The airwaves are alive with the sound of dissatisfaction


RADIOOn-air clashes can be a sign of a good compromise – or of a barrel being scraped

If it’s the sign of a good compromise that no one is happy with the outcome, Croke Park II might well be the fairest deal yet. After the proposals on public pay were announced on Tuesday, the airwaves were awash with voices declaring dissatisfaction with the plan. Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) proved a particularly spirited forum for denunciations of union leaders by public-service workers vowing to reject the deal.

At the other end of the spectrum lay the financial adviser Eddie Hobbs, who went on Lunchtime (Newstalk, weekdays) to suggest that the mooted cuts did not go far enough. Even with the new deal, Hobbs told Jonathan Healy, the presenter, Irish public servants are highly paid by European standards. Even so, he exuded an air of grim satisfaction that the public-sector “cartel” was being trimmed.

“This has been a very privileged area that is now coming through the fur coats in the wardrobe from Narnia into the real world,” Hobbs said, winning the award for the week’s most tortuous metaphor.

Admitting the measures were deflationary, Hobbs said there was no alternative, repeating the mantra that “we’re out of road”.

He also invoked the often-used comparison between job security in the public service and the more ravaged private sector as though it were a revelatory game-changer.

More than 350,000 workers had received a “permanent pay cut”, he said, “and that’s never brought up”. Aside from in every argument justifying public-sector wage cuts, that is.

Hobbs, in fairness, did not think compulsory redundancies were the way to go; nor was he blind to the distress looming for many. “There are genuine people hurt in the public service by these cuts, and it’s going to push those on the margin into insolvency.” But this was no reason to avoid cuts: State workers in debt “endgame” would now join their private-sector counterparts in trying to get the best deal from new insolvency laws.

Hobbs seemed to think the State was better off allowing public workers to slip into the state of nature prevailing throughout much of the economy: nasty and short of money.

Hobbs also took time out to criticise the public broadcaster. He chided RTÉ for giving union leaders a “free run” during radio interviews, prompting Healy to reply that “we try not to give them a free run when they’re on here”.

If either man was alive to the irony of Hobbs being given free rein to air his own highly subjective analysis, he did not mention it.

In fairness, Newstalk presenters no more all read from the same hymn sheet than their Montrose counterparts. Tom Dunne (Newstalk, weekdays) looked back on the history of social partnership with the historian Diarmaid Ferriter, painting a largely sympathetic portrait of the concept behind Croke Park II.

Ferriter reminded listeners that the original social-partnership agreement, signed amid the depths of recession in 1987, was a reaction to the despair of the era and was “successful in building conditions for sustainable prosperity”. He also cited the late Mary Holland in pointing out that, while a consensual approach had its problems, it underpinned the notion of society in Ireland, rather than tearing the place apart.

Ferriter did not airbrush the picture – the deals had fostered complacency and arguably stitched unions into the more market-driven direction that our economy took – but the item underlined that differing viewpoints are allowed a free run on the commercial news station.

For those who preferred robust confrontation to sober discussion, the FM104 Phoneshow (weeknights) provided an obvious alternative, in Dublin at least. It may frequently resemble the evil and deranged twin of Liveline, let out of the attic only at night, but Adrian Kennedy’s long-running phone-in programme cannot be called dull.

Kennedy spends much of his time goading his sidekick, Jeremy Dixon, and many of the callers who phone up to vent on whatever bugbear is exercising them sound as though they are in on the joke. “You sound very bitter and twisted,” Dixon said to one caller on the burning issue of women drinking pints. “Was it marriage that did that to you?” Cue laughter on both sides of the phone.

But Kennedy also gives a platform to more disturbing views. On Monday he asked for opinions on why, according to the census, 84 per cent of Travellers are unemployed, with predictably ugly results. After some reasonably civilised opening exchanges between Mary, a Traveller looking to work in childcare, and John, a recruitment consultant who said that Travellers were “pathetic” in job interviews, the discussion became rife with hatred.

One Mullingar resident, Jack, complained in particularly disparaging terms that Travellers turned up to collect the dole in new vehicles. When a Traveller called Josephine objected to his profane characterisation he responded that “I paid for your f****** caravan”.

Later, as Kennedy spoke to Debbie, a young Traveller studying for her Leaving, a well-spoken shop owner named Jason explained why he would not give her a job. “She’d talk like a guttersnipe,” said Jason.

When Debbie retorted that she wouldn’t go to his business, Jason gave a reply that even Ross O’Carroll-Kelly might blush at. “You couldn’t afford to go to my business. It’s actually a high-end business.”

As they say, you can’t buy class.

Moment of the Week Strong medicine

Discussing what impact the inconclusive Italian elections might have on the country’s troika-mandated cost-cutting, George Hook (The Right Hook, Newstalk, weekdays) made some alarming observations about democratic values. Since Mussolini, he mused, the Italians had “manifestly not been very good at democracy”. “And what the troika is, in a way, is a benevolent dictator. Which suits countries like Greece, like Italy and, I have to say, like Ireland, whose financial discipline has proven to be pretty poor.”

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