The Week in Radio: Pulling no punches on smacking

Pope Francis caused a storm when he said it was OK for parents to smack their children if their dignity was respected (AP)

John Byrne

We got slapped and clipped in our time and it didn’t do any harm,” said Jan, a caller to Joe Duffy on Friday’s Liveline.

Martin, in Castleknock, went further, suggesting it did him a lot of good. It being the measured slappings a Brother had administered back in Martin’s schooldays.

While other programmes dedicated small chunks of air time to debating Pope Francis’ comments about the acceptability of child-smacking (fine, as long as ’tis done with dignity, apparently), none but Liveline devoted an entire show to the issue.

No big surprise there, of course, for that’s just what Liveline does. A hot topic – often a Catholic-favoured one – is identified. Said hot topic is flogged for all its worth (or not worth) until it collapses, exhausted, at the 3pm finish line. No major surprise either that listeners such as Jan and Martin chipped in with views on corporal punishment that might be charitably described as traditionalist.

If you’re inclined to think of Liveline as the space where reactionary/hidebound Ireland goes to make itself heard, then you might be assuming that the “It didn’t do me any harm” brigade dominated the debate. That, refreshingly, was far from the case.Fiona called in to condemn the Pope’s comments as “warped” and “very dark”, while Aileen told Duffy there “should be no violence whatsoever in the home”. Ann, a listener who’d been “kicked” and “thumped” by her father, was particularly upset by the Pope’s celebration of another father who admitted hitting his children – just not in the face.

“We were never marked visibly where the neighbours or teachers would have seen,” she said, but the damage was nonetheless extreme and very real.

In the Pope’s corner was Marian from Naas, who spoke of how, in these “modern times” we hear “more and more about elderly people . . . receiving beatings”. If only such assailants had received a pre-emptive “smack across the leg years ago”, said Marian, such behaviour might not be so prevalent. So more violence begets less violence. Or, too much cuddlin’ can often lead to mass delinquency. Something like that.

Duffy, to his credit, sensitively handled callers who’d suffered childhood abuse, while being fair and non-

patronising to those who stressed the importance of treating children with compassion and respect.

And his sole mention of “the good old days” was delivered with enough sarcasm to make his own position pretty clear.

Sheila O’Malley, of, received a rather different “welcome” on Monday’s Pat Kenny Show, with Kenny struggling to conceal how irritatingly idealistic he found her “Kind, Firm but not Cross” approach to parenting.

He continually interrupted her, suggested tough love alternatives like teaching a child not to bite by biting them, and claimed that children need to learn consequences because that’s “the way life works”.

He also wondered about “the effect of kids who are not slapped” – bullying and unruliness in schools, he implied – and suggested that unslapped kids might be more inclined to electrocute themselves – and their parents.

“I’ve this vision,” said Kenny, “of the child sticking his finger in the electric socket and you go over to hug him...and because he doesn’t really know what he’s doing you get electric-shocked as well.”

Too much love can kill you. Smacking saves lives. Jesus wept.


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