I did something last week that I'm ashamed of. I emailed a radio show. I don't usually contact talk shows or write strongly-worded letters to the Times, but my irritation got the better of me.
On Wednesday, Joe Duffy unleashed the hounds on Jim Connolly, author of The Culchie's Guide to Dublin – a book which pokes fun at the capital. Unlike most of the people who ranted on Liveline, I have a copy. In it, Connolly describes Ballyfermot as a crime-ridden dump. Joe is from Ballyfermot. He was "outraged" and ripped Connolly asunder. As his listeners fought over Connolly's body parts, Joe wanted to know where he lived, despite this being flagged in the opening pages.
"Where are you from, Jim?"
"Where in south Dublin?"
"Dalkey." Dalkey. This was outrageous: a Dalkey snob demeaning the plain people of Ballyfermot. Joe finished him off by quoting the book's favourable description of Dalkey's, apparently, crime-free status. Cue a barrage of stereotyping about 'southsiders' from his listeners.
For the record, I'm from Dalkey and I know Connolly. I'm not defending him. He set out to be politically incorrect and can suffer the consequences. I'm not endorsing his book either – primarily because it's in competition with a similar book I wrote 10 years ago.
However, I will say that I have less of a problem with Connolly's offensive description of Ballyfermot than I do with Liveline's reaction to it. The outcry illustrated how we are being manipulated by people, like Duffy, peddling victimhood.
Siptu's Jack O'Connor is another victimhood peddlar. On last Monday's Frontline, he accused Pat Kenny of owning a 'trophy' Dalkey home. Whether Kenny is overpaid or not, this was a cheap shot aimed at the union gallery. It was meant to reinforce Siptu's 'them-and-us' philosophy. The hypocrisy behind the jibe is extraordinary. O'Connor also earns a handsome salary – €124,000. That's what the state will have to pay to keep 12 of his members on the dole for a year. And that's where he's leading them, by fostering divisions between the public and private sectors.
Instead of behaving in the national interest, Siptu has been promoting a victimhood culture. The public sector feel victimised by the private because they have to take cuts and levies. The private sector feel victimised because they are paying for the public sector. And so it goes on, until we reach the obvious conclusion: a state of economic civil war.
Meanwhile, on the sidelines are people like Duffy, apparently observing but in reality egging the protagonists on, like he did last Wednesday. He accused Connolly of reinforcing stereotypes – and then hypocritically encouraged his listeners to do just that. Connolly was attacked not just for his comments, but also his address. According to Liveline's world view, all Dalkey-southsiders are spoilt, out-of-touch, snobs. Ironically, this is the same portrayal Connolly's book uses. Joe didn't mention this.
The reality is that the majority of Dalkey southsiders are decent, honest people – just like the residents of Ballyfermot. A small number are wealthy like Pat Kenny, but most are levied middle- and lower-income earners. Some are losing their houses and some have been made redundant.
Liveline has done a lot of praiseworthy work over the years. This was all about Joe though. His home had been insulted and so two days were spent denouncing something that merited three minutes, but probably should have been ignored.
This wasn't Tommy Tiernanesque. This wasn't the Lonely Planet guide insulting some national institution. This wasn't going to affect tourism in Ballyfermot. This was published in a book called The Culchie's Guide. How could this justify all the national airtime? Answer: ratings.
Duffy – like O'Connor – benefits from dividing society. Duffy wants ratings, so he pits one 'victimised' part of Dublin against an 'affluent' one. O'Connor causes disunity because he needs to justify his salary.
The perpetrators of the economic crime against us are Fianna Fáil and the bankers – not our beleaguered fellow citizens. Our energies should be focused on installing a new government – one which will get us working again – not fighting among ourselves. Unity is the only way out of this mess. We must not be manipulated by people like O'Connor and Duffy.
I mentioned earlier that 10 years ago I wrote a guide to Dublin. It made Connolly's book look PC. ('Summerhill Fair is where Dubs buy back their stolen handbags'/Southsiders are 'limp-wristed nincompoops'). Everything in it was deliberately untrue and, by Joe's standards, grossly offensive.
However, Dubliners got the joke and it became a bestseller. The difference between its reception and Connolly's is easy to explain – we didn't take ourselves so bloody seriously back then. This is what I wrote in my email to Joe. He didn't reply.
I'm sending you a copy of that book, Joe. It's going to annoy you and you might give it two days of free publicity like you did with Connolly's. You can email any complaints to the address below. I promise to respond.
'Talk to Joe' is the catchphrase. Yes, someone in authority in RTE should talk to Joe alright.