herald

Wednesday 26 September 2018

I've been working since I was 13, and won't listen to talk of retiring any time soon

CHAT: RTE presenter tells of missing Christmas with his son Ronan as he unveils the annual Fiver Friday initiative

JOE Duffy knows the heartache of a blue Christmas.

The chat show king regularly listens to stories of families spending the festivities without loved ones.

Thousands have now become known as the "Skype generation" – connecting with those across the miles on video chat.

And broadcaster Joe will become part of it on Christmas Day when he uses the online service to talk to his son in Australia.

Ronan Duffy (18) travelled Down Under earlier this summer for a work placement in a Sydney school and has decided to stay there for Christmas.

"We'll Skype on Christmas morning but it will be Christmas night for him. It will be sad not being with him on Christmas Day but all the other kids will be around and his mum," Joe told the Herald.

It was just 12 months ago that father and son had stood side-by-side as Joe interviewed Ronan on his annual Christmas Eve broadcast from Grafton Street.

EDUCATION

But few people knew the real identity of the charity worker.

"Ronan had raised money with friends for the Father Peter McVerry Trust," he said. "But I wouldn't give him a big head by telling the listeners this was my son.

"He was just speaking for a few minutes which is funny as he's so far away this Christmas in Australia."

But Joe will have his other son Sean and daughter Ellen to keep him company – despite his "best efforts to ship them about abroad," as he joked.

The fact that all of his triplets attended university is a matter of pride for the Clontarf man, who graduated from Trinity College himself. He has always stressed the importance of education with his children, writing about it at length in his 2011 memoir Just Joe.

And should they decide like Ronan to move abroad, they will still be able to hear their dad's voice on Liveline every day online.

While the Duffy children have a choice about leaving Ireland, Joe is acutely aware it's a different story for hundreds of thousands of other young Irish people forced to emigrate for economic reasons.

"You hear the reports from parents at the airport after Christmas each year saying goodbye to their children and it's absolutely heartbreaking," said Joe.

He said that the economic downturn has had a negative impact on the mood of the nation.

This is why four years ago, Joe and his Liveline team came up with Fiver Friday, a campaign asking people to spend an extra €5 with a local business, in an effort to boost turnover and save jobs.

"The retailer throws in something special for a fiver, a small amount so everyone can do it and we give it a big push on the show," he said.

"There are no forms to fill in. You just decide to do it. It's about spreading money around.

"Six or seven shops might benefit in a small town, each one employing people and every job supporting a family."

In previous years companies large and small have joined the initiative and Joe hopes that it will take off again this year.

"One of the best was the Gibson Hotel who offered their rooms for a fiver. Their phone lines melted with the calls," remembers Joe.

There are many issues that get the Talk to Joe presenter going.

He was so enraged with the Revenue requiring homeowners to pay their property tax for next year before Christmas.

He said: "It was a big mistake. I cannot for the life of me see the logic of the politicians that let this happen."

But it's not all doom and gloom for the RTE star. On a lighter note, Joe said that he relished the opportunity to take part in Brendan O'Carroll's €5m Mrs Brown movie.

Seeking help to oppose greedy builders who want to knock down Moore Street, the Dublin matriarch does what any Irish person would do: call Joe.

"There are scenes we filmed in RTE earlier this year with me meeting Mrs Brown face to face. I don't normally meet in person, but hey – this is the movies, and anything can happen," said Joe.

LISTENERS

The duo will be reunited on Grafton Street this Christmas Eve to co-present Joe's show in a festive treat for listeners.

And Joe (57) is happy to take all questions from listeners – except those about when he will retire.

"I have absolutely no intention of giving up. I've been working since the age of 13 when I was a lift boy in the old Metropole," he said.

"I love doing Liveline and look how well Gay Byrne has done staying in the business. He rides a bike. He has a trampoline. He's 80 next year and still on the radio."

Liveline's Fiver Friday takes place on December 6.

k.sweeney@herald.ie

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