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Miriam O’Callaghan is rendered powerless by Danny Healy-Rae

Radio review: Her interview with minister Eoghan Murphy is more reconciliation than rematch

There's a flutter of anticipation on Wednesday's edition of Today with Seán O'Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) when stand-in host Miriam O'Callaghan announces she's interviewing Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy.

After all, last year’s radio encounter between the pair was a memorable joust, not least for O’Callaghan, in her immaculate SoCoDu tones, branding the Minister a “posh boy”. This time, however, the encounter lacks the same spark, mainly because the rematch is overshadowed by the undercard, in which the irresistible force of O’Callaghan runs into the immutable object that is Danny Healy-Rae. In truth, it’s no contest.

The independent TD for Kerry is on the show for a discussion about fellow TD Noel Grealish, who was accused of racism after questioning the legality of money transfers to Nigeria, though "discussion" is a pitifully inadequate term to describe Healy-Rae's contribution. Like a giant set of speakers turned up to 11, Healy-Rae plumps for volume and impact over clarity and nuance whenever he pops up on the radio (which is frequently). This time is no exception.

Healy-Rae is exercised at the racism accusations aimed at Grealish, insisting the TD was entitled to ask such questions before bringing up what he calls “attacks” on Catholicism during the abortion referendum debate. “I would suggest many other members were racist against our views when we wanted to save the little babies and stop them being killed, poor defenceless little babies,” he says, his voice rising several octaves.


When O’Callaghan asks if Grealish’s remarks were inflammatory, Healy-Rae  talks about his own work for all “ethnic groups” in his constituency: laudable, though as his host says, no-one is accusing her guest of racism. He then changes tack, highlighting how Taoiseach Leo Varadkar singled out Georgians as illegal immigrants, but as “he’s from Dublin, he can get away with it”. In contrast, he fulminates that “Noel Grealish from rural Ireland” gets called a racist: “That’s unfair and I’ll stand up for him in that regard.”

O’Callaghan, normally so majestically emollient, is powerless in the face of such high-octane whataboutery. No matter how often she tries to shift the conversation, she runs aground. In the end, O’Callaghan raises the issue she should have brought up first, namely that Grealish’s claim of €3.4billion being transferred to Nigeria over eight years is at odds with the Central Statistics Office’s figure of €17million per annum.

By the time O'Callaghan interviews Murphy, the wind has gone out of her sails

“I’m not getting into the figures and the facts at all,” says Healy-Rae. “But facts matter, Danny,” comes the exasperated reply. Not in the world of post-truth populism they don’t.

By the time O’Callaghan interviews Murphy, the wind has gone out of her sails. While the Minister’s brief now consists of failing water supplies as well as the enduring rent and homelessness crises, his host doesn’t harry her guest as she did previously.

That Murphy at least attempts to address the questions O’Callaghan asks may play some part in this, no matter that his answers have a rote feel to them.

The interview only comes to life when the Grealish affair is raised. The Minister says that while the TD has the right to ask questions, “I think it was bigger than a simple question, it was disgusting”. He worries about the direction of politics and warns about “people egging it on”.

That the government’s failures add to the febrile atmosphere of disenchantment is elided, as the erstwhile on-air antagonists reconcile over Grealish’s dog whistle tactics.

The corrosive effect of populist politics in America is discussed when Irish-born US author and former diplomat Samantha Power talks to Matt Cooper on The Last Word (Today FM, weekdays). Power, who served as Barack Obama's ambassador to the UN, is excoriating about Donald Trump, likening his presidency to "an elephant in a china shop".

In contrast, Power describes herself as an idealist, albeit one who is pragmatic in pursuit of her aims.

But while she is an articulate and reflective guest, disarmingly candid about her anxiety attacks and the premature death of her alcoholic father, Power also underlines the limits of her approach to foreign affairs. She describes the painstaking process of building international coalitions to tackle the Ebola epidemic, but largely skips over Obama’s failure to prevent the cataclysm in Syria.

“What can feel very pragmatic in the short term can prove detrimental to your own interests in the long term,” she says in relation to Trump’s policies, though it might equally be applied to Obama’s hands-off approach to Syria. Still, Power is clear-eyed enough to analyse Trump’s presidential victory without rancour, suggesting many Obama voters flipped to the Republican candidate because they felt that “America was passing them by”.

Hilary Clinton calls him "an illegitimate president" who "sought and received help from outside forces"

A different portrait of that election emerges, perhaps understandably, when Hillary and Chelsea Clinton appear on the Ryan Tubridy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). Mother and daughter are promoting their new book on "gutsy women", but talk inevitably turns to Trump.

Hilary Clinton calls him "an illegitimate president" who "sought and received help from outside forces". There are more personal moments, as when Hilary says the most gutsy thing she's ever done was get out of bed the morning after her 2016 defeat.

Tubridy, a self-confessed US politics geek, sounds thrilled throughout, but occasionally remembers to ask questions. He notes that while Trump lost the popular vote to Clinton, he won the electoral college. Chelsea scoffs at the idea of Trump being concerned with such democratic niceties. She may have a point, as she does when she suggests that Trump’s main problem with Hillary is that she’s a woman.

Nor is Trump the only one with such a problem. Afterwards, Tubridy reads out listeners’ texts, some supportive of Clinton, others fiercely critical, calling her “a sore loser”, among other things. Tubridy then ruefully notes that all the negative comments come from men. “I don’t know if that means anything,” he muses. He’s entitled to ask the question.

Radio Moment of the Week: For peat’s sake

On Monday, the lead story on Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) looks at how the closure of peat-burning power stations in Offaly and Longford will affect communities there.

Reporter Ciaran Mullooly highlights Bord na Móna's €87million contribution to the local economy while independent TD Denis Naughten suggests the area can't withstand the end of peat harvesting.

It’s a bleak picture, making one ad in the subsequent commercial break sound particularly incongruous. “When does a quick chat become a great conversation? When you light the fire,” the ad’s narrator smoothly intones, before urging listener to “make the moment even warmer” with … Bord na Móna peat briquettes.