I have a famous brother, Julian. It is more than likely you have heard of him, as most people seem to know the name these days, due largely to his authorship of the television series Downton Abbey. The other day I phoned into a talk show we have here on the radio, hosted by Joe Duffy (Talk To Joe RTE1, 1.45pm weekdays). I was calling to chuck my ten cents worth into a discussion about Roma beggars in Dublin. I have worked in Romania and was objecting to a suggestion that begging is part of Romanian culture or even Roma culture (though they are generally bound to have some history of it, being treated usually as social pariahs, not to be pitied or employed). Be that as it may, it didn’t take Joe long to ask about Julian and from then on it was an interview about being his brother.
Joe is a huge influence on Irish society. If there is one leading sector of the Fourth Estate in Ireland it is radio. In my time here Joe’s programme has persuaded a Government Minister to change a proposed tax on holiday homes, winning an exemption for caravans. It took less than 24 hours for the minister to buckle. As always, it all comes down to the Irish sense of community. Callers to Joe come from every part of the country and every walk of life and it is a brave (and probably doomed) politician who doesn’t heed his audience and the man himself when he is on a high horse, which he often is. I wouldn’t say he should take any blame, but when he decided head shops were a Bad Thing it was only days before a few were burnt down and soon after the rest were outlawed.
As well as Joe there is the more politically focused Pat Kenny (The Pat Kenny Show, RTE1 11.00am weekdays and lately, The Frontline on telly). I met Pat once, down here, when he came to open a show at our local art gallery (there’s more to this, but some other time). He’s a pleasant, beautifully groomed man, with a gorgeous wife, and an easy man to talk to, as I discovered. He too can influence governments and ministers. It isn’t done like the Radio 4 Today programme. In Ireland everyone is polite and good-humoured. People on Irish radio are more than happy to burst into laughter, sometimes prolonged. It’s lovely. Maybe they get cross on Today because they don’t really have any influence.
Pat and Joe don’t have to get cross or rude. What they advocate will be heeded.