Angry, indignant, honest Sean O’Rourke

Radio Review: Both O’Rourke and Cormac Ó hEadhra find politics difficult to stomach

Social Democrat TD Róisín Shortall says the real issue is a “dysfunctional” Garda Síochána, a problem at “the heart of democracy”. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Social Democrat TD Róisín Shortall says the real issue is a “dysfunctional” Garda Síochána, a problem at “the heart of democracy”. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Most of the country may breathe a sigh of relief when, on Tuesday, the danger of a Christmas general election is averted, but there are those who seem more disappointed that the political crisis has been solved. In the aftermath of Frances Fitzgerald’s resignation as Tánaiste, Cormac Ó hEadhra, for one, sounds even more peeved than usual with his politician guests when they appear on The Late Debate (RTÉ Radio 1, Tuesday-Thursday). 

Deprived of an electoral feud, the enjoyably combative host seems determined to generate friction between his panellists using the material to hand. He doesn’t concentrate on the party political fallout surrounding Fitzgerald’s exit, as one might expect. Instead, Ó hEadhra focuses on the issue that caused the spat in the first place: how much Fitzgerald knew about the strategy to discredit Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe when she was Minister for Justice and whether her resignation is an admission of accountability on the matter.

According to Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd, Fitzgerald selflessly fell on her sword to avert an unwanted election. “She put the national interest ahead of her own personal interests,” O’Dowd says, stirringly. When the host asks Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins whether this amounts to accountability, he replies yes, though his tone of voice sounds less than convincing. 

Ó hEadhra, however, feels it’s all a fudge that avoids the central issue. If no one is willing to take responsibility for their actions, he says, “you’ll get no change”. As Collins and O’Dowd bicker over the timing of no-confidence motions, Social Democrat TD Róisín Shortall says the real issue is a “dysfunctional” Garda Síochána, a problem at “the heart of democracy”. When O’Dowd deems this unduly harsh, Ó hEadhra practically jeers: “There is no problem, he says.”

There are times when the presenter appears more concerned with causing bother than asking pertinent questions. After listening to Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan’s Dáil statement that he hadn’t mislead Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on the latest controversy, Ó hEadhra repeatedly asks Collins if believes every detail. “It sounds like you’re asking me to say he [Flanagan] is lying,” says the exasperated TD. The presenter’s abrasive style may irritate some, but it’s surely more grating that real accountability seems as elusive as ever.

Honest indignation

Ó hEadhra isn’t the only one annoyed with how matters have turned out. On Wednesday, Sean O’Rourke also sounds unhappy with the politicians on his show (Today with Sean O’Rourke, RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), with Helen McEntee, the Fine Gael Minister of State for European Affairs, a particular target for his ire. 

When the Minister says that while Fitzgerald may have been aware of efforts to undermine McCabe’s credibility, she was legally constrained from intervening, O’Rourke sounds genuinely angry: “Can I stop you there?” The presenter says this reminds him of the legal “stonewalling” of the late Brigid McCole, who sued the state after contracting Hepatitis C from contaminated blood but was fought all the way despite the State’s culpability. Fitzgerald, says O’Rourke, “had every knowledge of what was being plotted against that man [McCabe] and did nothing”. 

Moreover, O’Rourke is also impatient with platitudes about the supposed selflessness of the Taoiseach, who according to McEntee, “wants to shine a light into the darkest corners”. “Maybe he just wants to shine,” the presenter dismissively replies, while suggesting that proposed measures to protect whistleblowers will “not be worth the paper they are written on”. Set against the Dáil machinations of the previous days, O’Rourke’s honest indignation is bracingly welcome. What difference it makes is another matter, alas.

‘Moral warfare’

Still, righteous anger can yield results, as shown by the Documentary on One: The Occupation (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday). Narrated and co-produced by former BBC Radio Foyle reporter Michael Bradley, it recounts the 2006 occupation of a multinational plant in Derry by anti-war protestors, and the court case that followed. If the story is simple, the documentary touches on more complex themes.

Bradley tells how American firm Raytheon set up in the city in 2000 as part of the “peace dividend”: ironic, given the company specialises in guided missiles. After Raytheon’s munitions were used by Israeli forces against Lebanese civilians in 2006, a group of protestors, including veteran journalist and activist Eamonn McCann, decided to occupy the firm’s Derry plant, where they alleged computer guidance systems were designed. The tactics were simple, according to McCann: “You don’t need to know about computers in order to throw them out the window.” 

The occupation led to the arrest of McCann and his fellow occupiers. In the trial that followed, they were defended by barrister (and GAA pundit) Joe Brolly, who describes the case as “moral warfare, the good guys versus the bad guys”. In fact, things weren’t quite so clear cut. Three of the occupiers were dissident republicans, hardly paragons of non-violent protest, while in the eyes of a local SDLP politician, the action inflicted reputational and economic damage on the city. 

Bradley considers these issues with personal candour. Originally appalled by the damage caused by the protest, he now re-evaluates his opinion: the protestors, he now feels, were acting with “the highest moral purpose”. All in all, it’s a riveting documentary, mixing anecdote with legal drama, local history and geo-political intrigue. 

It even has a happy ending, sort of. Then Bradley adds the coda that demand for Raytheon’s lethal products has soared amid the current “global uncertainty”. Some people, it seems, love a crisis.

Radio Moment of the Week: D’Arcy’s domestic nightmares

On Wednesday, the Ray D’Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) devotes the entire programme to the stories of women who have suffered domestic abuse from men. Three women recall their distressing experiences, from the chilling early omens of abuse – reprimands for pouring one’s own wine – to the atmosphere of control, violence and fear that drives some of them to the brink of suicide. Most insidious is the recollection of feeling trapped by an abusive spouse. D’Arcy gives his guests, who are remarkably honest and resilient, a sympathetic space to share their stories, which are distressingly commonplace: one in five Irish women experience domestic abuse, we learn. Horrific but, alas, essential.

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