Pat Kenny irons things out with the Dáil’s ‘Untuckables’

Radio Review: Ray D’Arcy shows the odd flash of prickly pedigree in a show that is sleepwalking through the schedules

 Deputies  Clare Daly and Mick Wallace: Pat Kenny  discussed the topic of sartorial standards for TDs  at length with Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett and PR guru Terry Prone.  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Deputies Clare Daly and Mick Wallace: Pat Kenny discussed the topic of sartorial standards for TDs at length with Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett and PR guru Terry Prone. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

For a veteran broadcaster with a primetime slot, Ray D’Arcy is still willing to take risks. On Tuesday (The Ray D’Arcy Show, RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), the presenter hosts an item on helping people get to sleep. Given the somnolent nature of so much material on D’Arcy’s programme of late, this could be seen as an act of foolhardy courage or a postmodern gag at his own expense. Either way, it’s edgy stuff.

Then again, a much more likely explanation is that it’s just another lacklustre segment on the show. Whether it’s dutiful interviews with minor celebrities (sorry Bryan Murray), cursory lifestyle stories or zany items that even bore D’Arcy himself, zest and imagination have been in short supply. Paradoxically, the presenter’s cookie-cutter discussion with Dr John Garvey and Audrey Russell from Dublin’s Sleep Lab has the effect of perking up the listener, if only because it unwittingly highlights the torpor that prevails on his programme. 

D’Arcy also covers an internet video clip of a young boy getting trapped in an arcade claw machine in Nenagh, talking to the child’s father about the experience. He even revisits the subject the following day, after the video has gone viral. Honestly, how did we live our lives before YouTube? So inconsequential is this fare that it’s like Derek Mooney, D’Arcy’s predecessor, never went away.

There are still moments where D’Arcy reminds us of his pedigree as a compelling, prickly, curious broadcaster. His interview with former Republic of Ireland international Kevin Kilbane turns sharply from perfunctory career recap into more personal territory. Kilbane talks frankly about the birth of his daughter Elsie 13 years ago – learning that she had Down syndrome, he says, was “like a death” – and their lives since. 

It’s an honest and heartening conversation. The host ensures it doesn’t get too emotive by asking a question about religion, a favourite bugbear: “Did you fall out with God?” Kilbane doesn’t exactly say yes, but concedes he’s no longer a regular Mass-goer. It’s hardly earth-shattering, but the interview underlines how D’Arcy’s show hasn’t yet become the cue for an afternoon nap – when he’s engaged, he can produce interesting radio. 

Sartorial standards

There are still some subjects that D’Arcy deems too flimsy for airtime. On Wednesday, he dismisses a 45-page report on sartorial standards for Dáil deputies, suggesting there are more important things happening in the world. Maybe so, but that doesn’t deter Pat Kenny, who discusses the topic at length with Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett and PR guru Terry Prone (The Pat Kenny Show, Newstalk, weekdays).

For such an apparently superficial matter, the legislature’s dress code – or lack thereof – generates a surprising amount of emotion. Boyd Barrett disdains suits, ties or indeed tucked-in shirts as characteristics of the “establishment parties”. A proud member of those casually attired TDs who might be termed “the Untuckables”, he says the focus on wardrobe is a distraction. He also forgets Prone’s name, to his obvious embarrassment.

Prone, meanwhile, initially makes the case for more formal attire in classic PR terms, saying that airline pilots wear uniforms partly to reassure passengers of their authority. This rather misses the point that left-wing TDs want to project an anti-authority image, with Boyd Barrett saying so much in reply. 

But Prone also makes the more pressing argument that dress codes can benefit female TDs as, unfortunately, informally attired women seem to be taken less seriously. She highlights the disparaging remarks made by male politicians (including the perpetually scruffy Mick Wallace, though Prone doesn’t name him) about Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O’Connor’s style choices. 

All in all, it turns out to be an unexpectedly interesting item, spirited in tone and surprisingly thought-provoking in content. Then again, we live in a world where the most consistent things about the current US president are his bizarre combover and his overcompensating tie length, so maybe politicians’ wardrobe preferences are worthy of our attention after all.

Political minefield

Elsewhere, Seán O’Rourke ventures into a particularly perilous political minefield on Wednesday. He may have had many an on-air ministerial dust-up in his time, but his interview with RTÉ director general Dee Forbes (on Today with Sean O’Rourke, RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) sees the host navigating the hazardous straits between public interest and institutional self-preservation. This is particularly the case as Forbes informs O’Rourke that she will be looking for the redundancies of up to 300 of the presenter’s Montrose colleagues.

As Forbes talks about turning RTÉ into a “more nimble organisation”, her choice of language is as striking as her plans. Her conversation is peppered with management-speak clichés such as “adapt or die”. Asked by O’Rourke about the abrupt closure of RTÉ’s young people’s department, she admits that “it wasn’t our finest hour”, but adds “we’ve learned from that and moved on from it.” 

O’Rourke doesn’t ask whether those who worked in the shuttered department have moved on too. But when Forbes talks about “the top-line direction of travel”, O’Rourke pulls her up, sharply inquiring what the phrase actually means. When she goes off-script, it hardly gets better for Forbes – she appears to advocate doubling the licence fee, which causes something akin to consternation with O’Rourke. 

Of course, such blandly meaningless jargon is usually meant to sugarcoat painful upheavals – painful for employees, that is. Even Forbes concedes that “it’s not going to be an easy process”. 

The message is clear: don’t get caught napping on the job.

Moment of the Week: Martin McGuinness’s unlikely friend

Following the death of Martin McGuinness, the most inspiring comments come from Rev David Latimer of the First Derry Presbyterian Church, who talks about their friendship on Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). He admits that many in his congregation, which lost five members to IRA violence, cannot understand why a unionist Protestant and former British army chaplain could be close to a former IRA commander. But while mindful of their views, Latimer says that, “I have to assist people to see the man Martin McGuinness became, and the change that took place in his life.” It’s a fine tribute to the “common humanity” of both men.

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