Miriam O’Callaghan’s unrelenting grilling of ‘posh’ Eoghan Murphy

O’Callaghan shows a different kind of class in her inteview with Jastine Valdez’s parents

Eoghan Murphy: sounded properly annoyed with O’Callaghan’s line of questioning. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Eoghan Murphy: sounded properly annoyed with O’Callaghan’s line of questioning. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

It’s hard to think of any RTÉ presenter as being a class warrior hell-bent on upending the social order. Joe Duffy gets agitated about the iniquities of contemporary Ireland and talks regularly about his Ballyfermot upbringing, but hardly urges his listeners to destroy the rigged class system. Ray D’Arcy has an instinctive grasp of the mores of small-town Ireland, but doesn’t leverage this into resentment of the metropolitan elites. 

But it appears one RTÉ personality is determined to shake the bourgeois grip on power, and as is so often the case, it’s the one you least suspect. Miriam O’Callaghan has decided to call out middle-class privilege, at least judging by her recent encounter with Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy.

For most of his appearance on Tuesday’s edition of Today with Miriam O’Callaghan (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), the minister is – unsurprisingly - grilled about the housing crisis. As she questions her guest on the issue, O’Callaghan is unrelenting in her pressure, switching between moral shaming and tutting disapproval. 

She is palpably outraged at the case of Margaret Cash, who slept at a Garda station with her six children, calling it “simply not acceptable”. Each time Murphy claims that housing supply is improving – which is often – the presenter counters by asking why the number of homeless is still rising. The Minister cites reasons such as it taking time to build sufficient homes and the costs of the private rental sector, but he never manages to square the circle. 

All the while, O’Callaghan harries her guest. “The figures are going up; something is wrong,” she says. “Build more social housing.” This sounds more like an order than a question, which is an unusual and possibly simplistic approach for a current affairs presenter, but it somehow seems appropriate for the occasion. 

But then O’Callaghan finishes up her interview by bringing up the Minister’s background, asking him if he has seen a newspaper article that dubs him one of the “Fine Gael posh boys”. Murphy sounds put out by the question, making the (slightly shaky) assertion that it doesn’t matter where he grew up. “Serious people shouldn’t entertain those types of ideas,” he says.

Still, Murphy acknowledges he has “had many privileges”, such as his parents’ emphasis on education and belief in public service. He talks about entering politics to “give opportunities that I had to people who haven’t”. 

It’s all very stirring but cuts no ice with O’Callaghan. “But what about that posh boy image, could it be very damaging?” she repeats bluntly. It’s her prerogative to ask questions, especially of a politician struggling to cope with the biggest crisis in Irish society. But it seems a little bit rich for her to focus on Murphy’s middle-class origins, particularly given O’Callaghan isn’t noted for her gritty upbringing or unvarnished inner-city accent. 

In any event, the Minister sounds properly annoyed. “If people think that the problem of our housing crisis is that I’m a posh boy from Dublin 4, then they are missing the mark completely,” he snaps, adding that the policies he’s implementing are not his, but the Government’s. “But they’re not working,” comes O’Callaghan’s curt reply, as though springing a carefully laid trap. 

It’s not all class-baiting with the host. She is at her most sympathetic when she speaks to Teresito and Danilo Valdez, whose daughter Jastine was kidnapped and murdered in Wicklow in May. It’s a difficult interview, in more ways than one. Talking to anyone about such a dreadful experiences is hard enough, but the fact that much of the conversation has to be translated from the Filipino-born couple’s native Tagalog means the interview is further fractured. 

This halting quality may explain why O’Callaghan constantly asks whether Teresito and Danilo like Ireland. But equally, when Teresito does speak in English, to express gratitude for the support her family received after Jastine’s murder, it’s almost unbearably poignant. “Saying thank you is not enough compared to what you have done to help us,” she says. In letting her guests have their say so memorably, O’Callaghan shows some class.

Viper’s next

Ryan Tubridy is also highlighting divisions in Irish society, though he’s clearly alarmed by them. On Wednesday’s programme (the Ryan Tubridy Show, RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) he hears from Sally, whose daughter’s friend received online abuse after posting photos on social media of a family trip to the papal Mass. Tubridy initially feels that “this isn’t really a conversation about the pope as such”, but rather is symptomatic of the “viper’s nest” of social media, where “reasonable discourse” is at a premium.

But it’s hard to escape the conclusion that troubling fractures are emerging over belief. Oonagh phones in to describe her own daughter also receiving abuse for wanting to see the pope. “People are afraid to voice an opinion that’s somewhere in the middle ground; you have to be one extreme or another,” Oonagh says. Meanwhile Sally is distressed that her daughter’s friend, whose family she praises for their openness, “can’t express her faith”. 

Tubridy is alive to these concerns, but thinks the problem is as much one of courtesy as conviction. “You know what you don’t have too much of these days?” he asks. “A civilised conversation.” It’s a regular theme for Tubridy, for whom politeness is a watchword. (Unless, of course, he feels such sensitivity crosses the line into “snowflake” territory. But that’s another story.) And he has a point: reasonable engagement generally solves more problems than angry haranguing. Even so, he knows that things have changed. “What a sign of the times, that for a 16-year-old to say ‘I’m a Catholic’ is a problem.” 

One can only imagine the response if she said she was posh.

Radio Moment of the Week: Healy’s papal overload

Having analysed the pope’s visit at length on Monday’s edition of the Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays), stand-in host Jonathan Healy ends the programme with a discussion with “sleep consultant” Lucy Wolfe. As she answers listeners’ questions about their children’s sleep, or lack thereof, Wolfe gives tips about how best to get a good night’s rest, to Healy’s evident approval. “I’m lolling off now,” the host says, “but to be fair that could be three hours of talking about the pope as well .”

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