Thursday 18 December 2014

Eilis O'Hanlon : When Marie-Louise stepped into a real world – ours

The senator's visit to a Vincent de Paul charity shop, recalled on Pat Kenny's radio show, was mind-blowingly patronising

Published 23/12/2012 | 05:00

Being Christmas, it was only fitting that Pat Kenny should have offered up a new version of an old seasonal favourite on his radio show last week. But there was a twist.



In the original story of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, the children step through a door from our world into the magical snowy land of Narnia.

In RTE's update, Pat took a tentative step through a door linking the cossetted realm of privilege and entitlement that is the national broadcaster into a mysterious place known as The Real World.

His guide was Marie-Louise O'Donnell, a communications lecturer at DCU and regular voice on the airwaves who was appointed to the Seanad by our glorious Taoiseach last year.

Her destination was a St Vincent de Paul shop in Dublin, which Marie-Louise described with such breathless, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed enthusiasm, it was as if we were hearing a Victorian gentlewoman recalling her trip up the Zambezi river and all the exotic wonders she encountered along the way in the company of marvellous natives who gave her gifts of beads and were so friendly she just didn't want to go home.

I've never felt so patronised since ... well, never. Every time she launched into another eulogy about all the lovely people she met in the shop and all the things there were to buy, I kept thinking: I know, Marie-Louise, I've been in a St Vincent de Paul shop before. Many times. Most of us have.

It was a striking reminder of the different circles that Marie-Louise and her fellow grandees in RTE and official Ireland inhabit to the rest of the country.

She had passed briefly from her reality into ours and she couldn't quite believe her little eyes.

Everything was "amazing" and "super" and "fabulous" and "brilliant" and "wonderful" and "extraordinary" (that one made a few appearances), sounding throughout like some upper middle-class version of Jim Bowen on Bullseye.

Pat Kenny himself even joined in the farce by asking some of the lamest questions ever heard on Irish radio, including "what's the cheapest thing you can buy?" and "did they do it up for Christmas?"

No, Pat, they just leave it looking exactly the same the whole year round, because what's the point of decorations and festive music when most of the customers wouldn't know the difference between Grand Marnier and Grand Theft Auto? Sheesh.

Marie-Louise even reassured listeners that the merchandise is organised and cleaned before being put on the shelves – phew! – and that, though the Society of St Vincent de Paul has a Christian ethos, "all the shops are secular", presumably in case any Dublin 4-dwelling, Labour-voting types listening in were worried they'd be pinned down and indoctrinated by Catholic vigilantes the moment they step across the threshold.

What on Earth made RTE radio think their listeners would need such a ludicrous beginner's guide to going to a charity shop, all broadcast to a soundtrack of Pat chuckling away indulgently in the background?

What next – a regular report on "Today With Pat Kenny" explaining that you can actually buy food cheaper at Lidl than in the food hall of Marks & Spencer?

Paddy O'Gorman will be out of a job if this carries on. Middle-class guests may think SVP shops are an eye-opener, but just wait until they're sent along to talk to people outside prisons or in drug rehabilitation centres like RTE's indefatigable interviewing machine. Though I'm guessing it'll be a while before that happens.

Still, if you're going to venture out from your ivory tower to see how the other half lives then it's probably best to start small before building up to the big stuff.

Though a word of advice for future excursions. Don't be saying things like "we are all equal" when explaining the appeal of St Vincent de Paul when the fact you feel you're telling us something new is a demonstration that we clearly are not.

Sunday Independent

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