The reaction on the airwaves to Wednesday's confirmation that Pope Francis will visit Ireland in August once again underlines how much Irish society has changed in the past four decades. When Pope John Paul II announced he was coming here, in 1979, it was a big story at home and abroad. (I remember hearing the news of John Paul's impending visit on a Long Island radio station bulletin.) This time around the reaction is so muted that the closest thing to a wholehearted welcome comes from RTÉ's resident religious sceptic, Ray D'Arcy.
The presenter greets the news on his programme, The Ray D'Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) by talking to Brenda Drumm-Tobin and her mother, Maureen, who were meeting Pope Francis when he made his announcement. As D'Arcy hears how the pontiff blessed an icon and told Brenda to slow down her talking, he keeps the mood cheerful, although he can't help wondering about wider ramifications. "It's a big moment for Ireland, because we will have to look at ourselves and ask questions about our faith," he says. Otherwise D'Arcy keeps any doubts to himself, if only out of respect for his guest. The result is appropriately pleasant.
The atmosphere is more workmanlike on The Last Word (Today FM, weekdays), when Matt Cooper talks to Greg Daly of the Irish Catholic newspaper. Much of the interview is devoted to the logistics of the pope's itinerary; as host and guest discuss potential numbers and ticketing arrangements, the conversation may as well be about The Rolling Stones.
The Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae is to reasoned debate what kerosene is to fire prevention
But there are ripples of discontent. Cooper asks Daly about the event that the pope is coming over for, the World Meeting of Families, wondering whether people from "nontraditional family backgrounds and LGBT households" will be welcome, as the literature for the event "seems to exclude them". Daly answers diplomatically, expressing hope that the event will be inclusive. But it's a theme that runs through much discussion of the visit.
That the Dáil is debating the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution at the same time adds to the ambivalent air surrounding the visit, although few make the connection explicit, at least on air. But it's notable that Cooper's conversation about the pope is followed by a discussion of the controversial remarks about abortion made in the Dáil by Danny Healy-Rae.
The Independent TD, who is to reasoned debate what kerosene is to fire prevention, had taken aim at Minister for Health Simon Harris for sympathising with an expectant mother who travelled to England seeking an abortion for a fatal foetal abnormality before returning with the remains. Cooper plays a clip of the deputy saying “the little dead baby didn’t feel very loved”, as well as suggesting that Hillary Clinton was defeated because of her support for late-term abortions.
Having cued up his audience, the host hears from Jennifer Ryan of the Terminations for Medical Reasons campaign. Ryan's account of why she had a termination is calmly factual – she learned the child she was carrying was fatally ill – but her dignified tone as she tells her heartbreaking tale is a quietly forceful rebuke to Healy-Rae's emotive outburst. Cooper's inquisitorial style isn't always conducive to subtlety or nuance, but his approach with Ryan is suitably understated, which only adds to the item's impact. It's another illustration of how far Ireland has travelled since 1979, though many would say not far enough.
'What are you saying?' Duffy asks fiercely. 'You're wasting my time and your own time. You're totally entitled to make your point, but you contacted us'
Elsewhere there is dissent to Francis's Irish trip from predictable quarters. For example, Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland appears on The Hard Shoulder (Newstalk, weekdays), wondering if the money might be better spent on helping victims of church abuse. But, oddly, the most heated response comes not from some anti-clerical zealot but from a faithful congregant.
In fairness, Alan Whelan is on Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) not to decry the papal visit but to bemoan the fact that the announcement has been spoiled by the Association of Catholic Priests. The Co Kerry listener is annoyed that the association – "a group of subversive priests" who are "forever complaining" – has overshadowed the news by highlighting the same issue that Cooper raises: the apparent exclusion of nontraditional families from promotional material for the World Meeting of Families.
If anything, Whelan tells Joe Duffy, there's a feeling among many of his fellow congregants that the prospectus for the World Meeting suffers from "over-minoritisation". Families from different backgrounds are "overemphasised" in the material, he suggests. He stresses that nontraditional families "have to be catered for" but not to the extent that "the families in the pew are to be ignored".
This proves a red rag to the presenter. Duffy presses his guest about his loaded terminology, wonders how he can know the sexuality of fellow churchgoers and asks what his point is. Whelan seems unclear, drawing his host’s ire. “What are you saying?” Duffy asks fiercely. “You’re wasting my time and your own time. You’re totally entitled to make your point, but you contacted us.”
But just as Duffy is working up a head of steam he is abruptly derailed, as Whelan corrects him: “No, Joe, you contacted me.” The presenter apologises, and the advantage shifts to his guest. “I’ve not come on to whinge, I was invited on to your programme,” Whelan says as Duffy meekly goes to an ad break. It’s a rare slip-up by Duffy, but one that underlines the perils of righteous outrage. If someone is a visitor, a polite welcome never goes amiss.
Moment of Week: Kerr errs
In a station full of angry middle-aged men, Bobby Kerr is a jolly exception to the Newstalk norm. His Sunday-morning show, Bobby's Late Breakfast, is conducted in a spirit of conviviality, the host adopting the same affable tone with guests as diverse (and semi-stellar) as the Marillion frontman Steve Hogarth, the comic actor Andy Quirke and the Irish singer-songwriter Inni-K. Kerr introduces the latter by remarking on her distinctive name, comparing it with his previous musical guests The Sick and Indigent Song Club. Well, almost. "The most unusual name we had before this morning was The Sick and Indignant Song Club," Kerr cheerfully says. The atmosphere of indignation at Newstalk is clearly contagious.