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Say what you want, just don't drop the 'H' bomb


Claire Byrne

Claire Byrne

Andres Poveda

Claire Byrne

Claire Byrne Live on RTE One and The Voice of Ireland RTE One

So, how do you feel about gay marriage, or SSM as the conventional shorthand now calls it?

The chances are you don't have a particularly strong opinion either way - not that anyone who tunes into any Irish talk-radio show or, in this week's new TV squawking shop, Claire Byrne Live, would ever realise that.

What is a particularly hot button for some of those who see it as the latest front in the ongoing culture wars this remains, for many people, a rather tangential issue that doesn't figure particularly highly in their priorities. That's not homophobiic contempt, most people just don't care.

It was fitting that Byrne, RTE's most underutilised talent, should open the new programme by dipping her toes into the particularly choppy and frequently toxic waters of the SSM debate.

In a climate more febrile and filled with mutual contempt than any national debate since the last abortion referendum, Byrne had no choice but to open her show with the chattering class's most beloved topic and, quelle surprise, it featured most of the usual suspects saying most of the usual things.

RTE have been sadly lacking in the auld squawking shop area since The Frontline was so abruptly defenestrated a few years ago, a typically clumsy and unnecessarily public decision which undoubtedly played a role in Pat Kenny's departure from the national broadcaster.

Since that perplexing axing, their current affairs output has suffered enormously and, proving that you should never give a sucker an even break, that yawning gap in Montrose's programming has resulted in Vincent Browne having an almost completely clear field to monopolise.

That's why Byrne's first outing was so impressive.

She was calm, collected and utterly professional but, much more importantly, she refrained from the hammy histrionics of Browne, whose programme now looks like some weird, freaky pantomime with the host as some deranged Widow Twankie, gurning and rolling his eyes while shamelessly mugging for the camera.

Where Browne relies on the force of his own tiresome and painfully predictable bluster, Byrne was an adroit moderator, which is quite an achievement when you consider the emotive ferocity of the debate.

Her coolness under pressure was best displayed when one contributor, who argued for abortion rights for all (children being the only ones not consulted, presumably), accused conservative pundit Breda O'Brien of being 'homophobic'.

Now, there's no need to rehash that incredibly stupid row over 'Pantigate', but given the fallout from that particular debacle, it was impossible not to think of RTE's various lawyers who must have seen their life flash before them when the 'H' bomb was dropped (although being lawyers, they probably saw someone else's life flash before them).

But amidst all the sound and the fury, there was one interesting little contribution which went largely unnoticed, but it certainly provided an illuminating glimpse into the tortuous moral gymnastics that many Irish liberals find themselves performing.

One African immigrant, who called himself a Christian, worried that once you allow SSM: "You could end up with incestuous relationships, what if a brother and sister fall in love? What about polygamy?"

Frankly, once you start using that illogic, you might as well oppose the Referendum on the basis that you don't want people marrying their fridge. Or their car.

This paranoid and feeble contribution exposed the two most cherished tenets of modern liberalism - immigration and gay rights. So, when those two collide what label would you rather endure - racist or homophobe?

As depressing as some of the contributions undoubtedly were (I'll be voting Yes purely on the grounds that what adults do is none of my business), depression of a flimsier kind is liable to be felt by anyone who watches that woebegone karaoke contest, The Voice of Ireland.

Kathryn Thomas has morphed from a once globe-trotting rock chick to some sort of reluctant agony aunt as she stands backstage and feigns sympathy with the family of whatever tone-deaf loser is embarrassing themselves at that given time.

Louis Walsh has always argued that The X Factor is not a music show, but a light entertainment vehicle and that honesty is sadly lacking here.

One contestant came, saw and faltered and it was quite obvious that she has as much chance of making it as a singer as I do of being called into Martin O'Neill's next squad.

That didn't stop the judges being suitably patronising and encouraging when they should have told the unfortunate young woman that she actually has a voice suited for a mime artist. Instead, another gormless wannabe waddled off stage, mascara running as she cried in shock at not making it through to the next round.

It would be funny if we weren't watching someone's dreams being shattered and... actually, hang on. That's exactly why it was funny.

The talent pool in Ireland is as shallow as a stream in the desert sun and if we are going to have these losers foisted on us at teatime, the least we can expect is to see a few people's lives being ruined by their own hubris and lack of ability.

Of course, today's culture lies that everyone is told that they can be whatever they want to be. As The Voice of Ireland unwittingly proves, that's simply not the case.

Email: iodoherty@independent.ie

Twitter: @ian_odoherty

Irish Independent