Radio: Garth coverage brooks no dissent from the ‘tragic’ script

The debacle surrounding the Croke Park concerts gets serious attention, with only Ray D’Arcy striking the right note

Exit stage left: Garth Brooks in Croke Park in January. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Exit stage left: Garth Brooks in Croke Park in January. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 01:00

Many years ago, the English comedian Alexei Sayle joked that anything could be justified so long as it was for charity, the punchline being that if Hitler had invaded Poland in aid of a good cause, everything would have been fine. On reflection, it wasn’t a very funny joke, but substitute the word “charity” with “the economy” and you get a pretty good picture of how public discourse is framed in contemporary Ireland.

As the Garth Brooks concert fiasco is dissected, or rather hacked away at, on Wednesday’s Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), the economy is invoked so often that if it were a keyword in a drinking game, listeners would be stocious within a few minutes. When a woman living next to Croke Park explains to stand-in host Philip Boucher-Hayes how she thinks that the GAA broke both the terms and spirit of an agreement with local residents, she is forcefully countered by a caller from Newlands Cross in Dublin, who says objectors should emulate the example of those suburban dwellers who put up with increased traffic on big match days for the greater good of the nation’s financial well-being.

Variations on this theme are parroted whenever the affair is discussed last week, which seems to be any time one turns on the radio. That the Taoiseach’s intervention on the matter is the lead story on Thursday’s Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) sums up the story’s unavoidable nature. Those worrying whether the Brooks controversy has damaged our international reputation should reflect on the kind of image projected by the national broadcaster’s flagship news programme relegating conflict in Gaza to second place and bumping an impending cabinet reshuffle from bulletins altogether.

When Dublin’s Lord Mayor Christy Burke tells presenter Claire Byrne that “the nation is crying out for this to be resolved”, and reveals that the Mexican ambassador is offering to intervene, it only underscores the ludicrous urgency afforded the whole debacle.

It is left to Ray D’Arcy, a man whose programme (The Ray D’Arcy Show, Today FM, weekdays) is habitually dominated by entertainment stories, to bring something resembling perspective to proceedings. On Wednesday, in the aftermath of the initial announcement of the concerts’ cancellation, D’Arcy approaches the subject in a lighthearted manner that is as welcome as it is fitting, opening his show with a rousing cry of “Anyone for the last of the stetsons?”

As he talks to disappointed ticket holders, whose mood is reasonably upbeat, the presenter also manages to tease out some interesting points. He focuses on the existing “half-arsed system” that allows the sale of tickets for events that have yet to be formally approved, noting how few people ever previously paid much attention to that ever-present coda on concert ads, “Subject to licence”.

D’Arcy also hosts an enlightening interview on the issue with promoter Denis Desmond, who is not promoting the Brooks shows. He inevitably talks about the economic fallout if the shows do not go ahead, but thinks that the American singer is the main culprit, having “thrown his toys out of the pram”. (Interestingly, the majority of Liveline’s callers feel the same way.)

Amid the noise, D’Arcy highlights the story’s true nature. He contrasts the “happy enough” mood of his thwarted concertgoers with Labour Relations Commission boss Kieran Mulvey’s opinion that any cancellation would be a tragedy. “It’s not, though,” he says. “It undervalues the word tragedy.”

Overall, D’Arcy strikes the right balance of engagement and amusement, underscoring his ability to read the public mood while restating his position as the mainstream daytime radio host sans pareil.

In the sober environment of Today With Seán O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), the Brooks saga is covered with due seriousness, though one suspects this is down to delays in the announcement of ministerial changes. Throughout the week, O’Rourke displays patience of Beckettian proportions as he chairs panel discussions with politicians and pundits even as the reshuffle is constantly postponed.

Relief comes in the form of doughty roving reporter Paddy O’Gorman, who visits Dublin’s South Circular Road to meet Muslims as they fast for the month of Ramadan. It is a fascinating vignette of the diversity of Islam in Ireland, though it also has some uncomfortable, even toe-curling, moments.

The reporter hears from an Indian-born man who talks about the problems of fasting for 19 hours of daylight, even as he talks up the virtues of the meat in his shop: not only is it Halal, “best of all, it is 100 per cent Irish”. O’Gorman is prurient at times – “Do you and your wife abstain from sex?” he asks, possibly over-eagerly – and sounds nonplussed when he meets the man’s wife, a Polish recent convert wearing a face-covering niqab.

But he is also alert to the nuances of Muslim society in Ireland. As he hangs out in a cafe frequented by North African men – and they are all men, he remarks – O’Gorman observes that those from “the Maghreb” are “working-class” compared to, say, the Saudi medical student he also meets. Along the way, he encounters an Algerian with a Tullamore twang and a Dubliner who greets him in Arabic.

Overall, it’s a refreshing reminder that there may be life after Garth Brooks.

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