Let's take a good look in the mirror


RADIO REVIEW:THE OUTCOME OF the Michaela McAreavey murder trial, in Mauritius, may have evoked an understandably indignant public reaction here, but it also called to mind the proverb about people in glass houses thinking twice before lobbing missiles.

The sound of Martin McGuinness berating a police force for its inability to secure a conviction on Thursday’s Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) was the sort of moment that leaves satirists under threat of redundancy, but it was representative of the rush to judge another small country without first checking ourselves in the mirror.

As the former TD Jim Glennon noted on Monday’s edition of Lunchtime (Newstalk, weekdays), Ireland’s forces of law and order did not “cover themselves in glory” in the still unsolved Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder case. But, he added to Jonathan Healy, we would feel aggrieved if French politicians called for a tourism boycott over the matter, a sanction the Fine Gael Senator Seán Kelly had rashly suggested for Mauritius. Glennon’s considered call for perspective was a welcome exception to the intemperate tone that pervaded discussion of the topic.

Another voice was heard this week asking whether Ireland’s justice system was itself up to scratch. But as is often the case with George Hook (The Right Hook, Newstalk, weekdays), reflective analysis was ditched for fuming tirades. The object of Hook’s ire was the supposedly light sentencing habits of Irish judges, a topic triggered by the terms handed down for two particularly egregious crimes: 16 months for a woman who sexually exploited her four-year-old daughter by filming her with a semi-naked man; and 10 years for a burglar who brutally sexually assaulted a woman in her home.

There was no doubting Hook’s sincere interest. He told listeners to Tuesday’s show that, having read newspaper reports about the sentences, he had told his production team he was going to tackle the subject. Talking to Dr Conor O’Mahony of University College Cork, the presenter set out his stall. “You’re going to tell me it’s a complex issue,” Hook said, “and I don’t buy that at all. It’s a simple issue.” When his guest opined that it was indeed complex, involving judicial discretion and mitigating circumstances, Hook dismissed this as “old guff”. “I have no problem with judges having latitude,” he said, “but if you get a hanging judge, you get absolutely abused by the media.” This sounded odd from a media figure who was using his platform to lash the bench for liberal bias.

When O’Mahony, who agreed the sentences seemed very lenient, speculated whether the abusive mother’s punishment was lessened because she had already lost custody of her daughter, Hook had enough of this legalistic nonsense. “Let’s imagine you and I are two guys in a pub, sharing a bottle of beer, sitting on a stool, talking about this case,” spluttered Hook. “Should a woman who uses her daughter for a sexual video have custody at all?” It was a legitimate question, but that Hook apparently views the pub as the ultimate arbiter of common sense suggests he is not the man to reform our legal system.

That said, his ongoing jihad against the foibles of the modern world has its amusing moments, as when he spoke to Keith Barry. The hypnotist and, ahem, mentalist told how he had passed out during a recent onstage escape trick, mainly because of having his head wrapped in cling film. “Like, now, that’s ridiculous,” said Hook, groaning in annoyance. When Barry – who seemed to start every anecdote with the phrase “I suppose people might say this is a publicity stunt” – laughed this off, his host got more agitated.

“Every parent is told don’t let your kids near plastic bags, and you do it deliberately for a few bob on stage.”

Hook seemed to enjoy the encounter, deriding his guest’s ability to hypnotise him, as it worked only on “susceptible people”, but his sighing scepticism made it work, undercutting Barry’s self-satisfied shtick.

One of the most visible shortcomings of contemporary Ireland was examined on Today with Pat Kenny (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), as Marie Louise O’Donnell reported on the antisocial behaviour that blights O’Connell Street in Dublin. The senator and broadcaster recounted the alarming litany of violence, intoxication and intimidation she had witnessed over five days on the capital’s main thoroughfare. Describing O’Connell Street as “a very dangerous place”, she told Kenny that she hadn’t seen “any evidence of police”.

It was a vivid account, amplified by O’Donnell’s heightened style of delivery. But despite some harrowing vignettes, such as of strung-out addicts being in charge of children, the item avoided sensationalism. This was partly down to Kenny’s nuanced handling of the subject – a return to the days of the Garda “giving someone a good box” would only aggravate the situation, he said – but also because of O’Donnell’s grasp of the bigger picture.

She contrasted the grubby reality of O’Connell Street with the lofty aspirations of the 2003 integrated plan for the area, yet another entry in Ireland’s catalogue of scandalous civic failure. It was riveting public-service broadcasting, compelling and illuminating. Before berating the flaws of others, it pays to look closer to home.

Radio moment of the week

With Bruce Springsteen in town this week, his long-time guitarist Steven Van Zandt gave an enjoyable interview to Tony Fenton (Today FM, weekdays). As the cheery musician (and sometime Sopranos star) spoke about the communal spirit of bands, the decline of the record store and the absence of his boss from US radio, Fenton proved an enthusiastic foil, despite the odd malapropism. Commenting on Springsteen’s evergreen popularity, Fenton told Van Zandt: “You’re garnishing new fans all the time.”

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