TV & Radio

Moving statues and emotional terrorism

Pope Francis with a statue of Our Lady of Fatima.

The floods that dominated the media last week were described by one commentator as biblical and apocalyptic – an understandable exaggeration.

While there was sadness and tragedy, there were moments of heroism too. One anchor on CNN News last Tuesday said the weather events showed “the worst of Mother Nature and the best of human nature”.  And there were even some lighter moments – another anchor described how a man in Texas got his coat and set out to rescue his neighbours. Coat? The good citizen was then interviewed and he pointed out that his coat doesn’t float – it was his boat that he deployed! 

I was conscious that the monsoon floods in Asia were wreaking much worse destruction (as always when natural disasters hit poorer countries), but the coverage was much less pervasive. On The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, Thursday) the host reflected on this contrast and hit the nail on the head when he suggested that “affinity and proximity” were key factors that influenced coverage.


The community solidarity in Texas was a welcome antidote to the Charlottesville controversy, which involved the destruction of statues, and while I wouldn’t be happy to see statues of Hitler in public spaces, and could well understand statues of Saddam being toppled in Iraq, the whole anti-statue thing smacks of hysteria and the worst of political correctness (the best of it guards against gratuitous offence). 

As the host put it on The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk) last Monday morning it’s a debate between commemoration and obliteration. I was thinking that if we banned statues of people with serious faults all that could survive would be statues of saints – but then I had a ‘good grief’ moment, hearing reports of a Catholic school in California getting rid of such statues in case they caused “alienation”!

On that show Kenny interviewed JoAnne Mancini of the History Department in Maynooth and she was quite moderate on the matter – she raised questions about how statues came to be, who put them up, who controls public spaces. She distinguished between violent actions during war, like ISIS destruction of old statues, and action in a democratic context.

The issue had also been teased out on last weekend’s Sunday Morning Live (BBC One) though the discussion was inconclusive and too short. 

Writer Afua Hirsch questioned the wisdom of having Nelson’s column in London, as he had apparently been in favour of slavery. She thought, wrongly I think, that having the statue meant we were showing “admiration”. 

She also raised Irish Catholic sensitivities to statues of Cromwell.

Journalist Neill Wallis was on for discussing the issue, but not for the rewriting of history. Activist Cleo Lake wanted a fuller history, but didn’t favour the tearing down of statues. 


Another controversy prominent last week related to the HPV vaccine against life-threatening cervical cancer. Apart from the medical issues, there have been intemperate contributions. 

Those who campaigned against the vaccine were accused of “emotional terrorism” by Tony O’Brien of the HSE, while Health Minister Simon Harris told them to “butt out”.  

George Hook was not impressed by this approach and lambasted both O’Brien and Harris on last Thursday’s High Noon.

One of the more moderate contributions was from The Irish Times medical correspondent Paul Cullen. On The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk) last Thursday he said that after consideration he and his wife had decided to allow their young teenage daughters to receive the vaccine, but there was no knocking of parents with concerns. 

On Wednesday’s Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1) Prof. Karina Butler of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee addressed concerns and highlighted an aspect of the issue that’s often left unsaid – that it is usually through sexual contact that people get exposed to HPV infection. Wouldn’t you think that even on public health grounds the HSE would direct some of its efforts towards promoting more responsible approaches to sex in the young? Prof. Butler was frank in referring to vaccination in advance of what she termed young girls’ “sexual début”. 

On last Sunday’s Marian Finucane Show stand-in host Brendan O’Connor was insistent that there was only one acceptable viewpoint on the matter (pro-vaccine). 

Elsewhere Junior Minister Finian McGrath obviously got told off by Simon Harris for raising concerns brought to him. Interviewed on last Monday’s Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1) he was half-chastened – both supportive of the vaccination programme and determined to be questioning and still raising concerns. 


Pick of the week

Sunday Sequence

BBC Radio Ulster, Sunday, September 10, 8.30am
Discussion of topical religious and ethical issues. 


RTĖ One, Sunday, September 10, 11am
Fr Pat Malone celebrates Mass with a congregation from St Senan’s Church, Knockerra, Co. Clare. 


EWTN, Sunday, September 10, 5.45pm
Pope Francis visits the shrine of St Peter Claver in Cartagena, Colombia.