Confession controversy | 

Fair City actor Phelim Drew says priest storyline 'misrepresented'

“I think a drama is doing its job if it’s ruffling a few feathers here and there”

Eugene Masterson

Actor Phelim Drew has insisted controversy over his Fair City priest character’s confession storyline this week has been “misrepresented”.

RTE chiefs apologised for airing a controversial confession scene on Divine Mercy Sunday - after a priest blasted it as “disrespectful and very hurtful”.

The RTE soap on Sunday showed Ger Lynch ask Fr Liam Plunkett to hear her confession and during the scene she reminded him of a night they shared when they were younger and revealed he is father to her daughter Hayley.

Kerry priest Fr Kevin McNamara said it “broke his heart” as it was made to seem that confession would take place in front of an altar, there was drink involved, and the priest donned a stole.

But Phelim, a son of legendary Dubliners singer Ronnie Drew, stresses no offence was meant.

“I think a drama is doing its job if it’s ruffling a few feathers here and there,” he explained on RTE’s Today show. “I think artistic licence is involved when you are trying to shoot a drama or present a drama.

“I did a short film a few years ago with Francis McGee, a wonderful Irish actor based in England, it was directed by a guy called Paul Horan, and it was shot completely in a confession box.

“And it was very closely related to the subject we have been touching on in Fair City, but I think the story as I read it in the Independent yesterday misrepresents the storyline because its not really about confession, its only a small part of it

“And in fact the character of Carol figures out what she believes to be true and Fr Liam doesn’t actually spill the beans, as it were, so it’s interesting.”

He admits Fr Liam, who was introduced to viewers in recent weeks, “is a really interesting character”

“He has come to Carrigstown because he has an outreach programme, which is really at the heart of what he is about, working with young people and social work and the facility he had was flooded so he comes back to Carrigstown and he meets Carol,” he explains.

“From the get-go they have a bond, a friendship. But he also had a connection with one of the other characters, Ger, which is quite complicated.

“But he’s an interesting character because I think he is someone we can all relate to. He means well, he wants to do good, but sometimes circumstances divert him or distract him, but it’s a great character to play so I’m really enjoying it.”

He confesses his friendship with Carol is developing.

“They are a man and a woman and they are very good friends,” he smiles. “He is a bit short on friends in Carrigstown, he doesn’t know that many people and himself and Carol they spar off each other very well, she can be very warm and fun loving, but she can also be quite tough. She seems to be able for him.”

Viewers have learned that Fr Liam and publican Ger were once an item and that they are parents of Hayley.

“This all happened before he became a priest,” he stresses.

Phelim (52) is married to actress Sue Collins and they live in the Liberties area of Dublin with their four children.

He has great memories of touring with his dad.

“From the age of about 12 or 13 I was taken out as a roadie, so I have great memories and experiences,” he reflects.

Actor Phelim Drew, son of legendary Dubliners singer Ronnie Drew. Photo: Beta Bajgart

Fr Kevin McNamara had earlier this week stormed: “To sit in front of the television, it really broke my heart to see confession being portrayed in such a disrespectful and very hurtful way.

“Taking place in a church, with an altar, taking place with cigarettes and alcohol and the whole issue of the seal being brought into it.

“Nobody knows what priests are going through at this particular time especially priests like myself who live on their own trying to keep in contact with people.”

Fr Kevin said that he didn’t want people not to pay their licence fees but that he was disappointed by the scene and the fact that it aired on Divine Mercy Sunday.

But he said he has forgiven Fair City and spoken with an executive producer to clear the air.

“Firstly for clarification, I am not advocating a non-payment of a licence to RTE I think they make very fine programmes,” he told Claire Byrne.

“I think it’s a very human story and I have empathy and the two characters Ger and Father Liam are played excellently I know and they’re depicting the hurt but to bring the confession into it was totally absolutely wrong.

“Confession should not have been mentioned, it should not have been brought up in confession.

“In my 40 years of priesthood, I have spent a large amount of time trying to break down barriers where people are fearful of confession where they had a bad experience in confession.

“Ger even said she didn’t like it when she was seven and it has grown on her since.”

He added: “The good news is I had a lovely chat with the executive producer from Fair City and they were very very understanding about my position and apologised and whatever.

Fr Kevin said priests have feelings too and he has never watched Father Ted.

He said: “I’m 40 years in priesthood, I have given my life to it, I know no other life, I have done my best, I’m not a saint by any manner or means but it’s very hurtful.

“I never watched Father Ted, you would go to weddings years ago and everyone would be saying, ‘Go on, go on, go on’.

“There were receptions I have walked out of.

“We have feelings as well. So I don’t know about Fleabag or anything but all I know is the likes of Fair City that a lot of elderly parishioners here would be hooked on it and that’s an insult to them as well to see confession downgraded in such a way.”

A statement issued by RTE said: “There was no intention to cause offence with this story.

“It’s most unfortunate that this episode transmitted on Divine Mercy Sunday this was a complete coincidence which occurred because of episodes dropped from the schedule for reasons of Covid-19 and schedule restrictions with filming.

“There was absolutely no intention to align our story with that particular day and we can understand how that might have seemed targeted and therefore specifically disrespectful. Fair City apologised for that unfortunate coincidence.”

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