Anchors relish Healy-Rae roasting


RADIO REVIEW:AS HE SQUIRMED in front of a succession of microphones last week, Michael Healy-Rae came across as an unlikely disciple of those paragons of the on-air platitude, Smashie and Nicey.

The creation of the comedians Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse, Smashie and Nicey skewered the oleaginous DJs who once dominated British (and Irish) radio, their smarmy naffness epitomised by the constant references to their work for “charidee”, which, naturally, they didn’t like to talk about. The Kerry South TD had no such qualms when it came to his own contributions to philanthropy on the 2007 reality contest Celebrities Go Wild.

As he vainly tried to explain how 3,600 calls were made from Dáil phones in support of him, the Kerry South TD invariably fell back on the charidee defence. Be it on Morning Ireland(RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), Breakfast(Newstalk, weekdays) or News at One(RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), the ubiquitous Healy-Rae tried to extricate himself from any awkward questioning by pointing out that the call charges in question went to the People in Need charity.

While the controversy highlighted the culture of entitlement and clientelism that dogs Irish politics, it was essentially a sideshow, providing light relief from the wider economic gloom. This was mainly down to the gobsmacking neck displayed by Healy-Rae, who consistently presented himself as the wronged party.

When asked by Breakfast’s Chris Donoghue if he accepted the affair represented a misuse of public funds, his reply was typical. “I can’t answer this as I know nothing about it,” the Independent TD said. “Whoever made the calls, the money went to a good cause.” He recounted an anecdote about meeting an elderly woman who said she had repeatedly voted for him, despite her meagre pension. Part of the fun was listening to the various anchors – who seemed to relish finally having one of the pugnacious Healy-Rae clan on the rack – ratchet up the pressure. On Tuesday’s Morning Ireland, the normally amiable Rachael English said it “beggared belief” that Jackie Healy-Rae, the family patriarch and then TD, had nothing to do with the calls.

On Wednesday’s News at One,Seán O’Rourke asked the younger Healy-Rae if the affair had an element of sleaze to it, adding that “you cannot easily divorce yourself from this abuse”. (The TD, who by then had said he would pay back the money, disagreed.) The biggest roasting came at the hands of Matt Cooper on The Last Word(Today FM, weekdays). When Healy-Rae said his father was too busy to personally make 3,600 calls, the host retorted with uncharacteristic scorn: “Don’t be playing the old poor mouth on this.” By now, Healy-Rae sounded rattled. Though he stuck to his story, there was a quiver in his voice. “I feel you could be a bit fairer on this.” Cooper did more than squeeze his guest, however. He noted that by appearing on the show, the then county councillor did more than raise charitable funds. “I know you’re going to say it was for charity, but it helped in raising your national profile.” It was a coup de grâce by Cooper: in more ways than one, the reality show was a good cause for Healy-Rae. Until now, at least.

Joe Duffy is another man broadcasting his altruistic activities of late, with Liveline(RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) last week resembling an advertorial for the show’s Fiver Friday. The campaign called on people to spend €5 in local businesses yesterday while encouraging retailers to tailor one-off deals for the day. The initiative showed the positive influence Liveline can exert on public life when it is not playing to its carping instincts. Duffy never lost the run of himself, maintaining his humble persona whenever he spoke of the campaign, which was often. Others were on hand to trumpet his achievement, however. “You have lifted the spirits of the business community here in Mullingar,” said one shopkeeper.

It never hurts to try, of course, as the experience of Cillian Murphy and Enda Walsh testifies. Speaking to Miriam O’Callaghan ( Miriam Meets, RTÉ Radio 1, Sunday), the actor and the playwright reminisced how they first met when Walsh cast an unknown Murphy in his 1996 drama Disco Pigs, a move that proved a breakthrough for both men.

For all the pair’s flourishing careers, it was the early part of their tale that was most heartening. Neither wanted anything more than to make a good piece of theatre when Disco Pigspremiered, but its success placed Murphy on the road to film stardom and Walsh on the way to becoming a feted writer. The kindness of strangers is all very well, but the best way to make things happen is to do it yourself.

Radio moment of the week

Given the optimism that is the default setting on Tubridy(2FM, weekdays), journalist Catherine Halloran highlighted good news stories when reviewing the papers on Monday. But she went beyond the call of duty when speaking about Irish soldiers returning to Lebanon as UN peacekeepers, something she said Ireland has been “brilliant” at. “The people in the Lebanon absolutely love to have the Irish there.”

This was boosterism at its most unrealistic, making the mission sound like an away trip by cuddly Irish football fans.

Really, who loves to have foreign soldiers around them?