Radio: Roma kids get a new bogeyman for Halloween. David Norris gets a clean shave

Armageddon, abduction and aliens: amid the scary stories on The Last Word and Drivetime, the senators appearance on The Ray D’Arcy Show to talk about his cancer provided unexpected relief

Sen David Norris at the Today FM studios on Monday, after he had his beard shaved off in aid of the Irish Cancer Society. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Sen David Norris at the Today FM studios on Monday, after he had his beard shaved off in aid of the Irish Cancer Society. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Sat, Oct 26, 2013, 01:00

As if to remind us that Halloween beckons, the air was thick with scary stories this week. One could scarcely tune in without hearing hair-raising accounts of impending Armageddon or creepy evocations of parasitical alien monsters. Most harrowing of all were the tales of terrified children being whisked away from their families by costumed bogeymen – or, as they are colloquially known, the guards.

The story of the two Roma families whose blond children were taken away for DNA testing because they did not look like their parents dominated the news, though much of the discussion on the matter was furtively understated, particularly while investigations continued. Fortunately, some were prepared to put their head above the parapet to talk about the worrying ramifications of the matter.

On Wednesday, Siobhán O’Donoghue of Migrant Rights Centre Ireland spoke to Matt Cooper on The Last Word (Today FM, weekdays), describing the case as “a form of ethnic profiling”. This practice, she said, was outlawed by the UN, although “unfortunately there’s still a legal basis for it in Ireland” – the complaint against the Roma family, effectively, was “that the child had blond hair and blue eyes”.

For those who see the law as a form of protection, it was frightening to hear the case put in such stark terms, particularly when O’Donoghue cited examples of people being taken off trains because they looked different.

Cooper, ever the journalist, stressed that he wanted to see what the outcome was before passing judgment, though by then a degree of outrage was permissible, given that a two-year-old boy from the midlands had already been taken from and returned to his parents on similar grounds. In an interview with the reporter Ciaran Mullooly on Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), the boy’s father recounted how the guards had called around to his house, “talking about what happened in Tallaght”, before requesting they take the child away for the night.

Aside from the father’s surprisingly calm tone, the most striking aspect of the piece was the interviewee’s strongly accented and occasionally halting English, which allowed an insight into how things could easily get lost in translation during difficult encounters with those in authority. Mary Wilson, the Drivetime host, then provided an unwittingly ominous reminder of where ethnic targeting has led in the past when she followed Mullooly’s interview with an item about an exhibition on Anne Frank.

As Ray D’Arcy noted on The Ray D’Arcy Show (Today FM, weekdays), the scandal had left the children traumatised, their parents feeling victimised, the Garda not looking good, and Ireland making “a complete hames of it” in front of the world. And that seemed a generous assessment of the situation. It says much about the glum shadow cast by the story that light relief was provided by David Norris talking about his cancer on Tuesday.

The main talking point of the senator’s appearance was the fact that he had his beard shaved off on air for cancer charities, keeping a promise to remove his facial hair if the Senate abolition referendum was defeated. But what really caught the attention was the joyful, even giddy atmosphere in the studio.

Norris, a self-described hopeless optimist (“I can see the silver lining in a mushroom cloud”), was suitably sanguine about the possibility of death (“I’m a Christian, so it’s a promotion, it’s a move up”) while being sober in his view of his illness. Cancer was not “some alien monster” or a “seven-headed reptile going to burst through your belly button” but your own cells acting like “naughty children”.

Rather than despair, he preferred to look at his illness from a positive angle. “I’m extracting human interest, drama and money for research,” Norris said, pretty much encapsulating the virtues of his radio appearance in the process.

Such hopefulness was at a premium during the author Eric Schlosser’s discussion with Cooper on The Last Word about the perils posed by the world’s nuclear arsenals. The fear of atomic annihilation may have receded since the cold war ended, but Schlosser was keen to dispel complacency. The odds of an all-out nuclear war were less than before, but with 20,000 atomic weapons scattered around the globe, he thought the chances of such a weapon going off in a city were greater than ever. “It’s almost miraculous no city has been destroyed since Nagasaki,” he said, reassuringly.

He went on to detail times when the world has come close to nuclear disaster, from the defective 46-cent computer chip that signalled the Soviet Union had launched an all-out missile strike to the simple switch that prevented an H-bomb detonating when dropped over North Carolina by a disintegrating B-52.

“You find again and again that we averted catastrophe by a very narrow margin,” said Schlosser. “But there is no guarantee that sort of good luck will last.”

In the face of such stories, even Norris might have found it difficult to be optimistic. Certainly, it was hard to imagine ever being frightened by a ghost story again. Trick or treat, anyone?

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