Pat Kenny’s number crunching would drive you to drink

Drink driving coverage is illuminating and spirit-crushingly tedious


As if more proof was needed that this country has a, well, complicated relationship with alcohol, it is provided on the Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays). On Tuesday, the Government bill to ban drivers just over the alcohol limit is covered by Kenny in a comprehensive manner that’s as inadvertently illuminating as it is spirit-crushingly tedious.

First up is independent TD Danny Healy-Rae, who claims such measures are antithetical to rural life. He views his profession as a publican not as a conflict of interest, but rather as giving him a unique insight into the motoring capabilities of customers who have had three glasses of beer which, as Healy-Rae emphasises with mind-numbing regularity, is really only a pint and a half. He “honestly believes” that this amount of alcohol doesn’t impair driving, thus conflating his personal convictions with scientific evidence.

To be fair, Healy-Rae is doggedly consistent on this issue. So he bats aside Kenny’s suggestion that people should drink tea instead, and says he would be happy to get on a plane where the pilot had three glasses of beer. Which, remember, is equivalent to a pint and a half.

And this is the entertaining bit. Next up is Minister for Transport Shane Ross, who robustly defends his proposal. This segment at least has the novelty value of hearing the Minister bumptiously holding forth on his own brief for a change. Then the tedium really kicks in. In an effort to ascertain how many fatal accidents have been caused by drivers just over the limit, Kenny then talks to a regional road safety officer and, after that, to Moyagh Murdock, chief executive of the Road Safety Authority.

Drilling into your cranium

Predictably, the interminable dissection of statistics doesn’t lead to any guest changing their mind, though listeners may well change the channel. Never mind drilling down into the statistics, listening to this item feels like drilling into your cranium. In total, the discussion lasts a full hour, padded out with outraged texts about, yes, political correctness gone mad. All this over the right (or otherwise) to get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol. It’s enough to drive you to drink.

By contrast, Kenny’s interview with Alan Thawley, whose wife Malak died during an operation at the National Maternity Hospital last year, is a sobering experience. An American, Thawley recalls the litany of errors that caused Malak to bleed to death while undergoing a procedure to remove an ectopic pregnancy. His voice is unwavering as he recounts how an hour passed after the initial fatal error before a vascular surgeon arrived, only for the hospital to lack the necessary surgical instruments.

Unsurprisingly, the coroner’s court has ruled that Malak’s death was due to medical misadventure. Thawley “can’t begin to describe” his pain, but his distress has been greatly compounded by the hospital’s response. Apart from an official apology, requests for internal findings about the tragedy to be made public have met silence. “I feel like I’ve received almost hostility from the hospital,” he says.

Though Kenny indulges his penchant for imagining morbid scenarios – he suggests his guest might be less distressed if his wife had died in a traffic accident – he generally handles this tricky interview with tact. His well-pitched questions move the story along in all its dreadful detail while teasing out the wider matter of apparent institutional indifference to catastrophic error.

There’s a small but crucial mistake in the title of Dave Fanning’s Story Of Irish Rock (RTÉ Radio 1, Tuesday), the veteran DJ’s new summer nighttime show. The use of the singular noun “story” may lead the uninitiated to expect some sort of narratively coherent overview of homegrown music. In fact, the show largely involves Fanning amiably recounting random tales about his own experiences in the music world.

Bafflingly pointless anecdotes

It is, the presenter admits, “less a history of than a journey”, though it’s hard to know where he’s taking us with some of his bafflingly pointless anecdotes. Recalling the strong Dublin accents of the audience at a Thin Lizzy show or musing that there was no rush for tickets for acts such as Led Zeppelin back in the 1970s hardly counts as sufficient material for a conversation over coffee, never mind a show on national radio. 

But there’s no doubting his enthusiasm and knowledge about his subject. Fanning also plays clips from his interview archive which are enjoyable – Van Morrison’s hybrid Ulster-American accent remains a thing of enduring wonder – and even surprising, with Bob Geldof coming across as even more “gobby” than he is now. Fanning’s stories are hardly new or revealing, but there’s no harm in getting lost with him for a while.

There are a few hair-raising tales in the Documentary On One: Peshmerga Mick (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday), though not as many as one might expect, given the subject. The new series of the documentary strand opens with Robert Mulhern’s programme about the eponymous Michael Martin, a Limerick-born former British soldier who ended up joining the Kurdish militia to fight Islamic State in Iraq. 

Martin tells a fascinating story, but a slightly frustrating one too. He glides over many details as he recounts how he came to join the British army, serve a prison sentence in Ireland and do a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Similarly, his account of his time in Iraq is short on specifics, whether it is about the training he gave or the fighting he saw. But Martin’s voice has an authentically twitchy quality. Some of his vignettes have a vivid ring too, as when he describes the “pearly white” teeth on rotting corpses.

Mulhern, who narrates and produces, admits to feeling conflicted about this dramatic story laced with ambiguities and lacunae. Even the name Michael Martin, we learn, is assumed. “All we can say for sure is that this is a soldier’s story,” Mulhern concludes. At the very least, it’s a ripping yarn.

Radio Moment of the Week: Getting priorities straight

On a roll these days, Sean Moncrieff (Newstalk) lets rip again on Tuesday. After a discussion on homelessness with Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole, Moncrieff notes he has got five texts on the matter. “Yesterday we did an item on abortion, and the row about that was still going on this morning,” he continues. “But we talk about homelessness with born kids, little kids with a very grim future, and five people are arsed to text about it.” Indeed.

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