name – tells of her discovery that a pornography website featured sexually explicit photographs and videos of her. The images, taken by an ex-boyfriend, had been viewed 10,000 times. “I felt so vulnerable and violated, it made me feel physically sick,” Jane says.

 

As if this wasn’t harrowing enough, when Jane and her parents complained to the Garda they were told that it’s not illegal to post such intimate material without consent. It was only when her family confronted her ex – who had been both verbally and physically abusive – and forced him to delete all the material that the images stopped appearing online.

The item underlines O’Rourke’s growth into his role as a daytime host. He is as inquisitive as ever, but he can be quietly empathetic when necessary: at one stage his voice uncharacteristically dries up at what he terms “this tough story”.

As for Jane, her experiences have been intrusive and menacing, but the lack of legal protection now bothers her most. “It’s horrific that something like this has to come to light before anything changes,” she says.

Making the transition from current affairs to chatshows is never easy, as Katie Hannon proves during her stint as stand-in host on Marian Finucane (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday and Sunday). She is a seasoned political correspondent, but she sounds uncertain about what tone to adopt with Michael Colgan, the departing artistic director of the Gate Theatre.

Hannon initially seems star-struck by her guest’s celebrity cast lists. She grills Colgan so lightly about his encounters with Ralph Fiennes, Al Pacino and Mia Farrow that even he seems slightly embarrassed.

Then Hannon stops lobbing softballs, with ever more uncomfortable results for Colgan. She asks about his spat with Tom Murphy, prompting Colgan to explain awkwardly why the playwright broke a plate over his head. She wonders whether the Gate’s programming, which Colgan characterises as classical theatre, is “too safe”, appealing to a “lower common denominator”.

By the time Hannon presses her guest on why his theatre features so few women writers, Colgan must wish that he hadn’t dissuaded his host from celebrity gossip. He says that he has to get “bums on seats”, feebly adding that “mostly the plays have a woman’s voice and a woman’s theme in them”. “But not a female playwright,” answers Hannon, coolly reeling in her guest.

As Hannon finds her groove she shows that she has the chops to handle the broad spectrum of a daytime radio show. Colgan is robust enough not to be overly discomfited, which ensures that the encounter remains engaging. (His pops at politicians who brag about Ireland’s culture while depriving the arts of funding are particularly timely.) He even finds time to proclaim his ambition to be a radio presenter. He’ll have to get in line behind Hannon.

Moment of the week: Ryan raves about Ryan

On Wednesday The Ryan Tubridy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) carries the uplifting story of Ryan Wyer, an autistic, visually impaired 12-year-old Dubliner who has made a rare video for the cult techno artist Aphex Twin. As Tubridy speaks to Wyer’s mother the tone is celebratory but also slightly stilted, as the presenter discusses the subject with the bewildered air of a nonagenarian uncle who’s swapped his telephone for Snapchat. After being informed that Aphex Twin is one person, Richard D James, Tubridy still asks about “their music”. As for the track, he likens it to a 1980s gameshow tune. Tubridy’s journey from a young fogey to an old one seems complete.

radioreview@irishtimes.com

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