Radio: Racial discrimination versus gushing tributes to Nelson Mandela
On Newtalk, George Hook tackles a black-and-white issue while Ivan Yates airs some shibboleths of his own
Released: Nelson Mandela in Soweto in 1990, four days after he left prison. Photograph: Georges De Keerle/Getty
The world may have said goodbye to a courageous fighter for equality and respect, but there remain some hardy souls fired by a similar fearlessness. True, George Hook is not everyone’s idea of Ireland’s Nelson Mandela, but he is, if nothing else, unafraid of speaking his mind, no matter what sensitivities are involved. On Wednesday’s edition of The Right Hook (Newstalk, weekdays), to take one example, the presenter punctuated a discussion of racial discrimination in Ireland with the recollection that on the few occasions he encountered “black faces” as a young man he “looked at them like alien beings”. And so the legacy of Madiba lives on.
Hook’s candid remark came during a bracing but worthwhile conversation with the former government adviser Gerard Howlin about how gushing Irish tributes to Mandela contrasted unfavourably with the treatment of many immigrants here, what Hook’s guest called “the patina of delusion about the effective apartheid in our society”.
By way of explanation if not mitigation, the presenter ventured that few other modern countries had experienced the change in racial demographics that Ireland had, while admitting that this was “a top of the head comment”.
He then showed off the depth of his research by asking a question taken from a listener’s text, namely that no British-style debate was taking place in Ireland about immigration policies, an assertion that Hook said was “absolutely right”. Howlin answered that although it was legitimate to ask if such policies were working, it was wrong and even dangerous to conflate this with the abuse of people who are already here: “Let us not confuse the two issues.” It was a quiet but categorical response to those who might muddy the waters of debate about immigration.
To be fair to Hook, for all that he wades into delicate subjects with the subtlety of a beefy rugby player diving into a ruck, he does cede his ground when countered with cogent arguments. He spoke to the journalist Deirdre O’Shaughnessy about the widening income gap between men and women, introducing his guest with typical blunderbuss wit: “So, according to you, it’s getting worse for men.” (Say what you like, Hook is unencumbered by white male guilt.) But when O’Shaughnessy suggested that one possible way to rebalance gender inequality in the workplace was for fathers to have the same parental-leave entitlement as mothers, Hook sounded as if he had stumbled across some sobering nugget of wisdom. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he mused. “I’d buy that.”
Hook is, one suspects, more thoughtful than his perennially ornery disposition suggests. On Tuesday, when discussing how sport boycotts had helped to isolate apartheid-era South Africa, the presenter noted that touring rugby teams had often provided succour for the racist state, from the All Blacks who left out Maori players to the Irish squad that visited in the early 1980s. He concluded that his beloved game had been the worst offender at breaking the boycott. Whatever else, Hook was prepared to face up to inconvenient truths.