Ray D'Arcy sounds cheesed off. On Tuesday, the day after the Government announces a referendum on the Eighth Amendment banning abortion – an issue D'Arcy has frequently covered – the presenter gives his damning verdict on the topic that's been burning him up. Namely, the news that TV quiz Mastermind has banned sitcoms as specialist subjects. "Vogue Williams chose the Kardashians as her subject on Celebrity Mastermind," he says, almost contemptuously. "What does that tell you about the world we live in?"
What indeed? Where D'Arcy once would mix folksy manner with prickly editorialising when holding court on his Today FM morning show, he has long sounded more constrained on the Ray D'Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). Once, news of the forthcoming referendum would have been grist to his mill. Now, he barely makes reference to it.
D'Arcy does talk about the removal of images of gay couples from a Catholic pamphlet for the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, which Pope Francis is to visit this year. D'Arcy muses about the impact of the Pope's arrival: "People will be looking at him to see what he says about lots of other things that are happening on this island. It's an interesting time, it's an interesting year." And then he starts talking about Mastermind.
For a presenter who once confronted politicians about the contradictions of Ireland’s abortion laws, it’s a curiously subdued take on the issue. This may be due to the national broadcaster’s balanced remit, but it also illustrates the broader arc of D’Arcy’s tenure at RTÉ. Where lighter subjects once underlined his versatility, now they emphasise a paucity of content. Take his chat with Michael, a man who went moderately viral after posting his discovery that he could change the level of his dishwasher trays, though this dull précis cannot do justice to the full inanity of the conversation.
D’Arcy isn’t helped by his RTÉ promotional duties. Having to plug Ireland’s new Eurovision entry would sap the spirit of even the sparkiest soul, so D’Arcy can be forgiven for going through the motions when talking to singer Ryan O’Shaughnessy. The most enthusiasm the host can muster is to praise the fact that O’Shaughnessy is a fan of the song contest: “There’s no sneering, that’s a good thing.” Even when D’Arcy tries to be biting, like when he doubts Irish Eurovision producer Michael Kealy’s optimism about winning, he sounds jaded rather than sceptical.
But there are still times when his show has the fired-up quality of old. D'Arcy talks to author and security analyst Tom Clonan about Ireland's belated ratification of the UN convention on rights for people with disability. Clonan, whose son Eoghan has a neuromuscular disease, is damning about the State's treatment of people like his son. "To be disabled in Ireland in 2018 is to experience pain," he says.
But Clonan thinks a “sea change” is at hand. The Irish people, he says, “will realise that disabled people are not some sort of a strange minority but citizens of our republic with inalienable rights. It’s an awakening.” It’s also stirring stuff, the like of which has been too absent from D’Arcy’s show. If ever there’s a time for D’Arcy to awaken from his Montrose torpor, the referendum surely provides it.
Kieran Cuddihy also tamps down discussion of the Eighth Amendment on his magazine show On The Record (Newstalk, Sunday), though it is more to keep his powder dry than to evade the issue.
“We won’t dwell on abortion this week,” he says, clearly expecting to hear a lot more soon. Instead, Cuddihy and the guests on his newspaper focus on the pressure piled on Ireland’s corporation tax laws at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
The discussion is both informative and free of rancorous agenda, not always the case on Marian Finucane’s newspaper panels over on Radio 1 at the same time. More surprisingly, Cuddihy’s subsequent interview with finance minister Paschal Donohoe mixes telling asides about the ethics of tax collection with hardnosed politics.
“Why should competitiveness only be the prerogative of large countries?” Donohoe asks, defiantly. Cuddihy has a low-key style, but in this case, his approach yields refreshing clarity.
On Lyric , Gerald Dawe paints a vivid portrait, full of mood and incident
This is also the case in his interview with disability rights activist Frieda Finlay, who is annoyed that images of Down Syndrome children are being used by anti-abortion campaigners. Finlay, whose daughter Mandy has Down Syndrome, deems the campaign "exploitative" and "hypocritical".
“This makes me really angry because Mandy and her peers are seen as charity cases,” Finlay says, adding that “it pigeonholes people with Down Syndrome particularly”.
It’s a bracing conversation, a passionate salvo about both abortion and disability which Cuddihy oversees in a deft but largely hands-off manner. He’ll need to keep his cool as the referendum debate heats up, one suspects.
Solace from controversy comes courtesy of the Lyric Feature: Home Thoughts (Lyric, Sunday), as poet Gerald Dawe seeks to "remember the tone" of the past. Dawe recreates the places of his life with a series of evocative vignettes from his childhood in Belfast to his career in Galway and Dublin.
He paints a vivid portrait, full of mood and incident, be it his bomb scare drills of a Belfast library, his “escape” to the welcoming atmosphere of Kenny’s bookshop in Galway or his arrival in “smoggy” Dublin.
Aided by songs from Eleanor Shanley and his own poetry, it is wonderful trip back in time, made all the more effective by Dawe's refusal to sugarcoat the past. Less documentary than extended poem, it bears testament to troubled times with dignity and honesty. Hopefully others can heed Dawe's example.
Radio Moment of the Week: Sincere advice
In advance of Donald Trump's State of the Union speech, Ivan Yates talks to PR consultant Terry Prone on Monday's edition of The Hard Shoulder (Newstalk, weekdays). Prone outlines what makes a good communicator while Yates takes a typically irreverent approach throughout, as when he asks his guest about sincerity in public speaking.
“Sincerity is a characteristic of people who genuinely believe what they stand for”, says Prone, somewhat earnestly. “Whereas I believe if you can fake sincerity you’ve really got it made,” quips Yates, who has had a chequered career in business and politics. “But this is why you’ve only got as far as you’ve got, Ivan,” Prone replies coolly. Yates laughs heartily. But still, touché.