Councillor's careless talk of retribution in the not so wild west

Sat, Jan 19, 2013, 00:00

RADIO:This week we learned that revenge stories are best left to celluloid

A mythical figure fetishised by Hollywood vigilante movies, the character of the innocent victim delivering brutal retribution on bad guys appeared in an unlikely new incarnation last week. Whereas celluloid revenge stories have centred around Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood dispatching no-good punks and street scum, this time the man looking to mete out summary justice was a local councillor from the west of Ireland.

Interviewed by Matt Cooper on The Last Word (Today FM, weekdays), the Galway city councillor Padraig Conneely sketched out a lurid scenario that had him taking down home intruders with whatever weapon was to hand. It didn’t matter if the perpetrator was half his age, said the 60-year-old former mayor. “If I got the opportunity, I’d strike him first. If someone is coming up the stairs and I have a good strong instrument, I’ll strike him with it.”

Conneely was on Cooper’s show to defend his comments at a policing committee that the current wave of violent robberies targeting elderly people would end if a raider ended up “on a slab”. It was an irresponsible statement – such actions create far more grievous problems than they solve, as the fatal 2004 shooting of John Ward by the farmer Pádraig Nally testifies – but one that Conneely repeated on air. “Somebody has to send out the message that at the end of the road someone is going to pay for this and pay severely.”

This sounded chilling, but Cooper, maintaining a gently amused air, fed Conneely the rope to portray himself in a more ridiculous light. With the presenter asking if the councillor kept a hurley or a baseball bat by his bed, the hypothetical confrontations became ever more fanciful. By the end, it was hard to view Conneely’s inflammatory message with anything other than bemused pity, so undercut had it been by Cooper’s tactics.

Cooper later turned his attention to another familiar screen crime character, the Mafia gangster, when he interviewed the US actor Joe Pantoliano, best known for his role as Ralph Cifaretto in The Sopranos. Fortunately for those worn out by fevered crime fantasies, Pantoliano was there mainly to talk about his experience of mental illness rather than his on-screen acts of violence, but it was a compelling slice of radio.

A vociferous and expressive guest, the actor was open in the redemptive fashion so beloved of American daytime chatshows. He spoke about how, despite screen success and a loving family, he “felt empty inside”, and described his relief when his depression was diagnosed. “I was ecstatic, because it had a name and the doctor said it wasn’t my fault.”

As for his most famous role, Pantoliano was more than modest. When Cooper pointed out that Pantoliano won an Emmy for the part, his guest gave a memorable response. “Winning an Emmy is like being the world’s tallest midget,” he chuckled. “Nobody gives a s**t.”

In this instance, Cooper’s demeanour was that of a thrilled fan, which may account for some of his dafter questions, as when he asked how real was The Sopranos’ depiction of the Mafia lifestyle. “I don’t know,” Pantoliano responded indulgently. “You’d have to be in the Mob.” As any sensible person knows, there’s a big difference between imaginary violence and the real thing.

Monday saw Ryan Tubridy (2FM, weekdays) also dealing with a guest’s personal troubles, albeit inadvertantly. His interview with the former footballer Paul McGrath was marked by the expression of downcast sentiments, but aside from the obvious distress one felt at the guest’s private pain, the most notable aspect of the item was its fallout.

Listeners called to express alarm at an apparently troubled man being allowed to air his demons on live radio, prompting Tubridy to pledge that he would call McGrath after the show. The next morning, by which time the interview had become a news story, Tubridy returned to the matter. He talked about his fondness for McGrath and spoke earnestly about calling guests when “sensitivities” were involved.

“That’s what we do, it’s not just the showbiz thing,” he said. “There is another side to it that I’d like to think is the more human element.” He concluded by saying he had phoned McGrath: “I can tell you he’s in great shape.” Tubridy’s concern sounded genuine, his determination to draw a line on the issue seemingly driven by respect for McGrath’s privacy.

But the sad affair also reinforced the impression of Tubridy as a besieged broadcaster not fully in command of his bailiwick. In a show largely composed of blandly inoffensive sequences tangentially dealing with the issues of the day – Tuesday heard the presenter waxing nostalgic about buying CDs with former HMV employees, which was typically affectionate but forgettable – Tubridy needs big-name interviews that grab the audience’s attention. In this ill-judged case, however, he hit the headlines for the wrong reasons and only compounded his dilemma.

Moment of the week A stable diet?

The scandal of horse-infused beefburgers yielded some black comedy on The John Murray Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), when the host talked to a horsemeat stall owner, Pat Hyland, about equine flesh. Hyland sourced his meat from a specialised slaughterhouse but said he kept some horses on his farm, admitting their fate depended on their workrate: “We’ve one horse called Do or Die.”

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