Radio: Lugubrious Duffy uneasy with recent grim news tales

Liveline host happier with more familiar gripes, as John Murray is bowled over by kid’s fighting talk

Joe Duffy: only really starts to sound relaxed again on Wednesday, as Liveline resumes its role as the nation’s outlet for gripes about contemporary life. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

The air may be distressingly thick with cases of murdered women, but as Joe Duffy discusses the long unsolved female homicide, he sounds positively chirpy, at least by his own lugubrious standards. In fairness to the host of Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), he isn't talking about the conviction of Graham Dwyer or Ian Bailey's lost legal action. The case he refers to is nearly 75 years old, and, inasmuch as there can be a good news story about the murder of a mother of seven, Duffy is more at ease discussing this than more recent instances.

On Wednesday, he talks to RTÉ reporter Barry Cummins, who tells how the State has granted a posthumous pardon to Harry Gleeson, the Tipperary man wrongfully hanged for the fatal shooting of his neighbour Moll McCarthy in 1940. Cummins recounts Gleeson’s nightmarish fate. He was convicted on flimsy circumstantial evidence and maintained his innocence up to his execution.

Bernadette Gorman, whose father was a friend of Gleeson, has real emotion in her voice as she notes that “finally a man’s good name is cleared”, albeit many decades too late. After the grimness of recent news, the item is almost a tonic.

But for all that Duffy honours Gleeson’s vindication, he doesn’t forget that this is at heart a bad good news story (or should that be the other way round?). He remembers there remains a murder victim whose killer was never found and notes that as Gleeson is dead, it costs the State nothing to apologise. Moreover, Elaine O’Hara’s appalling death at the hands of Dwyer still looms large.


The host asks Cummins, who covered that trial, for his feelings about it. “I’m glad it’s over,” the reporter replies, the depth of his relief palpable in that simple phrase.

The guilty verdict doesn’t end the on-air discussions about Dwyer’s crime, however. Monday’s edition is a masterclass in maximising coverage of a difficult story, as the host debates the ethics of devoting a great deal of airtime to the O’Hara murder. Musician Noirín Ní Riain objects to the media’s “prurient” and “de-spiritualising” treatment of the trial, while crime reporter Paul Williams is dismissive of such notions.

“I don’t care for the sensibilities of anyone’s spirit in all this,” says Williams, adding people need to know about this “predatory monster”. Duffy plays the honest broker, though there are hints of his own feelings. When Ní Riain opines that “there is redemption in everyone”, Duffy lets out his trademark expression of doubt, a long and weary “hmmmm”.

Still, at least Elaine O’Hara’s murderer has been caught. On Tuesday, when talk drifts towards Ian Bailey’s unsuccessful civil case over the Garda investigation into the unsolved murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, Duffy goes into full libel alert mode. He forcefully reminds his guests that no one has ever been charged in the case, lest loose tongues prompt more legal action.

Little wonder that the presenter only really starts to sound relaxed again on Wednesday, as Liveline resumes its role as the nation's outlet for gripes about contemporary life. As he harrumphs over the supposedly unsavoury audience atmosphere at a public appearance by mixed martial artist Conor McGregor, and asks whether kickboxing counts as sport, Duffy has the air of a man who is happy to be back in his comfort zone.

The McGregor press conference also comes under the spotlight on The John Murray Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), though the focus is jarringly different. Murray talks to Nathan Kelly, a nine-year-old who created a stir at the conference by declaring from the floor that he was going to be a mixed martial arts champion like his hero McGregor. In contrast to Liveline's tut-tutting take, the tone of Murray's item is unabashedly light. But while it starts out as a quirky nugget, after a while the presenter appears nonplussed by his young guest.

Although a pre-teen, Kelly not only has the swaggering language of an older fighter – “I’ve just reached superstardom,” he says of his newfound social media fame – but a similar training regimen, spending three hours a day in the gym. “So you’ve plenty going on in your life, apart from school,” Murray says, imbuing the second clause with an eagerly wishful air. (Kelly, joined on air by his supportive mother, reassuringly confirms he’s only allowed train after completing his homework.)

By the time Kelly, who already styles himself “Nate the Great”, suggests that Murray’s show provide sponsorship for him, the host is laughing nervously. “You’re trying to get a few grand off me,” he says, barely able to conceal his bewilderment at the boy’s audacity.

The more Murray talks to his guest, the more his undercurrent of unease becomes obvious. Kelly has the enthusiastic dedication and unshakeable faith in his dreams but he is still just a child. As Murray’s quietly alarmed manner suggests, there are some times when you can get too much coverage.