Going on ‘Newstalk Drive’? Don’t make Sarah McInerney angry

The radio presenter is never less than lively – especially when she takes a swipe at Pat Kenny

Newstalk Drive: if the intensity of Sarah McInerney’s irritation is surprising, it’s also entertaining – a fact not lost on her cohost, Chris Donoghue, who gleefully goads her

Newstalk Drive: if the intensity of Sarah McInerney’s irritation is surprising, it’s also entertaining – a fact not lost on her cohost, Chris Donoghue, who gleefully goads her

 

Don’t make Sarah McInerney angry. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry. The copresenter of Newstalk Drive (weekdays) has many admirable assets as an anchor – she is inquisitive, tough and perceptive – but such is the velocity of her temper that it’s best not to rile her.

On Wednesday, in the run-up to Enda Kenny’s announcement of his sort-of departure date, McInerney voices her outrage at the Taoiseach’s tarrying. “It’s just short of disgraceful,” she tells her cohost, Chris Donoghue, declaring Kenny’s “lap of honour” around world capitals to be a vanity project.

It’s understandable for someone to get worked up about politics, even if McInerney’s ire seems particularly well-honed. But on other topics she really hits her stride.

Green bins, for example, prove a sore point. The news that 40 per cent of our recyclable waste is contaminated unleashes an improbable outpouring of vituperation. She complains that recycling companies are “too lazy” to separate or rinse material, and fulminates when a texter queries if she knows what waste goes in the recycling bin: “I’ve other things to be doing.”

If the intensity of her irritation is surprising, it’s also entertaining – a fact not lost on Donoghue. He goads his colleague, gleefully mentioning that she has been reprimanded for mixing perishable and green waste. “That’s the sound of someone who doesn’t wash her yogurt pots,” he says. McInerney realises how comically misdirected her annoyance sounds, laughing as Donoghue undercuts her midstream with some calming music. 

Such displays of self-awareness help distinguish McInerney from the rent-a-rant tendencies of colleagues such as George Hook. And her symbiotic on-air relationship with Donoghue ensures she never gets too carried away; she in turn curbs his moments of geeky idealism. It all ensures their show tips away nicely while papering over the thinness of its newsgathering resources. 

There are times when McInerney’s raging has a righteous quality. On Tuesday she discusses the coverage of a conference on Caesarean sections. “Every time I turned on the radio I heard men discussing why women have Caesarean sections,” she says. Her tone is one of incredulity and contempt. “How amazing a situation it must be for a man to talk about these things in all his glory and his supreme confidence.”

She goes on to suggest that childbirth is a “taboo subject” thanks to “the cattle-mart approach to women having babies” in Ireland. As an argument this may be short on subtlety or analytical rigour, but it has the virtue of experience. This cannot be said for most of her colleagues: after the departure of Colette Fitzpatrick, McInerney is the only woman on Newstalk’s roster of weekday hosts. She can be forgiven for being a bit angry.

Although she doesn’t name its host McInerney is clearly referring to The Pat Kenny Show (weekdays): during her riff on childbirth she quotes from Kenny’s earlier discussion with the obstetrician Prof Ray O’Sullivan.

Kenny’s interview seems uncontroversial enough, with O’Sullivan talking about Irish women being “empowered” and “strong in their decisions”. But the sound of two men talking with such authority about women’s bodies is uncomfortable. When Kenny asks, “Do we know anything about the attitude of women to C-sections?” he seems oblivious to the most obvious way to find out. Likewise, there’s something unseemly to the laughter that follows a text from a woman who’s been in pain since giving birth to a baby with a big head. “Oh, I can feel the pain,” Kenny chuckles, a little too readily.

It’s a shame, as Kenny has been in good form recently, largely eschewing opinionated asides for informative and intriguing interviews. His recent encounter with transgender opera singer Lucia Lucas was handled with sensitivity, neatly balancing the personal with the artistic. And his discussion about populist movements with the Indian author Pankaj Mishra was the host at his informed and alert best. But Kenny the authoritative interviewer is still apt to be elbowed aside by Pat the cackhanded comedian.

Tuesday also offers the spectacle of a male Newstalk host musing about whether feminism is relevant, although at least Sean Moncrieff (weekdays) talks to a woman about it. At first glance his interview with the author Jessa Crispin seems wilfully provocative – his guest’s book is titled Why I Am Not a Feminist – but it is actually a handy primer on the evolution of the women’s movement, as well as a look at feminism’s increasingly diffuse aims. 

It turns out that Crispin’s objection is only to the word “feminism”, which she says has been devalued; feminism’s mission of creating a nonhierarchical culture has still not been accepted, however.

Moncrieff proves a fine foil for Crispin’s ideas, appearing sympathetic yet remaining spritely. “Feminism isn’t scary any more, but perhaps it should be,” he says.

Nonetheless, the item draws attention to the wider issue of the scarcity of female voices on the radio. When one texter says that Crispin is “the first reasonable feminist” they’ve heard, Moncrieff shoots back that “you need to hear other feminists”.

Just hearing a few more women on Newstalk would be a start.

Moment of the Week: Baz the rising son

Having achieved television fame with his mother, Nancy, on his daredevil reality show 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy, Baz Ashmawy has the perfect platform to show his versatility as a broadcaster when he stands in as host on The Ray D’Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). He seizes this chance on Wednesday, when he conducts a lengthy interview with . . . his mother, Nancy. She’s a spirited presence, but the affable Ashmawy seems less inspired. Sample question: “What type of child was I?” Perhaps wisely, he doesn’t ask what she thinks of his interviewing skills.

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