Listener gets their Irish up about Pope radio piece

In one form or other, I estimate I've been writing two articles a week for seven years. That's quite a lot of cyber ink.

For the most part, I'm glad to say they've gone down well. Some, however, have not.

A quick glance through my back catalog on this august site, for instance, will show you that at various times I have been called a bigot, a fool and, in one glorious case, a sick tangy idiot. I find all these singularly hilarious.

My favorite however was being told that my soul would rain into hell like snowflakes. If my soul does indeed go to hell (and I'm almost certain it will) then I'll be glad of a graceful descent.

But last week I discovered that people being unhappy with something I'd written was kicked up a notch.

Turns out a radio column I did for RTE's Drivetime programme in February about the outgoing Pope raised the ire of one listener. He claimed I was being sarcastic and disrespectful, not to mention offensive and ridiculous, and said I went on a rant of hate. You can decide for yourself if he's right here, by the way.

"A rant of hate". Wow. And not just was a complaint made, but it also went before the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland's complaints review board.

Double wow. This had been the first time I'd ever been scolded in the non-recreational sense.

When I was at school, I was studiously compliant. Once when a group of scallies decided to rotate their chairs to face the wall when a teacher went out to photocopy, I left the room and washed my hands of it, Pontius Pilate style. I used to wear my tie all the way up to the top button, which was always buttoned. Thankfully, I've got a lot, lot less uptight since then, although I am still a militant when it comes to tie-wearing.

But since then I have not just become less uptight, but a lot less, as a phrase from home goes, "bird-mouthed". What does it achieve to think something strongly but not lend voice to thought? Exposure from my mid to late teens to groups like the Donegal Youth Council and were eye and mind-opening experiences in dealing with authority and telling them that things needed to change, doing so respectfully but assertively. Plus I was born in a house where being outspoken and calling shenanigans on situations that shouldn't be were valued at a high premium. I don't question authority to be, as the complainant thought, disrespectful or offensive. I do it because I respect various systems enough to engage frankly with them. Those systems are strong enough to take it. The sarcasm and ridiculousness, however, is just in-built, unfortunately.

Thankfully the broadcast complaints crew resolved the problem, but I respect that man's right to complain about me, in the same way I have the right to criticise the Papacy of Benedict XVI. If anything I'm kinda glad, because it led to a fair bit of publicity, the cache of a rebel and my name being hashtagged on The Journal like I was Robin Thicke or something. It also gave me a really good laugh.

I've come out of all this with an amusing anecdote and a positive reaction for which I'm grateful but in general rebuke, as long as it's not for something cruel or wanton, isn't something any of us should be afraid of. All too often we probably have things we'd like to put out there that we don't, for fear of causing embarrassment, or insecurity, or out and out ructions. There are so many people with valuable opinions who have been surreptitiously told all their lives to leave it to other people, so they stay quiet, their voice and their skills stashed away. But there are always things to be said and always things to be done in this world, and nobody has a monopoly on who gets to speak and who gets the tools to work at what they want. So, if the choice is pissing someone off by saying earnestly what you think, and being pissed off without yourself for letting an opportunity go, then the answer is clear. It's so much better to be temporarily red-faced than be permanently bloodless.