Radio Review: You could have powered continents with listeners’ rage

Frustrated despair has been replaced by a vengeful tang after the release of the Anglo Irish Bank tapes

Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Sat, Jun 29, 2013, 01:00

Anger is an energy, at least according to the terminally seething John Lydon on Rise, his Public Image Ltd hit. But that it were such a valuable commodity: our fiscal troubles would surely cease. The country must have had the capacity to power continents with the rage that crackled over the airwaves this week.

From the moment the taped conversations between Anglo Irish Bank executives were first heard on radio, to the regurgitation of many a breakfast, on Monday’s Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), it was almost impossible to escape the affair and, no matter how often the clips were replayed, the teeth-grinding emotions it provoked.

Unsurprisingly, one of the chief conduits for this ire was Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), which for the past five years has been channelling – or generating, depending on your point of view – public fury at our collective calamities.

But as Joe Duffy fielded one livid call after another, the wider mood seemed different this time around. The frustrated despair that accompanied previous waves of outrage was replaced by a more vengeful tang. A caller named Shirley, whose family had moved to the US after her husband lost his job, made her solution clear by evoking the example of Marie Antoinette, beheaded for her (supposed) indifference to the suffering she presided over.

Other contributors were less viscerally inclined but still sought retribution against the executives whom Duffy, tweaking the Bunsen burner with a customarily expert hand, habitually referred to as the “laughing bankers”.

A retired senior civil servant called to say that a criminal investigation was needed – not that he was hopeful. “If a young fella stole a jumper from Dunnes, would it take five years to
get them to court? Yet here we are, not a single one of the people who wrecked the country is in jail.”

If such sentiments suggested that frustrated resignation had not been fully purged from the national humours, others were proactive in their anger. One woman, Nicola, said she phoned Garda headquarters to make a formal complaint about the tapes, only to be told that many others had already done so.

Colm, a barrister, thought that the tape of John Bowe, Anglo’s former head of capital markets, saying he had deliberately obscured the extent of the bank’s losses was grounds for charges of fraud. “It’s very difficult to see how this could be anything other than a deliberate attempt to obtain a pecuniary advantage by deception,” he said in lofty tones rarely encountered amid the earthy vernacular that is Liveline’s lingua franca.

As ever, there were moments of unintentional comedy, as when Eddie Hobbs chipped in his two cents on the matter. The ubiquitous financial pundit dubbed the offending bankers “vankpires”, repeating his clunky phrase for effect when his host failed to collapse into laughter.

But Hobbs also made the damning point that virtually none of the many revelations of financial misdeeds had arisen from regulatory enforcement. Instead they were the result of journalistic spadework.

In hearing from a broad range of callers, Duffy’s show gave powerful voice to a public temper best expressed by the quote attributed to Dan Breen on why he fought in the War of Independence: “Justice be damned, ’twas vengeance we were after!”

The desire for swift and brutal revenge was evident elsewhere, as in the text to The Ray D’Arcy Show (Today FM, weekdays) that wistfully suggested that in Michael Collins’s time the offending bankers would have been lined up against a wall. “Well, we’re not calling for that,” said D’Arcy, whose populist instincts clearly have boundaries.

The presenter again sounded like a model of bland moderation when he spoke to Paul Williams, the journalist who broke the news of the Anglo tapes in the Irish Independent.

Having conceded that it was probably the biggest story he had broken in a career marked by spectacular tabloid crime scoops, Williams went on a riff that hinted he had not yet sold out to broadsheet respectability. Having been a paragon of calm factual clarity when discussing the story on Morning Ireland, the reporter took a more lurid tack as he described the Anglo situation on D’Arcy’s show.

“It’s like a huge plane crash in which everyone on board was killed,” Williams said, “where they find the black box and find out that the two pilots, in the half hour before, were snorting lines of coke, drinking Dom Pérignon or whiskey, with a few lap dancers in the cockpit with them.”

“That’s a very damning analogy,” replied his host, superfluously.

In using metaphors that even the most sensationalist red-top reporter might deem excessive, Williams actually diluted the impact of his otherwise foundation-shaking story.

D’Arcy had not mislaid his daytime presenter’s gift for the attention-grabbing phrase, however. Pondering the possibility of a Dáil investigation, he summed up the futility of such ventures in memorable, if slightly icky, terms. “They’re about as potent as a carrot in a condom when you’re trying to get pregnant.”

Maybe so, but, after this week, people no longer seem as willing to stand impotently by.

Moment of the week: Feeling your pain
Henry McKean, roving reporter for Moncrieff (Newstalk, weekdays), may have taken his idiosyncratic tendencies a bit far on Wednesday, when he underwent a procedure in a Dutch hospital that supposedly mimicked the pain of childbirth. Doing live commentary on the electrode-powered experience, McKean lost his customary composure, peppering his talk with involuntary yelps of “Ah, Jesus” before the pain got too much. “I’m going to have to hang up,” he mewed forlornly. One admired his fortitude – he endured the procedure for two hours – but Sean Moncrieff put the feat in its obvious perspective. “It is sore,” the presenter said. “As any woman will tell you.”

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