Newstalk’s Captain Sensible and Sid Vicious bicker on

It can be easy to forget that Shane Coleman and Paul Williams have formidable news pedigrees

Paul Williams and Shane Coleman

Paul Williams and Shane Coleman


It’s hard to believe Paul Williams has the time to be bored, what with anchoring a news show and engaging in verbal skirmishes with his on-air colleague. But somehow the tough-talking presenter of Newstalk Breakfast (weekdays) manages it, with the source of his ennui almost inevitably being his co-host, Shane Coleman.

On Tuesday, as the pair discuss a report that people spend five years of their life in a state of boredom, Williams suggests that Coleman is at his “most boring” when he has a “clenched fist and furrowed brow and you’re talking at length about political meanings”. Coleman, for his part, pays his co-anchor a backhanded compliment: “Life is never boring with you around, because literally anything could happen.” This prompts a moment of revelation in Williams: “That’s why you’ve a constant state of fear in your face.” Fear and loafing, as it were.

This kind of (mostly) good-humoured bickering sets up the duo’s radio personas, Coleman’s Captain Sensible bouncing off Williams’s Sid Vicious, and even provides amusing distraction, but it makes it easy to forget that both men have formidable news pedigrees. Coleman’s rigorous style is evident in his interview with Minister of State Kevin “Boxer” Moran, about a Bill allowing judges to give more protection to people in mortgage arrears.

Coleman pulls up the Minister for using the term “evictions” – “repossessions, you mean” – and disputes his guest’s assertion that many people are losing their homes in the courts. “I have to put it to you that this is simply not true,” Coleman interjects, saying there have been “very few”. He also asks whether fewer repossessions will mean higher mortgage rates, eliciting an evasive response. But far from being on the ropes, Moran instead concentrates on the human element in such repossession cases. It’s a canny move, creating the impression of the compassionate local politician standing up to the heartlessly logical number crunchers. Such are the risks of favouring statistics over stories.

Irish psyche

People in Ireland have particularly strong feelings about losing their homes, after all, as Matt Cooper knows. “There’s something in the Irish psyche which dislikes the sight of an eviction, maybe it’s something deep-rooted, going back to the 19th century,” Cooper observes on Wednesday’s edition of The Last Word (Today FM, weekdays). Though the likes of Coleman would baulk at the use of the term “eviction”, Cooper is talking about the removal of activists occupying a vacant house on North Frederick Street in Dublin by masked private security operators, backed by gardaí wearing balaclavas. “It’s the type of thing that gives a lot of people cause for concern,” Cooper says.

Cooper’s coverage of the incident doesn’t neglect the legal background – he notes that the occupiers were ejected from the private property on foot of a High Court order – but is more focused on the heavy-handedness of the Garda response. He talks to Eoin Ó Faogáin of activist group Take Back the City, who wants to highlight the practice of “land hoarding”, as well as Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, who questions the legality of the private security firm and feels the rationale for wearing balaclavas as protection is flawed: “These were not criminals.”

The thrust of the discussion is more sympathetic towards the protesters than the text reactions of Cooper’s audience. But the host makes the telling remark that he had tried to speak to other parties, “most of whom ran a mile”. Ejection, removal, eviction: whatever it’s called, it clearly remains a charged issue.

Scally report

Perhaps that’s why the subject gets scant coverage on the likes of RTÉ Radio 1 for most of Wednesday, though understandably the publication of the Scally report into the cervical screening scandal attracts much attention. But it’s possible to cover both topics, as Ciara Kelly does on Lunchtime Live (Newstalk, weekdays). Her interview with Sean Murray of about the Dublin removals is a straightforward account, even though the journalist missed the actual ejections. (Newstalk’s continued bar on guests from The Irish Times precludes talking to Jack Power, who reported on the incident for this paper.)

Still, Kelly is alive to the emotional impact of the story, referring to the “sinister” impression created by the masked police. But she feels the nub of the matter is whether “in a housing crisis people can occupy vacant property that belongs to somebody else”. It’s a pertinent question, as the ongoing fallout testifies, but one she leaves unanswered.

She is more thorough in her interview with Minister for Health Simon Harris about the Scally report. It’s an informed encounter – as Harris notes, his host is a doctor – which raises some good points, such as the knock-on cost of legislation on screening, without being too arid. “Can Irish women go in for a smear test today and trust the test?” Kelly asks, emphasising the word “today”. That’s as charged as the discussion gets, however: she accepts Harris’s reassurances, perhaps because he admits to the “botched job” that led to the controversy, and of course, the avoidable deaths of women. Even when a subject is fraught with emotion, it’s possible to have a calm discussion.

Finglas enflamed

There’s little tranquillity when Coleman and Williams resume their morning sparring session on Thursday’s Newstalk Breakfast. The pair are at loggerheads over the Frederick Street ejections, with Coleman saying the masked police presence was like “something from eastern Europe” and “goes against everything that’s best about the gardaí”. Williams, a crime journalist by vocation, isn’t so sure, feeling the “ordinary decent silent majority” appreciate how the guards get “kicked around”, adding flame-resistant masks were needed to protect against petrol bombs. “When did you last see a petrol bomb at a housing protest,” Coleman asks incredulously. Williams responds by offering to take his co-host around Finglas, presumably to witness some fireworks. Inevitably, Coleman scrambles to apologise for any offence caused towards the Dublin neighbourhood. Never a dull moment, indeed.

Radio Moment of the Week: Marty gets fired up

And so to Marty in the Morning (Lyric FM, weekdays), that reliable sanctuary from the grimness of breakfast news bulletins. Monday’s edition has Marty Whelan delivering his normal mix of corny jokes and random observations over light classical and old pop tunes. The latter category includes easy listening crooner Jose Feliciano, of whom Steve Buscemi’s character in Fargo memorably remarked that “you’ve no complaints”. It’s an opinion clearly shared by Whelan, who “loves” the singer’s cover version of the Doors’ Light My Fire. As the song climaxes with Feliciano singing the song title with increasingly passionate frequency, the presenter is clearly moved. “Would someone give that man a briquette, for heaven’s sake,” Whelan implores. Sparky wit.

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