Shay Healy talks to the ‘Ear of the Nation’ Joe Duffy

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“I’m up a six  every morning But . I usually have a headphone at the side of the bed to Radio 4. When I’m lying in the bed..I ask myself why on earth are you getting up so early every morning and the answer is because I can. I get up out of bed I go for a swim or the gym. And I know a lot of people who would love to be up at six every so I’ll eep that going as along as I can I will. Every day of the week bar Saturday and Sunday I do that and on Saturday and Sunday I don’t sleep past 8 o’clock..I must have got that from my father. He was a very early riser. And he was always punctual, so its in my DNA. I enjoy being up on these mornings that are very bright and I like the silence that goes with swimming. You can’t talk if you’re swimming or you can, but you’ll swallow a lot of water I go  down to the swimming pool for forty minute.”
As the unofficial ombudsman of the people via Liveline  you might expect Joe to be possibly a bit gloomy. Not a bit of it. Joe is no slave to the past.
“I primarly  carry tomorrow’s programme in my head.. You know yourself, at three o’clock the programme finishes and the challenge is not to its not go back over today’s programme, but to plan for tomorrow. That’s why I’m listening to radios all the time.. I have radios all over the house, on my phone, on my iPad, on my computer and the only time I’m not listening to the radio is the forty minutes I’m in the swimming pool”.
“Now I don’t mean I‘m sitting somewhere like a French resistance fighter, in a flat in Normandy looking for the key words that will unlock an item up.  “I’m monitoring all broadcasts, but for instance,yesterday I was listening to Radio Four and I hear them talking about reintroducing the lynx, the cat, to keep the number of wild deer down. On the short promo I do on the Ronan Collins Show around 12.40, I  brought up the problems they were having in the U.K wild deer and whether we had any problem here. Immediately the phones went on fire. We had farmers on saying the country is over-run with wild deer” .
The story was a typical “Liveline” and Joe likes nothing more than to hear something that’s completely new to him. There were angry accusations of culling Bambi and it caught fire.
“We didn’t expect that, but I love it when something esoteric comes on, because it is a phone-in show and it gives a platform to people who don’t usually get one, so we try to make it as unpredictable and entertaining as possible.”
As if the mental strength he uses for a programme like Liveline wasn’t enough expenditure of his energy, Joe has a head full of other projects that are on the go, which are filling up all his spare time. “
“Yeah, We’re doing a lot at the minute. I’m doing a tv documentary for “Liveline”, we’re doing a documentary for kids of the 1916 Rising,. I’ve a book to write about the 1916 kids who were killed and I’m doing a religious service for these kids as well and of course Liveline is my number one priority every day.  I’m a bit overloaded but it’ll be fine. The way I try to deal with it, is to not sit down and think about everything together.If you do that you’ll get messed up. I take it one day at a time, chip, chip chip at a time.”
Joe has a very high moral ethic, which comes across in his column in the Irish Mail on Sunday.The column is his safety net for blowing off steam, which he can’t do with Liveline.
“On Liveline I want to encourage debate, not stifle it and anyway, me throwing out my opinions is not in the brief of the programme.”
There’s no doubt that compassion is definitely in the brief for Liveline and Joe has a sympathetic intonation in his voice which he uses to his advantage in delicate situations. He draws people out and he has a natural empathy with the downtrodden, the less well-off and the sick and he encourages compassion, because he sees us a compassionate race.
“Ah yes, ah Jesus. I think so. I think we are very compassionate people. People come on Liveline who’ve been scammed, or have had their car stolen, or houses broken into, old people robbed of the their savings or being conned by bogey roofers. In a matter of seconds , there would be a compassionate response.
I think compassion is one of the things that kept us going through what the ESRI call the great recession of the last ten years was the compassion people had for one another, fellow parishoners, a sense of community.
I’ve always said compassion will get you through times when there is no money and family and community is what helps you get through it. And money without compassion is worth nothing.”
Some people say that Liveline is on a delay and is not “live” at all. Well I’ve never heard that and its not true. One of the good things about radio is that it is such a transparent medium. People can judge in a very short time whether someone is over-egging it or exaggerating it, or worse again, not telling the true story. Somebody comes on and says ..”the steward at the football club let me take the blame in the wrong” and within ten minutes we can have that steward on the phone to tell us what really happened.
The whole compulsion of radio is that you have to be up front and transparent and not to overegg it because you’ll get caught out. With a keen mind and great ability as a communicator, it is no surprise that he  has been courted by politicians at various times to join the ranks, but he’s been cured and knows its not the way for him to go.
I don’t think I have the skill for party politics But we’re all part of the political discourse and we all can make a contribution to the national debate. What I am doing is enabling people to play an active part of changing access to radio and getting them to realize that politics is not confined to Leinster House.”
“The Water protests and other demonstrations are showing that there is another form of politics running parallel to Party politics that needs to covered.”
Not a dogmatist by nature, Joe still has deep suspicion of some of the systems in our government and thinks we bend the forelock to the judiciary in disproportionate amounts. One of the features from his past is that he came from Ballyfermot and went to Trinity College with a flat Dublin accident and in spite of that he had still managed to become head of the students’ Union. Such patronizing snobbery was utter can’t and Joe is quite clear where his education came from.
“I say I wasn’t educated at Trinity. I was educated at St John’s College in Ballyfermot and the primary shool in Palmersotwn. There’s a mystification of third level education. Like we revere judges, men learned and wise, but if  Paddy Murphy from Ballydehob and didn’t get the breaks, does it mean he can’t be learned and wise?”.
His radio career began courtesy of his mentor Gay Byrne, who spotted the latent talent that and for once, without rushing an exciting new personality, they radio bosses let him learn from the master. Hints of his ability to deal with people, brought Joe eventually to where he belongs and he is loving it all still.
“I love the radio. Its my favourite medium..I grew upon radio. We were one of the last people to get a telly in Ballyfermot because we couldn’t afford it. I remember when we got a telly, it was one of those slot televisions where you to put a two-shillings coin if you wanted to watch the telly. If you didn’t put in enough two bobs, you got no telly. There were two companies, Tele Rents and RTV-Rentals and you rented your telly rather than bought it.”
Joe and his triplets, Sean, Eleanor and Ronan, are teenagers now and Joe and his wife June have conscientiously shielded them from the media. “They are just normal sibling, two brothers and a sister and being triplets is not something we think about all the time. Joe laughs, they told me “I embarrass them.”
A lot of people are unaware that Joe is a really good painter. His landscapes across Dublin Bay are delightful and he gets better and better with time.
“I used to paint one night a week and on week-ends, but my life is so full at the moment that art is taking a back seat. I do one night a week. I used to do it at week-ends but I’ve no time because of all the other projects I doing. . I find painting very relaxing and let me tell you, if I can paint anyone can paint. When I rang Brian my teacher, I’d said Id like to start painting. “So what’s stopping ye?’Go into Eason’s, buy yourself a  starter pack for a tenner and away you go.”
Can we expect Joe in the near future to smear his lips and make a series of paintings with his gob, just as Michael Flatey has done with his dance pictures?.
“I don’t know whose buying Michael Flatley’s pictures” laughs Joe. They must be related.”

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