Paul Williams simmers down as Tubridy swipes at snowflakes

Radio review: Northern Ireland and 'cosseted millennials' let the broadcasters show their true feelings

Ryan Tubridy: says he belongs to “a generation in transition” who are trying to get their heads around unfamiliar notions such as gender fluidity. Photograph: Kinlan Photography

Just when you thought you were safe from ever again encountering Winston Churchill’s well-burnished chestnut about the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging from a deluge of tremendous change, it’s back. The world may be transformed by Brexit and Trump, but the collapse of the Stormont power-sharing Executive prompts Sean O’Rourke, for one, to invoke the fabled spires as the North is plunged into crisis once more.

While there is something almost reassuring about the durability of Northern quarrels in the face of global turmoil, a weary air prevails on Tuesday's edition of Today With Sean O'Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), as the presenter discusses how a loss-making renewable energy scheme led to the current situation.

It's not just O'Rourke who sounds careworn. Journalist Eamonn Mallie ponders the issue in almost elegiac fashion, digging up old political quote about things turning to ash to emphasise the seismic effect of Sinn Féin's decision to pull the plug.

At times, Mallie’s rhetorical flourishes mean that he comes across less as an analyst than a Victorian parliamentary orator. But after listening to the predictable tit-for-tat debate between Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy and the DUP’s Sammy Wilson, Mallie’s eschewal of forensic detail is forgiven.


Oddly, the nearest thing to a fresh voice comes from veteran activist and journalist Eamonn McCann, now a People For Profit member of the Assembly, who hopes that voters will ditch traditional tribal loyalties for a new political movement, as is happening across Europe and the US. But from the evidence to hand, the probability of that happening seems like Brexit times 100, to paraphrase Trump.

The temptation, at least for listeners in the South, is to tune out, as Paul Williams notes on Newstalk Breakfast (Newstalk, weekdays). "We tend to get switched off, especially when we hear Northern accents," Williams says. But despite this "partitionist mentality", Williams recognises the significance of what has happened.

For one thing, Mallie – a busy man on Tuesday morning – has already suggested to Williams and co-host Colette Fitzpatrick that politicians in the Republic have no idea about the seriousness of the Northern crisis.

However, Williams, not one to pull his punches, has his own excoriating verdict. The Northern political structure, he says, is a dysfunctional, artificial construct “with two of the most diametrically opposed parties co-existing in it in an atmosphere of mutual loathing and mistrust”. (That even this bleak assessment represents a quantum leap from 20 years ago is a reminder of how bad things once were.) But he urges the Northern electorate “to move on to more moderate parties”.

This rare instance of optimism and compromise from Williams may not be a spur-of-the-moment outburst, as he repeats it verbatim an hour later. But it sounds sincere. Having dealt with gunmen in his role as a crime reporter, he’s under no illusion about the romance of armed struggle.

Indeed, Williams appears to have toned down his propensity for kneejerk outrage in general. He conducts interviews on the Apollo House occupation in a measured fashion, asking pressing questions but avoiding antagonistic editorial asides. It’s maybe too much to suggest that he is mellowing out. But with Fitzpatrick acting as an effective foil, Williams has enhanced his on-air presence by rationing his indignation.

For some, however, the idea of watching your tongue in the presence of others seems to represent an unparalleled threat to western civilisation. Ryan Tubridy (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) has been very exercised of late about the so-called "snowflake generation", those millennials supposedly so cosseted they melt away at the first sign of adversity.

On Monday, for example, he dismissively refers to the objection by some British students to classic philosophers because they are all white.

The next day, Tubridy interviews psychologist Dr Keith Gaynor in an effort to understand this apparently hyper-sensitive generation. Gaynor says concepts such as "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings" help bring awareness about the views of others, but are also alive of the excesses that have turned American campuses into semantic minefields. "Not all this language is particularly useful but much is worth considering," he says, adding that: "We should be open to the idea of being open."

Tubridy seems sympathetic. “That just sounds like good manners and politeness,” he says. But as his guest explains how some conversations can trigger anxiety in people who have bad experiences of a given topic, the presenter starts imagining a scenario where clowns give offence. “It sounds like I’m mocking, but I’m not,” Tubridy says, somewhat unconvincingly.

It’s a compelling discussion that shines a light on the disconnect between the host’s instinctive civility and his desire, as a natural if sometimes under-rated radio broadcaster, to add spice to proceedings. To his credit, Tubridy says he belongs to “a generation in transition” who are trying to get their heads around unfamiliar notions such as gender fluidity.

Not everyone agrees, judging by the number of texts mocking his guest’s stance. But that people can get so upset at not being free to offend others suggests that snowflake tendencies aren’t confined to the young.

Tubridy, for his part, says he just wants everyone to be kind and fair to one another, a desire that veers perilously close to political correctness. Not everyone seems ready to heed him, however, least of all north of the border.

Radio Moment of the Week: Fiachna’s middle-aged spirit

With a broad taste in music as well as a deep knowledge, the personable Fiachna Ó Braonáin is always welcome as guest host on the John Creedon Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weeknights). Well, almost always. He opens Wednesday's programme with a track which he announces was number one in the US 25 years ago. The golden oldie in question is Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit, prompting much alarm among those of us who still think 1992 was just a couple of years ago. At least he didn't play Teenage Kicks, which is 40 years old in 2018.