With the news on Tuesday that a Russian diplomat was expelled from Ireland as an 'act of solidarity' with the UK in response to the chemical attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, tensions are running high and the atmosphere is decidedly terse on The Late Debate.
Sarah McInerney is charged with keeping control of the overheated opinions of her panel and, with guests including People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith, Fine Gael senator Tim Lombard and security and defence analyst Declan Power, it’s an unenviable task.
McInerney’s sharp line of questioning is a welcome switchblade of sanity at times, wearily slicing away the excess of Lombard’s patter when asked why Ireland did not get involved when the LGBT community were being persecuted in Russia or show solidarity with Syria when it was faced with chemical weapon attacks.
Before Lombard can stutter how these issues were mentioned in the Dáil, McInerney tuts ‘Ah Tim! You can raise issues all you want – you weren’t expelling anyone!’ before directing him back to the spectre of Brexit hanging over this decision. “Is it just because they’re closer they matter?” she prods as the senator reiterates that the attack in Salisbury is a threat to us all.
Security analyst Declan Power takes over most of the show with his theories about Russian involvement in Irish cyber threats, becoming a very vocal irritant to Bríd Smith as she attempts to compare the Government’s reaction to the Dublin Monaghan bombings with this current case.
The two cross-talk to such an extent that, after Smith complains that she’s not let finish her point, Power can be heard sighing in the background appealing that he was talking, like a crotchety husband. McInerney accidentally adds fuel to the fire by mistakenly reading out a message that says Power is ‘droning on’, much to Smith’s audible delight.
The very idea of anyone wanting to spy on Ireland is deemed laughable by one texter who states that “the Government are on a huge ego trip if they think Russia is spying on us. We can’t even get a Luas to cross O’Connell Bridge without making a mess of it, what could they possibly get from us?”. To which Power responds that the commenter can “live in La La Land” but he believes that the threat that penetrated the HSE’s security system wasn’t made by “‘the Legion of Mary” but by Russia.
There was no shortage of conspiracy theories and accusations of paranoia with The Journal.ie's Christina Finn scoffing at the prospect of being asked to trust Boris Johnson – a true scare at bedtime.
Elsewhere things were just as dystopian on The Sean O'Rourke Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) with a discussion about driverless cars descending into an argument that could have been an excerpt from Stephen King's vehicular vengeance novel, Christine. There's an alarming vision of the future mapped out by Christian Wolmar (author of the book Driverless Cars on the Road to Nowhere) where an eternal Battle Royale will play out between these cars and pedestrians or how the sleek self-driving automobiles will ultimately turn into murderous versions of Kitt from Knight Rider.
Regular contributor (and car enthusiast) Anton Savage valiantly attempts to defend the progress made by companies such as Waymo and Tesla after the fatal incident in Arizona where a pedestrian was killed by an autonomous Uber car. With his jocular, unfailingly cheery manner he remains unflustered as the conversation heats up, batting back Wolmar's concerns as reductive and geekily gushing over Tesla's ambitions, championing the absurd act of putting a car into space.
Savage repeatedly points out that human error and bad judgement are the cause of most accidents, reminding the writer of the reasons why autopilot was invented.
When faced with these facts, Wolmar insists that there is no need for the human element to be removed from the driving experience, dismissing the advances as tech ‘hype’ that the public doesn’t want. Becoming increasingly agitated in the face of Savage’s self-possessed style, he continuously doles out bleak imaginary scenarios like the riddle about the farmer, the fox, the chicken and the grain (but with all of the solutions ending in death) which eventually forces Anton to blithely surmise that perhaps in certain situations “your own car might execute you for the greater good”.
Before things get too anti-automaton and people descend on the local Tesco to start attacking self-service checkouts, Savage offers an idyllic daydream of the near future where the public are mindlessly ferried around on their normal commute by robo- chauffeurs only for Wolmar to slam the brakes on this fantasy by plainly stating that the cars will be mostly out of reach for the average person. Tomorrow’s world might not be such a far away trip but its one paved with potholes and bumps in the road.
Back in the present day, news presenter Susan Keogh has succeeded comedian Neil Delamere in the Sunday Brunch spot on Today FM. Keogh, who has previously been a stand-in for Matt Cooper on the Last Word, has shown she's adept at dealing with the fast-paced news-orientated current affairs style of radio but weekend radio is a different, more docile, domesticated beast.
Sunday Brunch follows the typical magazine format with newspaper reviews and general genial chatter, including a segment about the phenomenon of impostor syndrome' with psychotherapist Helen Vaughan.
Vaughan admits that the anxious condition of never feeling good enough or having the creeping sense of being ‘found out’ is mostly an affliction that women suffer from.
Inquiring if Keogh ever felt this as presenter of her own show or in her time as a substitute presenter, the host hesitantly confirms her fears before veering the conversation into the usual advice for women to have perspective and not to be so hard on themselves. It would be tough to imagine the same disclosure occurring with Philip Boucher-Hayes over in Joe Duffy's hot seat on Liveline.
Where the show moves into more worthwhile territory is in its interview with Kirsty Donoghue, the mother of Dylan, a transgender teen. It’s a carefully draw out conversation with Donoghue stressing that Dylan’s experience is not every transgender person’s experience which is why help and professional support is needed for families going through this situation.
She proudly speaks about her son’s bravery in understanding himself and his need to live his truth although after explaining the difficulties in adapting to her son’s new life and his choice to return to the same school she is quick to assure listeners that Dylan and his group of close friends “don’t talk about trans things, they talk about teenage things!”.
What could have been an intrusive tabloid moment was instead a mother speaking from the heart about her child. Keogh gave Donoghue the space to talk, to not infect it with analysis or break the mood with listener texts or tweets. It was a moving piece of radio that hopefully will not exist in isolation. Sometimes with its arguments and relentless opinions it’s easy to forget that the most effective radio is a conversation that is to be listened to rather than a debate to get involved with.
Radio Moment of the Week: Community spirit in action
Theresa Kelly's story of earwigging on a conversation that she shouldn't have managed to blossom into a heartwarming project. On Monday she tells Ryan Tubridy how she overheard two desperate young women worrying about getting into debt because of their children's impending Holy Communion costs so she created a pop-up shop in Edenmore shopping centre housing all kinds of Communion wear from dresses and suits to entire outfits for parents.
“And how much are you selling these for?”’asks Ryan.
“‘Nothing!” Theresa says brightly – “this is about communities pulling together to help communities”. Assembling her friends to assist her with running the shop and relying on the kindness of the owner of the space, she says has been “blown away”’ by the reaction with one child calling in by herself to donate her old dress. Although there’s a stern warning for those thinking of using the shop as a dumping ground. ‘‘Don’t be giving me something you wouldn’t wear yourself – I’m very outspoken I’ll tell you,” she declares leaving Tubridy laughing nervously in agreement.