Radio: A genteel sort of pub fight as Charlie Chawke and Ryan Tubridy discuss an Irish welcome

Review: The publican’s staff preferences rile the 2FM presenter, as Pat Kenny has a telling chat with Fine Gael’s humbled Seanad candidate

So often the site of unseemly quarrels and heated feuds, Irish pubs again find themselves at the centre of trouble, although this time the bother doesn't involve insults or fisticuffs. It isn't even drink-related. Instead the dispute aired by Ryan Tubridy, on Tubridy (2FM, weekdays), is more genteel, namely who is best qualified to dispense bar-room hospitality.

In the opinion of the prominent publican Charlie Chawke, the "front of house" staff in an Irish pub, or at least in his Irish pubs, should be Irish. It's a view that has got him into trouble with bleeding-heart meddlers who quibble that giving jobs on the basis of ethnicity is illegal. Greeting Chawke in his cheeriest manner, Tubridy seems ready to allow his guest a sympathetic platform. As it turns out, the presenter just gives him more rope.

Chawke clarifies that he neither seeks nor wants to hire exclusively native-born staff, stressing that half the workforce in his nine establishments is foreign. But he is unapologetic about preferring Irish people behind the bar.

Excoriating the inauthentic feel of Irish bars abroad, Chawke expands on what makes the ideal pub. It is a place where customers are greeted with an “Irish smile” and are shown to a table rather than ask for a drink at the counter. “I’ve never heard of that,” comments a mildly bemused Tubridy. Furthermore, the pub “must serve bacon and cabbage” and people “must be able to talk about Kerry and Cork and Donegal”.


If this sounds like an archaic vision of Ireland plucked straight from The Quiet Man, it's no coincidence: Chawke's focus is squarely on the American tourist trade. But he is anxious that his foreign staff are not upset, "because I really appreciate them". He notes that in one bar he has four Polish chefs, adding that the food there is excellent.

For all his jovial politeness, Tubridy adopts the quiet stridency that appears in his voice when he feels strongly about something. “I drink in a pub in town, probably a bit too much, and I would be served mostly by Asian lads,” he says. “And I’ve been very well served as a punter. I wouldn’t have the same problem.”

It’s as confrontational as the host gets with Chawke, who for all his tightly defined views seems a bluff, if somewhat insensitively tuned, businessman more than anything else. That three-quarters of listeners texting the show agree with Chawke is more depressing. Tubridy sounds a tad glum as he reminds them of the discrimination millions of Irish emigrants used to face.

When one listener says American visitors expect Irish staff, Tubridy’s affronted sensibilities break through. “What we should all expect when we arrive somewhere is good manners, a smile and a warm welcome. And you don’t need a passport for that.”

It’s the kind of natural decency that makes you proud to be Irish.

By way of a coda, Tubridy later talks to Maddie Sertik and Thanh Nguien of a UCD Gaelic football team consisting entirely of foreign-born players. It’s a vivid snapshot of changing national identity, although Tubridy wisely doesn’t overegg the theme. His guests’ stories make the point eloquently enough, with Nguien recounting how she first came to play this “tough game” with a GAA club in her native Hanoi.

Still, the host eventually asks for an opinion on Chawke’s stance. Sertik, a Canadian, says people who work in a country should know enough for a casual chat. “I’m well enough informed to fool a tourist,” she says. Anyone with that kind of attitude has the requisite skills to run this country, never mind work in it.

As it is, the actual Taoiseach has seen his stroke-pulling ability severely diminished, along with most of his credibility, thanks to the continuing fallout over John McNulty's bungled Seanad bid. On Wednesday, after days in the eye of the storm, McNulty appears on The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays) to explain his withdrawal as Fine Gael candidate. The interview reveals little in the way of detail, but says a lot about politics here.

Kenny quizzes his chastened guest sympathetically, as though a hapless pawn rather than a cute hoor. McNulty is adamant that the decision to pull out of the election is his alone. “I’m telling you now that I decided myself yesterday it was time to withdraw”; he “didn’t want to be under any cloud” if elected.

He sounds a less certain note on other aspects. Asked if he knew his appointment to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art was part of an election strategy, McNulty says he had made it known that "if a board opportunity came up, I'd like to be appointed". That he didn't specify the kind of board he wanted is surely trifling. He wasn't aware he was about to be nominated for the Seanad race, nor did he know he would then have to resign his Imma seat. When Kenny, gently applying the screws, asks when exactly he was told he had to leave the board, McNulty says that he "would have to look back on that".

Little wonder Kenny eventually seems exasperated about the whole tawdry affair: “I’d love to see a timeline, actually, on paper, to figure out this whole thing.”

The forlorn-sounding McNulty is anxious to leave, even attempting to bid farewell midquestion. Unable to ascertain who is responsible – the Taoiseach or the Fine Gael organisation – Kenny concludes “it’s another fine mess that somebody’s got us into”. It’s so hard to get good staff these days.

Moment of the week: Mooney's blues
As speculation mounts that he will depart his afternoon show, Derek Mooney (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) shows signs of distraction, as he lavishes praise on the singer Rebecca Storm, who stars in a much-loved musical. "I was at the Bord Gáis Energy theatre last evening, and what did I see? Blues Brothers." "Blood Brothers," corrects co-presenter Brenda Donohue. "No, Blues," says an adamant Mooney, before realising his mistake. "Oh, Blood Brothers," he finally concedes. Clearly, the show made a big impression.