Vintage Pat Kenny: Let’s hear it for wronged landlords

Radio Review: Ray D’Arcy gets emotional about HPV vaccine. Kenny defends accidental landlords

 Newstalk’s Pat Kenny. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Newstalk’s Pat Kenny. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

The ability to find a fresh angle on a familiar subject is the hallmark of any good broadcaster. It’s no surprise, then, that after 40 years or so on air, Pat Kenny can find new perspectives on even the most exhaustively covered topics. 

Take the rental crisis. When talking about the issue on Wednesday (The Pat Kenny Show, Newstalk, weekdays) the presenter avoids the usual tropes about shortages of social housing, difficult mortgage markets or soaring rents. Instead he homes in on an aspect that other more timorous souls have ignored amid their hand-wringing: the failure of errant tenants to pay rent arrears.

Kenny interviews Rosalind Carroll, director of the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), about a report showing the body had a 160 per cent increase in its number of cases. Initially, the item throws up some thought-provoking numbers: one in five people in Ireland are now renters, the highest number since the 1980s.

But generally, it’s all a bit technical and slightly dull. And then the discussion turns to unpaid rent.

Kenny asks Carroll how the RTB enforces its decisions and sounds surprised to hear that those who refuse to play ball have to be taken to court. “So your [the RTB’s] finding means nothing,” Kenny suggests.

As he explores this theme, the host is keen to find out whether the RTB’s priorities lie with tenants, particularly when he hears that the top complaint is rent arrears. “That’s a reflection of the affordability issues in the market,” says Carroll. “Yeah,” comes the host’s doubtful-sounding reply. 

When the talk turns to how long cases typically take, Kenny gets agitated at the thought of the unpaid rent piling up, particularly if the landlord has to go to court to evict recalcitrant tenants.

“That is effectively theft,” he says, “why shouldn’t you be locked up for not paying rent?” Carroll, for her part, sounds dumbstruck. “You’re suggesting that people should go to jail for rent arrears?” she asks incredulously.

It’s a vintage performance by Kenny, his irritation at a perceived wrong pulling him into ever-decreasing circles of outraged interrogation. It doesn’t help that Carroll gets her sums wrong when she mistakenly asserts that the turnaround on cases is now “600 times” faster than before, a blooper guaranteed to upset Kenny’s forensic side. 

Despite all this, Kenny’s concern does seem to be one of fairness. His sympathy lies not with large landlords but rather with those of the “accidental” variety, part of the “squeezed middle” who he regularly speaks of and indeed courts as an audience. Certainly, the bulk of on-air texts on the issue come from landlords aggrieved at the “socialist” RTB. 

Kenny remains a nimble current affairs host. It’s notable that his subsequent discussion on State support for asylum seekers, with Nick Henderson of Irish Refugee Council, is conducted in a spirit of honest inquiry, with none of the sensationalism that often accompanies the topic elsewhere. But Kenny’s apparent preference for a hardline solution to the complex rent problem uncomfortably echoes the populist sentiments he shuns in other areas. Lock them up, indeed.

Anti-vaxxers

The confusion caused by the era of alternative facts and fake news comes under scrutiny on the Ray D’Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). The host is joined by Prof Donal Brennan of the Mater Hospital to discuss the decrease in the number of girls getting the vaccine that helps protect against the cervical cancer-causing human papilloma virus (HPV).

It’s an instructive item, in which D’Arcy tries to play the honest broker between those urging the vaccine’s use and those campaigning against it – but in the end his preference is clear.

The case against the vaccine is purely anecdotal, but the circulation of stories about girls falling sick after getting the shot has caused a sharp drop: only 50 per cent of girls entering secondary schools are now vaccinated, compared with 90 per cent when it was introduced.

Prof Brennan stresses the lack of medical evidence to suggest the jab caused these illnesses. Instead, it is a “predictable coincidence” or, as the more emotionally attuned D’Arcy puts it, “a very unfortunate, tragic coincidence”. 

When the presenter presses his guest for reassurances, Brennan says no medicine is totally safe, “anyone who says otherwise is lying”. But while Brennan refutes the old “paternalistic” approach to medicine, the evidence makes him highly confident that there is no connection between the injection and any long-term side effects.

D’Arcy gets to the point more succinctly. He approvingly repeats Health Service Executive director general Tony O’Brien’s quote that anti-vaxxers are indulging in “emotional terrorism”.

D’Arcy even indulges in some heart-tugging counter-insurgency of his own, wondering how parents who don’t allow the vaccination will feel if their daughter becomes ill with cervical cancer in the future. Still, he also gamely tries to put the opposing case, using the old adage, “if in doubt, don’t do it”.

Brennan’s response is firm. “That doubt has been fuelled by false information,” he says, pointing to “scaremongering” on social media. 

As a piece of scrupulously balanced debate, giving the same emphasis to both sides of the argument, D’Arcy’s interview fails, not least because his only guest advocates the vaccination.

But it is refreshing to hear D’Arcy push back against the tendency to give opinionated, autodidactic outliers equal weight to actual experts, whether in medicine or other fields. Seeking new angles is one thing; denying the facts quite another.

Radio Moment of the Week: Cough up and keep calm

The versatile John Murray displays his big game temperament when he delivers the sports news on Thursday’s Rising Time (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). After the customary good-natured exchange with host Shay Byrne, Murray runs through the morning’s developments, but is quickly hampered by an audible frog in his throat. By the time the broadcaster reaches the cycling and tennis news, a series of tickly coughs seem certain to give way to a full-blown fit of consumptive hacking, but he has the composure – and breath control – to calmly finish the bulletin. “And now,” he tells Byrne, “I’m off to get a glass of water.” Well played, Mr Murray. 

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