In an era of fake news and alternative facts, it’s probably inevitable that irrational beliefs get equal billing to objectively verifiable evidence on bulletins, but it’s still startling to hear it.
"Eating a big meal and falling asleep at the wheel is one of the overriding causes of road accidents as well as drinking small amounts of alcohol," newsreader Brian Jennings solemnly intones on News at One (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). This sounds like a bombshell for road safety policy until Jennings adds the magic words "according to independent TD Danny Healy-Rae".
Presenting the headline-seeking Kerry TD's personal convictions as actual news seems symptomatic of a world where scientific fact is routinely derided as elitist hoax. Ray D'Arcy, for one, recognises this, as he skewers Healy-Rae's contributions to an Oireachtas committee (The Ray D'Arcy Show, RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). In weary tones, the host says that while he would have laughed in the deputy's face, "the fact that it was on the news, and that I'm talking about it, gives oxygen to the whole thing". (The same probably applies to writing about it.)
Even when Healy-Rae's assertion is definitively debunked by Dr Ruari Hanley on The Last Word (Today FM, weekdays), there's a caveat. Hanley tells host Matt Cooper that while a full stomach might make some feel drowsy, it doesn't impair drivers, unlike alcohol. But while Hanley says Healy-Rae is "basically wrong", he has some sympathy for the TD, who addresses the unfashionable issue of social isolation among older farmers in rural areas, albeit in singular fashion.
Cooper’s guest observes that people in the country cannot easily walk or take public transport to the traditional social hub of the pub, and talks of a “patronising Dublin 4 attitude” towards the Healy-Rae dynasty.
Substituting subjective opinion for hard facts while cocking a snook at metropolitan elites is, of course, the modus operandi of certain recently elected world leaders, but Cooper doesn’t pursue this theme: after all, Hanley is on as a health pundit. Still, it would be good to hear the host approach the topic with the same rigour he applies to Wednesday’s dissection of Enda Kenny’s record, when clips of the departing Taoiseach’s surprisingly stirring speeches are contrasted with his actions, to generally unflattering effect.
Rational side of Boucher-Hayes
Philip Boucher-Hayes, meanwhile, shows his rational side when he stands in as host of Liveline (RTÉ 1, weekdays) as well as scepticism towards tales of religious apparitions. Retired detective Gerry O'Carroll recounts how, when investigating the IRA murder of a Garda colleague in 1976, he spent 20 minutes watching a man with a "sad, careworn yet gentle countenance" in the foyer of the station.
O'Carroll then asked the duty officer who the man was, only to be told there had been no one else there. But when O'Carroll saw an image on a Sacred Heart ornament in the station he recognised the man he'd seen: Fr John Sullivan, the revered Jesuit priest who died in 1933 and was recently beatified by the Catholic Church.
A self-described “a la carte Catholic”, O’Carroll was shaken by this experience, taking it is a premonition of his death, and still believes it was a manifestation of Sullivan. “I have no doubt,” he says, “I saw the dead come back to life in flesh and blood.”
Boucher-Hayes lets the story unfold at its own pace but clearly finds it hard to accept his guest’s tale at face value. “Did you ever seek a more scientific answer?” Boucher-Hayes asks, pointing to other possible explanations, such as electro-magnetic fields or hallucinogenic fungal spores. When O’Carroll says that he is acquainted with such “esoteric knowledge”, he is rebuffed by the host: “It’s not esoteric, it’s science.”
It’s a fascinating interview, in which the incredulous host vainly tries to square his empirical values with his otherwise rational guest’s beliefs. O’Carroll, in turn, takes a laconic view of Boucher-Hayes’s reaction, seeming to view it as a failure of imagination rather than anything blasphemous. “I’m getting vibes of atheism,” the former Garda remarks, asking if the host believes in miracles.
“For anything that has been investigated with any rigour, there has been an explanation,” Boucher-Hayes replies, his patrician drawl sounding loftier than ever. Both men may have faith – one in science, the other in a higher power, or at least a plane beyond our ken – but their value systems are stubbornly incompatible.
The Documentary on Newstalk: Stone Mad (Saturday) isn't as unhinged as its title suggests. Rather, presenter Tristan Rosenstock takes an affable if unchallenging tour around the distinctive dry stone walls of rural Ireland, learning about their history, their construction and their cultural significance. The material is stretched at times – there's a long interview with Leo Moran of the Saw Doctors, on the strength of his song N17 mentioning stone walls – and perhaps could have done with more historical or artistic context. (For instance, reference could be made to acclaimed painter Sean Scully's deep interest in the structures.)
But there are unexpectedly poignant moments. Pádraig Póil, from Inis Oírr, describes how building walls takes time and patience but is “good for our wellbeing”. A reticent interviewee, he suddenly opens up about how his work helped him when he was “in a hole” after his children left home. “If you’re down,” he says, “the best thing you can do is work with stone.”
It doesn’t matter who we are, we need a rock of faith, whatever it might be.
Radio Moment of the Week: D’Arcy’s hairy moment
On Wednesday, Ray D'Arcy talks to 22-year-old Sorcha Lavelle about how she has shared her battle with breast cancer on social media to raise awareness. Lavelle is an inspiring guest, and an irreverent one too. Referring to the headscarf she wears to cover hair loss caused by her treatment, D'Arcy asks her, "Where's the hair at now?" "I've more than you anyway," Sorcha shoots back. "Cheeky," replies the host. But funny too.