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Joe Duffy’s snap judgment on Simon Harris’s Stardust apology somehow captures the wider mood

Not for the first time the Liveline host was preparing to judge the sincerity of the occasion

On Tuesday, not for the first time, a Taoiseach stands up in the Dáil and publicly apologises on behalf of the State for failing its citizens. Meanwhile, not for the first time, Joe Duffy is waiting on Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) to assess the sincerity of the occasion. And having heard Simon Harris’s speech to the bereaved families and survivors of the Stardust fire, Duffy delivers his decision. “The reaction we’re getting so far,” he says, opening the metaphorical envelope, “is that the speech was dignified, that it didn’t pull its punches, that it was delivered very calmly.” It’s a snap judgment by a radio host, but as Liveline is wont to do at such junctures, it somehow captures the wider mood.

Of course, Duffy’s opinion isn’t the one that really matters. He takes his cue from the programme’s callers, so often the de-facto jury in the court of public opinion. Crucially, his contributors include Stardust relatives such as Lisa Lawlor, who was a baby when her parents, Francis and Maureen, died in the horrific nightclub fire. “I’m absolutely full of joy and relief. I’m very relieved today,” she says. “They’re vindicated.”

These sentiments are echoed on Wednesday by Patricia O’Connor, who was 16 when she suffered severe burns from the flames that killed her friend Caroline Carey – “I went out with that girl that night and she never came out” – but who now finally feels like “a grown woman” after the Taoiseach’s statement. Her fellow survivor Jimmy Fitzpatrick, who was “mummified” in bandages after escaping the fire, says he has been “running on fumes” since the coroner’s inquest that delivered the verdict of unlawful killing the previous Thursday, but he deems the official apology robust and genuine.

Despite the disgraceful neglect by State bodies for 43 years after the dreadful events of February 1981, Duffy’s guests sound buoyed by emotion. It may be a fleeting snapshot, but such unfiltered reactions feel significant.


This outcome isn’t a given. Liveline’s verdicts on State apologies haven’t always been positive: Micheál Martin’s contrite speech on the mother and baby homes report in 2021 received a lukewarm reaction from survivors on the show. Moreover, as Duffy highlights, merely saying sorry isn’t enough. By way of cautionary fable, he talks to Miriam Owens, a Tralee woman, about Bertie Ahern’s apology in 1999, as taoiseach, to people who were raised, and abused, in religious institutions.

Owens, who spent her childhood in an industrial school after her mother became ill, says the promises made at the time remain unfulfilled 25 years later. “It was like we got the apology – now get on with your lives,” she says, pointing to a lack of recognition of survivors’ experiences. The Stardust may be a more circumscribed tragedy than the sprawling gulag that institutionalised tens of thousands, but Miriam has salutary advice for the families: “Don’t let it go.”

If the week’s discussions highlight Liveline’s durable ability to tap into big issues at a human level, the individual pen portraits in the Taoiseach’s speech underscore that the Stardust victims overwhelmingly were working people. But despite being “people who get up early”, to use Leo Varadkar’s pithy phrase, it proved a handicap when it came to getting justice: as Jimmy Fitzpatrick tells Duffy, they were vilified “all because they were working-class people”.

So it’s heartening to hear a defiantly upbeat item about a too often maligned inner city neighbourhood of Dublin on The Ray D’Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). On Tuesday the host talks to Tara O’Kelly, from the Liberties, who recalls the death of her mother when she was only six years old, and being raised with her three sisters by her aunt Adrienne. “I was unlucky – my parents passed away and they had addiction problems – but usually people don’t get a second chance like I did,” says O’Kelly, who credits her “amazing” aunt for steering her away from drugs: “As an adult, I’m so grateful.”

O’Kelly’s tale is inspirational – it has gone viral on the Humans of Dublin social-media account – but it’s part of a bigger story, as she’s keen to stress. She has long worked at Noel’s Deli, a Liberties landmark whose owner, Noel Fleming, also speaks to D’Arcy. Together, they paint a picture of an area where people pull together in the face of adversity: “Everyone is so there for each other,” says O’Kelly. Given the week’s events, it’s a tonic to hear accounts of community solidarity framed in such infectiously optimistic terms.

It’s another boost for D’Arcy, whose show has been enjoying an unexpected resurgence, or perhaps resurrection, given how moribund it had become. His inner-city item is preceded by Monday’s interview with the English actor and west Cork resident Jeremy Irons, who proves drolly reflective company. Irons talks about his career arc and charity work before ruminating with his host over the unknowability of the self. “We’re different people to different people,” Irons muses. “We’ll know who we are when we’re dead.” It’s an improbable but enjoyable conversation, and it fits the pattern of D’Arcy’s recent revival, a rare bright spot in a troubled RTÉ.

Likewise, there are glimmers of hope on Montrose’s digital fringes as For the Record (RTÉ Gold, Sunday) returns for a second season, with the Labour Party leader, Ivana Bacik, the latest celebrity guest to allow the programme’s presenter, Pat O’Mahony, a rummage through their album collection. It’s a loose-limbed affair, as the self-confessed “indie girl” chats fondly about Billy Bragg, Wham! and the 1980s Dublin music scene, to a backdrop of crackling vinyl and O’Mahony’s amiable kvetching: “Your filing system leaves a lot to be desired.” But the show is a desirable nugget for RTÉ Gold, so recently spared the axe now due to fall on other Montrose digital stations such as 2XM and Pulse. RTÉ may yet regret such cuts: it’s never too late to change your mind and repent for your mistakes.

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