Even on a special birthday, Pat Kenny's done his homework

Sat, Feb 2, 2013, 00:00

RADIO:In an emotional week, the presenter showed an unusual amount of restraint and clarity

For those who feel discombobulated by ever-changing media technologies skewed towards the fresh-faced young, radio remains a reassuring arena where age and experience, if not treachery, can still triumph over youth.

On Tuesday’s edition of Today With Pat Kenny (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), the presenter attempted to let his 65th birthday slip by unremarked, only to be congratulated by his colleague Ronan Collins – a broadcaster north of 60 himself – on reaching his landmark anniversary. “You can have the rest of the day off, with no homework on your special day,” said Collins, exuding an air of jovial solidarity with his fellow veteran.

The possibility of Kenny skimping on his ecker appears as remote as the prospect of him retiring. That his show remains the primary port of call on Irish daytime radio for thorough analysis and lively debate of current affairs and cultural matters is down to the earnest preparation and engagement he brings to everything he covers. It also helps that he and his team home in on issues that exercise the public mind.

For instance, the show’s ongoing series on rural crime, by Valerie Cox, has proved depressingly timely in the wake of the murder of Det Garda Adrian Donohoe. As Kenny gave extensive airtime to the agenda-topping issues of increasing crime and declining police protection, there was little sense of clambering on the bandwagon. Whether he was discussing the murder’s ramifications with experts or interviewing friends of the fallen detective, Kenny combined intelligence and clarity with restraint and sensitivity – not always his strongest point.

Even so, there was an awful lot of stuff about crime. Tuesday’s show also featured a faintly alarmist report by Cox on the impending closure of the Garda station in the Stepaside area of Dublin. A succession of locals voiced concerns about the removal of this essential service, some more disconcertingly than others. “We depend on this station as a deterrent to the people we don’t want in the area,” said one Leopardstown inhabitant, making the guards sound like an exclusive residents’ committee.

Shane Ross, not normally the most vocal supporter of the public service, spoke to Kenny about his opposition to the closure. The community had, he said, been “ambushed” by the move, an unfortunate choice of language given the dreadful events in Co Louth. Kenny largely gave him the run of proceedings, allowing the TD to assert that the closures “smelled of dictatorship”.

This was followed by another item on criminal behaviour, though Brian O’Connell’s report on anti-social behaviour on private housing estates in Ennis, in Co Clare, had a calmly factual quality that only added to its impact. Judging by the testimony on display, life in these developments was a daily ordeal of harassment, vandalism and theft, courtesy of unruly families on short-term rents. Calling the gardaí was not an option, either, as any house visited by a squad car was intimidated more.

O’Connell, a reporter not given to sensationalism, said he had rarely encountered “people so in fear”. It was a grimly pertinent piece, even as it fed into the week’s motif of crumbling law enforcement. Kenny may eschew rabble-rousing in favour of mastery of his brief, but the tight focus of such well-researched reports still conjured up dystopian visions of a society under siege.

George Hook is another presenter whose thriving career makes a mockery of mandatory retirement ages, though unlike the evergreen-sounding Kenny he gleefully trumpets his crotchety autumnal worldview. Having been on something of a world tour of late, broadcasting his show (The Right Hook, Newstalk, weekdays) from Britain and the US, he marked his return home with a positive note, describing the joy he feels whenever airline cabin crew announce “welcome to Ireland” on touchdown here.

Given the week that was in it, however, Hook’s reverie didn’t last long. He wasted no time in calling for the return of the death penalty for the murder of gardaí and, ahem, treason, while blaming its abolition on that reliable if inchoate scapegoat of “the politically correct world”.

He was just warming up. Later, he spoke to the former Wexford hurling manager Liam Griffin about the Garda Donohoe murder, resulting in an extended lament on the country’s supposed state of near anarchy: “literally the wild west”, to use Griffin’s nonliteral phrase. The root of this malaise, according to Griffin, was the desire for “liberalism at every cost in censorship and our police”. What was needed was “discipline”. Hook concurred, saying the country had “gone soft”.

Amid the bluster, there was a valid point about the importance of taking responsibility for oneself – a regular refrain of Hook’s – but it was lost in the blur of meaningless scaremongering, exemplified by Griffin bemoaning “pressure groups looking for their piece of cake”, which meant that “the prisoners in this country are the citizens”. Huh?

Of course, with emotions running high in the country, such indignation at modern mores was to be expected. It was even understandable, especially as Hook was fighting a losing battle with the flu. (By Wednesday, he had vacated his chair to Shane Coleman.) But the sour polemics struck a dissonant chord, particularly in the light of the stoic dignity and defiant determination on show elsewhere. Age and wisdom don’t always go hand in hand.

Moment of the week Shatter savages back

Interviewing Justice Minister Alan Shatter on Savage Sunday (Today FM), Anton Savage tried to wrongfoot his guest, citing a certain Sabbath periodical’s charge about a “perceived weakening” of law and order. “No one should take the Sunday Independent narrative seriously,” Shatter replied calmly. “They have an obsession with always trying to identify a person on a weekly basis who they can target.” Whatever else, the Minister wasn’t out to court populist approval.

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