Radio: Digging up the dirty bits in Alan Shatter and Mick Wallace’s war of words

This week saw rotten tomatoes for Eurovision, ripe prose from the Minister for Justice and a bad Apple deal for Ireland

Disclosure: Alan Shatter at a press conference this week. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Disclosure: Alan Shatter at a press conference this week. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Sat, May 25, 2013, 01:00

The air ringing with charges of murky deals and shady practices, Ireland’s image as a dynamic global competitor took such a hammering abroad this week that Ray D’Arcy started to sound paranoid.

“Maybe they’re all talking behind our backs, those Europeans,” fretted the presenter, opening Monday’s The Ray D’Arcy Show ( Today FM, weekdays). “Do you think when you’re the butt of somebody’s joke you’re the last to know?”

D’Arcy was referring to Ireland’s wooden spoon in the Eurovision Song Contest rather than the unwelcome international attention on our opaque tax arrangements with multinationals, but it set the tone for a week rife with conspiratorial murmurings.

On our poor showing in the song contest where we once ruled the roost, D’Arcy bandied about various theories, from regional favouritism to the supposed nervousness of Ryan Dolan, the Irish entrant, in front of the Eurovision judges while outraged listeners agitated for a Ukip-style exit from the pan-continental competition.

But when asked by the presenter about his performance, Dolan played down the significance of the result. “It doesn’t bother me,” said the hapless singer. The main thing, he insisted, was that his album had charted in 17 countries. Dolan’s doggedly upbeat take on the debacle suggests he has a future as a spin doctor, if not as a singer.

D’Arcy was sympathetic towards his guest but less merciful when it came to another beleaguered public figure. With the controversy about Minister for Justice Alan Shatter’s revelation of Garda information about the Independent TD Mick Wallace rumbling on, D’Arcy and his producer-cum-sidekick Will Hanafin twisted the knife cruelly and unusually.

They read out a list of quirky factoids about the Minister – he once hawked “hippy waistcoats” at the Dandelion Market in Dublin in the 1970s, apparently – before unveiling the pièce de résistance, an extract from Shatter’s previously forgotten 1989 novel, Laura .

The plot concerned single parenthood, slippery politicians and adoption law, but, in true schoolboy fashion, the tittering broadcasters skipped straight to the dirty bits. Adopting his best Lothario tone, Hanafin read out a particularly ripe passage, all gasps and moans and overflowing eruptions. Even D’Arcy, whose puerile side is never far from the surface, sounded embarrassed: “I don’t know where to look.”

D’Arcy may make great play of editorialising on current affairs, but in heaping humiliation on an easy target he highlighted his more childish and gratuitous side. But in purely radio terms it worked: it was funny.

The Minister’s way with words also came in for scorn when Wallace, his current political adversary, spoke to Matt Cooper on The Last Word (Today FM, weekdays).

Alan Shatter plays a lot with language,” said Wallace, delivering his verdict with the confident aplomb of a critic. The TD was criticising not the Minister’s literary ability but his Dáil speech on the current kerfuffle. He identified the apparent inconsistencies in Shatter’s account of how he learned about Wallace’s minor traffic violations.

Not for the first time during the week’s radio, an atmosphere of twitchy suspicion prevailed. “There are four and a half million people in this country; there must be thousands of incidents every day,” said Wallace. “How in God’s name could that incident reach the Garda Commissioner [and] reach the Minister for Justice just when it suited, a year later?”

By framing his misgivings in such stark terms, Wallace delivered a riposte that seemed to justify his wary demeanour while landing a palpable hit on the Minister. That it wasn’t a decisive blow was down to Cooper taking the wind out of Wallace’s sails by repeatedly raising the issue of the former building contractor’s underpayment of VAT in 2009.

Wallace sounded miffed at his past being resurrected, but he can hardly have expected anything less from his host, whose calm, even slightly jolly tone masks a dogged tenacity, not to mention an occasionally snarky temperament.

Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton encountered this derisive side as he attempted to rebut the charges, aired in US senate hearings on Apple’s parsimonious tax payments, that Ireland has entered shady deals to attract investment.

Bruton stuck rigidly to the script that the State’s arrangements with multinationals were transparent, though he coyly allowed that the “interplay between different tax codes” allowed “arbitrage”.

Faced with the Minister’s wilfully blind assertions that Apple and Google’s use of their Irish bases to avoid tax elsewhere had no effect on Ireland’s international reputation, Cooper was incredulous. “What do you think our reputation is?” he asked. “We’re the wide boys of legitimate finance. We’re the ones who are doing hooky little deals.”

Bruton disagreed, naturally, but the point had been made. When people are talking about you behind your back, you’re in trouble. If we’re not careful, Ireland will lose more than the Eurovision.


radioreview@irishtimes.com

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