Radio: Ivan Yates calls it right, Joe Duffy highlights a wrong

Review: ‘Breakfast’, ‘Liveline’, ‘The Right Hook’, ‘Sunday with Miriam’

Political pedigree: Ivan Yates and his fellow Newstalk Breakfast anchor Chris Donoghue

Political pedigree: Ivan Yates and his fellow Newstalk Breakfast anchor Chris Donoghue

 

Whenever Enda Kenny does go to the country, it can’t come soon enough for Ivan Yates. The former Fine Gael minister and current cohost of Breakfast (Newstalk, weekdays) has been chomping at the bit for the general-election campaign to start, regularly making confident predictions about the date: late last year he made an on-air bet that the poll would take place in November. (He welshed on paying out.) Now it looks as if his time has finally come.

It had better. In recent weeks Yates and his fellow anchor Chris Donoghue have been hosting extensive analyses of individual constituencies. Yates uses his political pedigree to good effect, giving at least the impression that he has an insider’s knowledge as he calls the outcome of each contest.

His confident verdicts have made waves: a fortnight ago the Labour TD Kevin Humphreys tweeted his annoyance at the prediction that he would lose his seat.

In the absence of any significant manifestoes to scour, the pair are revisiting Government parties’ promises from the 2011 election, particularly Fine Gael’s Five Point Plan. On Wednesday they “drill down” into the Government’s record on jobs, with the help of the economists Fergal O’Brien, of the employers’ organisation Ibec, and James Wickham, of the left-leaning think tank Tasc.

The resulting discussion is surprisingly constructive. Both guests agree that many jobs have been created, but they disagree about whether there are too many “lousy” posts and not enough “lovely” ones. Despite contrasting political philosophies, the economists make their points cogently and – crucially – without interruptions or point-scoring diversions.

Clearly, for all that Breakfast trades on the sparky atmosphere created by the presenters’ good-cop-bad-cop routine, it’s underscored by an informative and enlightening spirit. Whether this can survive the impending election circus will be seen, but Yates and Donoghue have already ensured that their show will be a go-to destination.

Just as election news is banned in France before polling day, so it is a wonder that the Government hasn’t proposed taking Joe Duffy off the air for the duration of the campaign. It’s not that Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) is partisan or even explicitly political. But in his daily mission to expose injustice and spread misery Duffy kills off any nascent feelgood factor that the incumbent administration might be banking on for electoral success.

On Monday he hears from Martina, a physical therapist who has become seriously ill over the past 18 months. Martina sounds fragile and knows it: “My apologies; my voice isn’t very good today.” As she explains that her still-undiagnosed condition has caused her to go “from cycling up mountains and looking after stroke patients to not being able to stand in the shower”, she regularly breaks down.

Notwithstanding that tears are to Duffy as laughter is to a comedian – a sign that he’s doing his job right – Martina’s is a terrifying story. More importantly, her situation highlights a wider issue: the lack of State support for self-employed people who fall ill. She tells of having to harass social services to get a paltry weekly allowance. “I’ve never been as humiliated and degraded,” she says. The more Martina elaborates on official indifference to her condition, the more one can almost hear the erosion of Government approval ratings.

Duffy mixes empathetic questions with quietly devastating asides, as when he (mis)quotes the Taoiseach’s claim that Ireland is “the best little country to do small business”.

The irony isn’t lost on Martina, who feels that she has hit rock bottom: “This is my last chance to speak up for myself. I can’t believe I’ve resorted to this. No offence, Joe.” To Duffy’s credit, none seems to be taken.

On The Right Hook (Newstalk, weekdays), George Hook has got so excited at the prospect of immigration becoming an election issue that one fears for his health – or at least his judgment – when the campaign kicks off for real. The refugee crisis has become his signature topic, although not the plight of migrants so much as their impact on Europe and the supposed attendant threat of Islamist terrorism. These are real concerns, but Hook is in danger of losing all perspective on the matter.

On Wednesday he says that immigration will be “the biggest issue” on doorsteps. He urges listeners to ask whether politicians are in favour of keeping Ireland’s promise to admit 4,000 refugees, a figure he constantly multiplies to 20,000, including family members. He talks luridly about British warnings that Isis members are among the refugees, dismissing Europol assessments to the contrary.

Hook doesn’t say what his favoured solution is. But after Denmark’s decision to confiscate valuables from refugees he conducts a notably softball interview with Kenneth Kristensen Berth, of the Danish anti-immigration People’s Party. Hook doesn’t challenge his guest’s assertion that immigration “crushes national solidarity” nor his charming advice that “You have a beautiful country. Keep it that way.”

Hook himself paints an apocalyptic picture. He proclaims that immigration – which, as it stands, will increase the population by 1/200th – is “a major threat to our culture, our safety and, ultimately, to the very fabric of our society”.

Clearly, election fever is in the air: Hook is already talking ballots.

Moment of the Week: When Máire met Miriam

Máire Mhac an tSaoi’s appearance on Sunday with Miriam (RTÉ Radio 1) yields a riveting and touchingly honest portrait of the distinguished poet. She tells Miriam O’Callaghan about her rich life, particularly her marriage to the writer and politician Conor Cruise O’Brien. She talks candidly about her initial impression of her future husband, to whom she was married for 46 years, until his death, in 2008: “I felt I disliked him so much that I couldn’t be in the same room as him.”

radioreview@irishtimes.com

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