A jolting glimpse into the whirrings of Pat Kenny’s mind
Radio Review: Pat Kenny – being Pat Kenny – goes off on a bizarre tangent on Jastine Valdez’ migration status
Pat Kenny: the emphasis is on “what ifs” as much as what actually happened. Photograph: Frank Miller
Just as the use of multiple platforms to access news is a defining feature of the digital age, so the venerable “It Says in the Papers” slot on Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) seems ever more anachronistic, a quaint throwback rather than a handy barometer.
But on Wednesday, as reviewer Clodagh Walsh prepares to look over the day’s newspapers, she perfectly captures the prevailing mood. “It’s been such a sad week in the news,” she sighs, before getting down to business. The newspaper stories reflect this, but the simplicity of Walsh’s opening statement succinctly sums up the despair felt after the savage murders of Jastine Valdez and Ana Kriegel.
It’s not just Walsh who is affected by these events. The horrific circumstances of both killings cast a shadow over everything else on the airwaves: even the final week of campaigning in the abortion referendum takes a back seat as broadcasters try to get to grips with the enormity of the crimes.
Following the discovery of Valdez’ body, the events surrounding her kidnapping and murder are discussed on Tuesday’s edition of The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays), though the emphasis is on “what ifs” as much as what actually happened.
Talking to crime reporter Nicola Tallant about Valdez’ abduction in broad daylight, Kenny wonders whether gardaí could have done more when a passing motorist initially reported the student being bundled into an SUV. He suggests that roadblocks might have been erected immediately if it was a gangland incident, but that the reaction was different in the case of an ordinary citizen.
Kenny being Kenny, he then goes off on a bizarre tangent on whether Valdez, being of Filipino origin, was a citizen or a “migrant” resident here, noting along the way that her parents are naturalised Irish citizens.
Perhaps realising that this is at best a superfluous detail for most listeners, he then returns to the main story, but it’s a jolting glimpse into the whirrings of Kenny’s mind. But it also speaks of a certain incomprehensibility about the evil that was visited upon Valdez by her killer, Mark Hennessy.
Kenny shows there is more to his approach than perverse logic the next day, when he speaks to Ruth Maxwell, who suffered a life-changing injury when she was randomly attacked by a sexual predator in 2016.
Following the recent conviction of her attacker, Maxwell recounts being grabbed from behind on her way to a west Dublin Luas stop early in the morning. “The arms came around me in a gentle way,” she recalls. When she saw a knife being wielded, she resisted: “I can never describe the scream that came out of my mouth.”
The attacker fled in a van, but left Maxwell with a severed hand.
The man was arrested two weeks later, and was also prosecuted for sexual assaults on two other women. But he clearly had planned worse for Maxwell, with duct tape and cable ties found in his van: “I’m just happy to be alive.”
The mundane details about the still-unnamed man are almost the most chilling. Before he attacked her, Maxwell says, “he just sat there, waiting, drinking his beer”.
Kenny has the nous to hang back as Maxwell recalls her experience, before asking gently about her condition now. “I’ll be in pain for the rest of my life,” she replies, though she is determined not be defeated by the trauma. There’s no escaping the sincere admiration in the host’s voice as the interview ends: “Ruth Maxwell, you are a remarkable woman.”
Of course, no woman should have endure such a violation to be deemed remarkable, as Ciara Kelly recognises on Lunchtime Live (Newstalk, weekdays). Opening Tuesday’s programme, Kelly says that as the only female daytime presenter on Newstalk, she has tried not to focus too much on women’s issues lest she be pigeonholed as a “niche” broadcaster. (This in itself says a lot about the radio world.)
But she adds, after the appalling events of previous days, she has to ask her female listeners, “Do you feel safe now?”
The answer is, overwhelmingly, “no”. Texters and callers speak of assaults, harassment, threats and an underlying wariness dictating their behaviour, such as carrying car keys to be used as a weapon against potential attackers.
In other circumstances, Kelly’s question might be viewed as alarmist, but in the current environment, it has a totally different impact, prompting women to talk openly about their fears and experiences. “I feel we’re pulling back a veil,” Kelly says.
The singularity with which women are treated also concerns Kelly. “Why is violence against women subtly different?” she asks. As if to underline the point, she feels obliged to emphasise that “I know not all men are like this”, lest male listeners text to complain that they’re not bad guys. And of course, some men duly do.
No wonder that when a parent talks of the necessity of teaching self-defence to girls, Kelly detects a disparity: “It’s not just what we teach our daughters, it’s what we teach our sons.”
It’s a compelling piece of radio by Kelly, one that taps into viscerally-felt fears without being sensationalist. It’s also notable as an item that directly addresses the darker attitudes towards women that engender the unspeakable crimes of the past week.
If this makes Kelly a niche presenter, that’s sad.
Radio Moment of the Week: Paul Williams’s shocking insult
After years of tangling with dangerous criminals and trolling left-wing do-gooders, it’s safe to assume Paul Williams, the gleefully bullish co-presenter of Newstalk Breakfast, has a thick skin. But even he is taken aback by the epithet hurled at him by a listener outraged at his suggestion that it’s a good idea for the prison service to pipe satellite sports channels into its gaols.
“That was actually shocking,” Williams says of the offending text, in mock horror. “I’m more shocked at being called that than some of the other more vituperative things I’ve been called.” So what is this unprecedented insult? “Someone called me a bleeding-heart liberal,” Williams says. “That’s a first,” replies co-host Shane Coleman. It sure is.