Tuesday 19 March 2019

Joe Jackson: Tyrannical tendencies to priestly celibacy, I've got it all taped

A trip down memory lane reveals rare insights and revelations about Ireland's movers and shakers, writes Joe Jackson

Joe Dolan.
Joe Dolan.

Joe Jackson

'The British establishment just doesn't understand the Irish - full stop." Can you guess who said that? The Queen during her Christmas speech last year? Adam Boulton? Er, no. Fianna Fail politician Charlie McCreevy made that comment to me during an interview we did in 1989.

Don't worry if you never heard the quote. It's one of many I didn't use at the time, but that leapt out at me recently as I listened again to old tapes while compiling a radio show.

Here's another of those long-lost quotes. I asked McCreevy what he thought of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

He said, "I like her balls but on the other hand, she's a tyrannical bloody bitch." I was tempted to reply, "That'd look great on T-shirt - worn by her husband."

More seriously, speaking of tyrants, I quizzed McCreevy about his relationship with Charlie Haughey. However, Haughey was Taoiseach and McCreevy had been relegated to the backbenches after leading the 1982 leadership battle against him, which failed, hence there was only so much he could say.

Even so, while we were discussing the highly contentious Fianna Fail coalition with the Progressive Democrats, which McCreevy supported, I asked if those who voted for him might feel betrayed.

He said, "All my political life I have done what I believe to be correct and people have to accept me like that", and we had this little exchange.

J: That's going to make you sound like an autocrat, dictator and arrogant.

C: I suppose I am. That's one thing Charlie Haughey and I have in common.

J: [That you both are] autocratic, dictatorial and arrogant? Is that how you and Charlie get along - two autocrats having tea together!

C: Maybe! I can't say for him.

J: That he is an autocrat? This is a public perception.

C: It is the public perception but I don't think I am autocratic. I'm autocratic in terms of my opinions and arrogant about my opinions because I think they are right and I go with them.

Incidentally, earlier this year, McCreevy told me that his abiding memory of our interview is that it "captured Fianna Fail going through a painful period of transition and redefinition".

The same could be said of Father Brian D'Arcy's spiritual journey ever since he first became a priest in 1970.

He now says that what he remembers most from our 1996 interview is that it was the first time he went public on the fact that he had been sexually abused. But what struck as I listened again to those tapes was how intellectually-focused and truly soul-searching D'Arcy had been, how labyrinthine our conversation became at times, and how much seminal material I didn't use because it simply would not have worked in Hot Press magazine.

D'Arcy railed against "centuries of repressive clericalism" in the Catholic Church. And, after asserting that he never "slept with a man, woman or child", he explained that falling in love with a woman circa 1980, crystallised his belief that "there is no need for compulsory celibacy". He then added, pointedly, "It's a mean, man-made law that has something to do with property in the Middle Ages and nothing to do with human development, now."

D'Arcy also reveals he was "battered" as a child by one "bastard" Christian Brother. I asked what was his response to Freud's theory that such acts of violence can be a manifestation of thwarted sexuality. His reply was insightful.

B: It may well be. Frequently, systems of training people in religion were of doubtful origin. Many of us in vocation discovered that getting through a system was an endurance test rather than a blossoming test. And we had to work hard to regain our humanity, and the system was a brainwashing system, goodness was driven out of you and that system always left itself open to letting psychotics through and driving good people out.

J: Or letting psychosis develop?

B: Could be. It's a plausible theory. And D'Arcy went even further. He said the clerical training he received was "not only doubtful but definitively damaging".

I then wondered aloud, how he could continue to believe in a system that was corroded at a core level.

He said, "I don't. That's the system I am trying to change."

Did D'Arcy do so? Sadly, he has since been censured, and silenced to whatever degree by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

How's that for a Christmas story?

Listening again to the tapes I made with Joe Dolan (inset) for my RTE Radio 1 series Under the Influence in 2000, and for the Sunday Independent in 2001, merely reminded me of how much fun I had with the man.

The latter interview was done in the snug of a Dublin pub, at Joe's request.

He did have a drink or three, and maybe that accounts for his candour. I certainly was surprised to hear Dolan admit he was too selfish to marry, emotionally immature, bored by most people his own age.

Either way, on December 26 it will be 10 years since Joe died. This Christmas seems like as good a time as any to look back at, and to celebrate, the man's life and music.

The Joe Jackson Tapes Revisited: Joe Dolan will be broadcast on RTE Radio 1 at 10pm on December 27. The Charlie McCreevy and Father Brian D'Arcy shows, respectively, will be broadcast at 10pm on December 28 and 29.

Sunday Independent

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