Wide-eyed Joe Duffy: Wet behind the ears or dunked in amniotic fluid?

Radio: Playing the naif is tricky when the topic is the glorification of criminality at a funeral

The funeral of Dean Maguire, who died along with two other men when the car they were travelling in hit a lorry while they were driving the wrong direction up the N7 near Baldonnel. Photograph: Collins

The funeral of Dean Maguire, who died along with two other men when the car they were travelling in hit a lorry while they were driving the wrong direction up the N7 near Baldonnel. Photograph: Collins

 

For a man who deals with gritty topics so much, Joe Duffy sometimes appears disconcertingly wide-eyed about the ways of the world. Having spent most of Tuesday’s Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) discussing funerals that glorify criminality, Duffy hears from a woman whose mother’s grave lies beside a tombstone for a recently deceased young man, featuring a marble gun on a pedestal.

Duffy empathises with his caller – the man’s grave is a regular site for drinking sessions – but wonders if there’s “an innocent explanation” for the garishly aggressive carving. “Did he represent Ireland in pistol shooting at the Olympics?” he asks, guilelessly.

Taken at face value, the host sounds less wet behind the ears than still fully dunked in amniotic fluid. Of course, the streetwise Duffy is only playing the naif, giving the benefit of the doubt while playing to the gallery. But it’s a tricky approach to take when covering the much-publicised funeral of Dean Maguire, one of three men killed in a collision after driving down a motorway the wrong way.

Noting that his own mother has been burgled, Joe Duffy talks to other victims, such as Maria, who recalls a nocturnal intruder entering her bedroom wielding a screwdriver

Maguire, who along with his fellow crash victims Karl Freeman and Graham Taylor had multiple convictions for burglary, was buried after a service described by a priest at the church, Fr Donal Roche, as “the most disturbing liturgy” he’d ever heard. Among the funeral offerings were a screwdriver and a torch, tools associated with housebreaking, though Duffy, again playing the innocent inquisitor, later muses whether Maguire was “a carpenter or a plumber”.

Fr Roche’s account is accompanied by callers expressing their disgust at the glorification of criminality. The next day, however, Duffy hears another side to the story, when he talks to Maguire’s aunt, who gives her name as Anne. She is “well aware” of her nephew’s criminal record but is angry at media coverage “making them out to be mass murderers”.

Anne speaks of her “well-respected” family’s being bereft – “nobody deserves a death like that” – while chastising those who judge Maguire solely on his crimes, particularly when she feels others are less harshly treated. “What about the paedophiles in this country?” 

Duffy, meanwhile, tries to balance sensitivity with questions about Maguire’s activities – “Burglary is an awful crime” – and his funeral Mass. “Was there anything at the funeral that made you uncomfortable?” he asks Anne. “Why would I be uncomfortable?” she replies.

It certainly makes for uneasy listening. Even allowing for Liveline’s remit to give a platform to as many voices as possible, it’s hard to know what is to be gained by hearing from a woman full of grief and loyalty. “Blood is thicker than water,” Anne observes. Duffy, normally so sure-footed, sounds uncertain how to proceed at times.

I always believed once we could get the young fellas through their early 20s, you could get them back on the straight and narrow... There is always hope

But the host is unambiguous about the devastating effect of the dead men’s crimes. Noting that his own mother has been burgled, he talks to other victims, such as Maria, who recalls a nocturnal intruder entering her bedroom wielding a screwdriver. “He took my sense of being safe in my own home,” she says. Others offer more unvarnished opinions. “It’s a terrible thing to say, but they got what they deserved,” says Mary. Duffy protests but can hardly be surprised at such reactions, given the unedifying nature of the discussion he’s hosting.

Amid all this, however, Duffy shows why he’s emotionally invested in the subject. He makes clear his hatred of people being judged on where they’re from, remarking on the lenient sentences of some white-collar criminals. He also speaks of his one-time job as a probation officer, by way of reaffirming his belief that offenders can be rehabilitated. “I always believed once we could get the young fellas through their early 20s, you could get them back on the straight and narrow.” He’s more succinct later. “There is always hope,” he says plaintively. In this case, Duffy isn’t playing up for the listeners. Rather, it sounds like he’s trying to convince himself.

There’s little doubt in evidence when Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe is quizzed about Ireland’s opposition to global tax reform on Today with Claire Byrne (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). Ireland is only one of a handful of countries refusing to sign up to an OECD plan for a worldwide minimum rate of corporate taxation, but the Minister is adamant in his decision. “The very fact that I’ve decided Ireland cannot be in this agreement at the moment is testament to my commitment to protecting our rate and protecting our national interests,” he says, managing to be both blandly jargonistic and grandly self-regarding.

Justifying his stance, Donohoe points to a “lack of clarity” in the plan. “The detail really matters,” he says, focusing on the proposed rate of “at least” 15 per cent, as opposed to Ireland’s 12.5 per cent level. Byrne’s questions, on the other hand, focus on the bigger picture, suggesting that “it looks really bad” for Ireland to be aligned with countries like Viktor Orban’s “illiberal democracy” of Hungary in their opposition. The Minister replies that if he’d signed up to such an “unclear” plan, the host would be asking him “very legitimate questions” about its ramifications, which he would be unable to answer, a telling snapshot of his priorities.

Claire Byrne wonders if the State’s sacrosanct corporate tax level is akin to 'Dumbo’s feather', which the cartoon elephant mistakenly thought he needed to fly

But if Donohoe doesn’t yield to his host’s quizzing, Byrne’s sceptical interview technique is nonetheless illuminating. For all his insistence on focusing on technical details, the Minister sounds defensive when it’s suggested his case is based on “self-pity and special pleading”. Similarly, when asked if Ireland’s soft power is damaged, Donohoe says he’s keenly aware of the country’s standing; the conundrum of how shunning a global plan doesn’t impact our international reputation isn’t addressed. 

The overall impression is less one of pragmatic resolve than short-sighted stubbornness, particularly given the Minister’s admission that “the global tax world is changing”. It’s a fine piece of public service radio, highlighting contentious policy decisions in a clear manner. Ultimately, Byrne wonders if the State’s sacrosanct corporate tax level is akin to “Dumbo’s feather”, which the cartoon elephant mistakenly thought he needed to fly: “Are we clinging on to something believing it’s essential?” Donohoe prefers to characterise the tax rate as a pillar – a clever comeback, though, of course, pillars collapse while feathers soar. Now who’s being naive?

Moment of the Week: Sunny disposition

It says something about the Irish psyche that so many radio items on the heatwave focus on its negative effects, such as sunburn. So thank goodness for Henry McKean’s typically spirited vox pop on Moncrieff (Newstalk), in which the reporter – uncharacteristically wearing shorts, he informs us – hears from people revelling in the sunshine of the “Costa del Donaghmede”, as one interviewee calls it. Everyone is in good spirits: even those working sound happy, as a supermarket worker laughs about hiding in the store fridge. One man sums up the mood: “I’m not complaining about any heat, because I know in a few months we’ll be in our long johns.” Enjoy it while you can.

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