Radio: Grief and anger at needless, ‘depressingly familiar’ death of Jonathan Corrie

Review: TDs steered clear of tragic case of homeless man. Sean O’Rourke and Joe Duffy brought humanity

Jonathan Corrie who was found dead in a hallway near the gates of Leinster House

Jonathan Corrie who was found dead in a hallway near the gates of Leinster House

 

The death of Jonathan Corrie is a story that speaks to our most basic emotions, as the out- pouring of grief, anger and frustration across the radio spectrum testifies. But for all that Corrie’s sad end, found dead Monday in a hallway at the gates of Leinster House, appears to be a wake-up call on the homelessness crisis, the on-air coverage over the week merely highlights why this seemingly solvable problem is so intractable.

As so often, Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) takes the direct approach to impressive effect, eschewing analysis in favour of giving voice to those with firsthand experience. On Tuesday, Joe Duffy hears from Anne Marie, a Dublin woman who has been homeless since losing her job and seeing her rent increased. She paints a harrowing picture of life on the streets, where passersby are as big a peril as the elements: she recalls being attacked by pubgoers around the corner from where Corrie died.

But her portrait of the hostels that supposedly provide refuge is even bleaker. “The beds are filthy, there’s blood on the walls, there’s syringe bins in the rooms,” she says. “It’s not nice, especially if you’re not involved in that.” As well as being often violent, hostel life exacerbates alcohol or drug addiction, she adds, particularly in shelters which provide “wet rooms” for drinking.

Duffy is empathetic, but frames his questions for maximum impact. “Where did you spend last Christmas?” he asks. “On the street,” comes Anne Marie’s stark answer. If such exchanges reveal the suffering be- hind the statistics, Duffy’s chat with John Bradley, of the Morning Star Hostel in Dublin, hints at the faultlines which can prevent the crisis being effectively tackled. Bradley says his Legion of Mary-run hostel has not received any state funding, apparently due to its religious affiliations. But he is keen to stress the all-male shelter’s ecumenical admission policy.

Later, the appearance of Dublin’s Lord Mayor Christy Burke highlights the conspicuous silence of politicians on the issue. Rare indeed is it for a big story to unfold in front of the Dáil without a gaggle of TDs straining to give their tuppence worth, but in this case the deputies remain largely absent from the on-air discussions. There is probably a simple reason for this, namely the political class’s cuts that have worsened matters. Duffy astutely observes that much of the problem is because “the number of addiction centres and beds for people who cannot pay has been reduced drastically”. Overall, it’s a fine example of Duffy’s gut-level instincts combining with the popular mood to provide illumination personal stories, no matter that it occasionally veers close to voyeurism.

For all that Corrie’s sad story provides a jolt, it remains to be seen what action it prompts. On Wednesday’s Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) presenter Rachael English talks about the “depressing familiarity” of the story, recalling how she reported on the death of a homeless man around Christmas 1992. “At the time there was a similar outcry,” she glumly remarks. Mike Allen of Focus Ireland agrees, saying persistent rather than panic action is needed: the crisis is “caused by factors which are in our control, such as problems in the housing market and cutbacks in mental health concerns”. Focus Ireland, he adds, has endured 70 per cent cuts in its youth service since the crash. It’s a well-framed interview by English, with Allen’s calm analysis showing how the problem is solvable while highlighting the harsh political realities that get in the way.

And as The Last Word (Today FM) emphasises, seemingly simple solutions can be undone by differing priorities. Tánaiste Joan Burton’s suggestion that the ban on bedsit accommodation be lifted to alleviate the crisis prompts a lively exchange when Matt Cooper talks to Bob Jordan of housing charity Threshold and Fintan McNamara of the Residential Landlords Association. McNamara favours lifting the ban, Jordan doesn’t: the former accusing the latter of “ideological motivation” for his opposition. But for all the need- ling spectacle, it highlights how important goals can get obscured by other rivalries, although Jordan makes a convincing argument against “rolling back standards that have improved the lives of so many vulnerable people”.

It takes Sophie Pigot, the woman who found Corrie’s body on Monday morning, to remind us of the dreadful reason for these increasingly disconnected discussions. Her appearance on Today with Sean O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) is a model of quiet decency and honesty.

She recalls how Jonathan Corrie looked so uncomfortable that she went to check on him. “There was a lot of weight on his fingers,” she notes by way of memorable detail. A trained lifeguard, she quickly realised Corrie was dead, but treated him as sensitively as if he were still alive, getting a tablecloth from nearby Bus- wells hotel to cover the body. “I knew there was a man open to the world at a very sad moment,” she says.

Throughout, Pigot comes across as modest and candid. “It’s become acceptable to act like homeless people are invisible,” she says, noting she herself would generally pass them by.

Moment of the week: Kiss and tell
For those who think the outrageous American rockers Kiss are the exemplars of spectacle and excess, the appearance of Gene Simmons of the band on The Ray D’Arcy Show (Today FM, weekdays) initially seems disconcertingly sedate and reflective. But his deadpan humour soon emerges, particularly on the subject of the opposite sex – he confirms enjoying intimate companionship with thousands of women – and his famously long tongue, a key part of his stage persona. Asked how long this “hideous appendage” is, Simmons answers in impeccably courteous tone. “It’s long enough to get too much attention from your wife.” Politically incorrect but very funny.

radioreview@irishtimes.com

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