George's grandstand performance lets the Minister off the hook
RADIO:George Hook’s on-air jousting with Michael Noonan was a lively and irreverent pantomime
In the midst of his marathon coverage of Wednesday’s Budget, George Hook relayed news of scuffles with demonstrators outside Leinster House with an opinionated flourish. He had a problem with protesters, he told listeners of The Right Hook (Newstalk, weekdays), because rather than provide alternative solutions to problems they operated on a “kneejerk” level of “illogicality”. His irritation was understandable. With their populist sloganeering, aggressive attitude and fuming righteousness, the demonstrators had appropriated much of Hook’s on-air arsenal.
When he had earlier spoken to Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, the presenter dispensed with any pretence of dispassionate objectivity. “You got a pat on the head from Olli Rehn,” said Hook, referring to the EU comissioner for economic and monetary affairs, “and I’m sure he made you best boy in class, while the plain people of Ireland are paying for it.”
Getting into his stride, Hook characterised his guest as a “school bully” before tearing into the regional inequities of the value-based property tax, with specific regard to the Minister’s constituency. “I’m sure it plays well in Limerick,” he railed, “where property costs less than Dublin.”
By the time the discussion turned to changes in PRSI, Hook had completely abandoned probing queries in favour of grandstanding soundbites. By way of a question on the across-the-board tax increase of €264, he fulminated that “not since Marie Antoinette said ‘let them eat cake’ has there been a more unfair tax system.”
Hook’s fury allowed the Minister to present himself as the reasonable, even wronged party. “Can I answer this question, and then I’ll answer the next one?” Noonan at one point interjected in his most patronising classroom voice. “That’s the best way to have an interview.”
On one level this jousting was a terrific tonic to earnest encounters elsewhere: Noonan’s later interview with Mary Wilson on Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) was as respectful and dull as Hook’s was irreverent and lively, without eliciting much more from the Minister. But if the Newstalk presenter’s indignation caught the mood of the day, it was also self-defeating, reducing his highly pertinent objections to the level of pantomime.
Then again, even when he took a more temperate approach, Hook was prone to baffling asides. Talking to Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin, he wondered why the Government hadn’t considered more “off the wall” revenue proposals, such as legalising cannabis. Undeterred by Howlin’s retort that such a move would be “off the head”, Hook continued to discuss this possibility with the economic commentator Damien Kiberd. Whatever he was on, Hook’s shtick ensured a few memorable moments on an otherwise forgettable afternoon.
Since the departure of Ivan Yates Newstalk Breakfast (Newstalk, weekdays) has become less of a soapbox and more like a news programme, with his copresenter Chris Donohue allowed to use the journalistic instincts too often eclipsed by his former colleague’s bullish presence. But in Yates’s absence the show has also lost its previously strong (if occasionally objectionable) identity. The current coanchor, Norah Casey, is yet to fully stamp her personality on proceedings beyond occasional allusions to her business background. (Referring to the supposed mismanagement of Government departments, Casey said, “This would not happen in business,” as though no enterprise has ever gone bust through organisational incompetence.)