Cormac Ó hEadhra and Sarah McInerney air their dirty laundry in public

Radio: The ostensibly mismatched Drivetime hosts are a year into their on-air partnership

Drivetime: Cormac Ó hEadhra and Sarah McInerney. Photograph: Kieran Harnett/RTÉ

Drivetime: Cormac Ó hEadhra and Sarah McInerney. Photograph: Kieran Harnett/RTÉ

 

As the hosts of Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), Cormac Ó hEadhra and Sarah McInerney have gained a reputation as tireless seekers of transparency, seemingly unrelenting in their mission to make evasive public figures come clean. But it turns out they have grimy secrets of their own, with Monday’s show having the pair seeking to air their dirty laundry in public. Sadly, this isn’t a metaphor. 

The presenters talk to a chemical scientist, Dr Susan Kelleher, about a new report recommending people do less laundry to reduce the environmental damage. On hearing this Ó hEadhra sounds a gleeful note. “This is great news for people like me, who probably aren’t great at washing those stains off the jumper,” he says, chuckling. 

When his guest suggests that most clothing should be worn “until it smells”, Ó hEadhra is even more jubilant, recalling how a childhood combination of handknit jumpers and fishy breakfasts resulted in him “proudly reeking of smelly mackerel going into school”.

For all the fireworks, Cormac Ó hEadhra and Sarah McInerney exude rigour rather than rancour: there’s no whitewashing when they’re around

Admirably concealing any alarm she may feel, Kelleher suggests airing any such pongy garments: “It’s your call what you’re happy smelling like.” This proves too much for McInerney, a self-confessed serial launderer. “Is it, though?” she asks, in a perplexed tone. “For the people who have to sit beside him, is it?” 

Of course, McInerney’s mock dismay is exaggerated for effect. (As too, one sincerely hopes, is the olfactory state of Ó hEadhra’s knitwear.) But the item, which conveys some salient points amid the japing, underlines the chemistry between the ostensibly mismatched duo. A year since the pair began hosting the programme, their on-air partnership has developed a pleasing dynamic, able to switch easily from giddy joshing to fierce grilling.

In truth, the latter element features more prominently on the show, with both presenters happy to rake insufficiently co-operative guests over the coals. Wednesday’s show sees Ó hEadhra at his most belligerent, when he interviews the Green Party Minister of State Ossian Smyth.

In the wake of the crippling cyberattack on the HSE, the host asks why the National Cyber Security Centre has lacked a director for a year. Quizzed whether the salary is adequate to attract suitable candidates from the private sector, the Minister suggests money isn’t the only factor in recruitment, as the position “carries a lot of pride”. “Ah, come on now,” the host splutters, “Leave pride aside. We want cold, clinical expertise.”

Ó hEadhra’s Terminator-style approach has its limits: so remorseless is his barrage of questions that some guests retreat to the bunker rather than engage with him

The interview continues in this vein, the host pummelling the guest with questions, scanning each answer for inconsistencies, before hammering away again. Sometimes Ó hEadhra’s approach borders on the gratuitous. When Smyth says that the State’s cyber security is protected by “thousands” of workers at bodies other than the understaffed National Cyber Security Centre, the host shoots back, “Is it not disingenuous of you to point to those people and say all is rosy in the garden?” 

By the end the atmosphere is unsurprisingly tetchy. After the Minister rebuffs queries about deficiencies in the HSE’s network by saying they should be directed to health supremo Paul Reid, Ó hEadhra doesn’t hide his irritation: “You say that with a smirk like it’s an invalid question.” The exchange shows that Ó hEadhra’s Terminator-style approach has its limits: so remorseless is his barrage of questions that some guests retreat to the bunker rather than engage with him. 

Generally, however, the Drivetime team focus on the story. McInerney uncovers confusion and concern over the end of contact tracing in schools, while Fergal Keane reports on the lucrative land deals and opaque planning processes surrounding the strategic housing-development scheme in Dublin. For all the fireworks, the two hosts exude rigour rather than rancour: there’s no whitewashing when they’re around.

Nor is there much airbrushing of unpleasant facts on Today with Claire Byrne (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) when the former bookmaking boss Stewart Kenny talks candidly about the harm caused by gambling. A founder of the Paddy Power chain, Kenny thinks that he was too successful in his mission to move gambling “from the racing to the front pages”. “I now have to take some responsibility for this. It has been normalised too far,” he tells Byrne.

Now a psychotherapist, Kenny says he didn’t foresee the negative impact of online betting in particular. “The internet by its nature is quite addictive, and when you join that with gambling, there needs to be curbs,” he says. Describing excessive gambling as “the secret addiction” – “The curse for families is they find out too late” – he’s especially worried about online casino gaming, likening it to crack cocaine.

Sean Moncrieff maintains a light but informed atmosphere as he hears what’s at stake in the global push for higher corporate taxes

Kenny regrets not acting quicker to tackle this issue, but his main target is the Government rather than the gambling industry. He worries that government will “hide behind a regulator” rather than enact legislation to vigorously regulate gambling. Byrne, who decries the ubiquitous advertising by bookmakers, sounds dubious about this – “Why is it all down to the Government?” – as well as her guest’s hope for “an ethical betting industry”. The host presses her guest with less showy fervour than her Drivetime colleagues, but it’s unclear if a more aggressive approach would yield more clarity. Either way, it’s an interesting insider’s contribution to the growing debate on the problematic gambling sector.

Meanwhile, Sean Moncrieff (Newstalk, weekdays) isn’t always associated with current-affairs analysis, but amid his signature mix of offbeat subjects and lifestyle items he manages to illuminate key issues. On Wednesday, the presenter (and Irish Times columnist) talks to Eoin Drea of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies about how Ireland’s stubborn defence of its 12.5 per cent corporate-tax rate is affecting our reputation within the EU. As Moncrieff puts it, Brussels is “getting a bit fed up” with Ireland.

The host maintains a light but informed atmosphere as he hears what’s at stake in the global push for higher corporate taxes. Drea questions the wisdom of Ireland’s (increasingly shaky) refusal to sign up to the process: if the Government wishes to influence the ever-more-likely deal, it’s better “to be seen as part of the solution rather than part of the problem”. It’s a handy primer, worthy of supposedly weightier shows: Moncrieff, like the Drivetime duo, knows you don’t have to be earnest to be serious.

Moment of the Week: O’Halloran brings out the best in Ryan Tubridy

On Tuesday Ryan Tubridy (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) talks to the writer and actor Mark O’Halloran about scripting his new play and the forthcoming Sally Rooney TV adaptation. An easy air prevails, but it’s also an engrossing conversation. Unassuming yet thoughtful, O’Halloran brings out the best in Tubridy, who is relaxed and curious. Moreover, O’Halloran has a wryly winning wit, explaining why he adopted a cat over a dog as a lockdown pet. “I find dogs are so needy – if I’m going to be in a relationship with an animal, I want to be the needy one,” he says, proving his writer’s eye for character.

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