Radio: Donoghue is no sidekick in this ‘Breakfast’ double act

Ivan Yates is the big name on Newstalk’s morning show, but his quietly relentless co-presenter steals his thunder

Listening to Ivan Yates and Chris Donoghue, there are times when they sound less like news anchors and more like a vaudeville double act. As if there isn't enough drama to be heard in the morning bulletins, the presenters of Breakfast (Newstalk, weekdays) inject theatre into proceedings, too, what with their contrasting personalities, constantly ribbing banter and at times comically slanted take on events.

The spinning disco ball to the arc lamp of RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Yates and Donoghue's show may not always be the clearest source of illumination, but it's a reliably diverting spectacle.

On the face of it Yates is the star of the duo. With his high-profile career in public life – by turns a Fine Gael minister, a successful businessman-cum-bookmaker and a humbled bankrupt – and his readiness to proffer robust opinions, he projects himself as the straight talker who cuts through the waffle to speak unvarnished truths.

On Wednesday, as he reads through newspaper reports about the new reviews into the crises at the Department of Justice, he declares himself “disgruntled” with the Government’s handling of matters. Musing whether the new Minister for Justice is a person who “defers decisions” or “avoids conflict”, he gets to the point. “Let’s stall the ball,” he says. “Is this an appalling start for Frances Fitzgerald?”


It all sounds very blunt – as does his caricature of Fitzgerald and Enda Kenny as the “Ken and Barbie” of Fine Gael – but Yates doesn’t actually answer his own questions, rather diminishing his spiel’s impact.

As the programme goes on the understated Donoghue emerges as the more impressive performer, at least in the task of informing the listener about events in the wider world.

Though not above occasionally editorialising on topics, he is less concerned than Yates with imposing his personality on interviews but has a quiet relentlessness and probing curiosity. Speaking to Jordan Belfort, the jailed US stockbroker who inspired the movie The Wolf of Wall Street, Donoghue lets his guest recount his tale of excess and bust. But he sounds a doubtful note over Belfort's supposedly redemptive reincarnation as a motivational speaker, constantly referring back to the victims he defrauded.

When Kieran Cuddihy reports on the vandalism and violence in Cavan aimed at businesses once owned by Seán Quinn, Donoghue's unshowy interaction with the correspondent allows the story to unfold in worrying fashion.

After sympathetic contributions from those understandably worried that the new ownership regime will asset-strip the jobs created by Quinn, Cuddihy plays more troubling clips from local businessmen. While “not condoning” violence, they are fulsome in their understanding of the sentiments behind the actions.

Donoghue doesn't indulge in superfluous commentary on such statements, leaving them to stand starkly alone. It is a good example of Donoghue's instincts, which help ensure that Breakfast is more than a soapbox for Yates's pyrotechnics.

Discretion plays a key role in Turas: Learning Irish in East Belfast (Newstalk, Sunday), producer Judy-Meg Ní Chinnéide’s documentary on budding Gaeilgeoirs from the loyalist Newtownards Road area. So unlikely is the topic that it sounds like a bad sitcom, but the programme is an astute if offbeat take on the misapprehensions and suspicions that still blight the North.

The documentary's central figure is Linda Ervine, sister-in-law of the late Progressive Unionist Party leader David Ervine, who some years ago set up Irish-language classes in her working-class Protestant neighbourhood. Although Ervine admits her enthusiasm might seem "a bit like Gerry Adams joining a marching band", she sees it as an extension of her unionist identity rather than an act of apostasy. She points out that early champions of the language's revival, such as Douglas Hyde, were Protestant and that everything from Ulster place names to the Royal Irish Regiment's motto are in Irish.

The net effect of her project – named Turas, or Journey – has been a small but significant cross-community gesture that overturns expectations and prejudices on both sides. Matthew, a Catholic Irish teacher from north Belfast, recalls his surprise that his unionist pupils were not only welcoming but if anything more enthusiastic than those in nationalist areas. Then again, until he started teaching there he had never been on Newtownards Road, despite growing up five minutes’ drive from the area.

One of his class, Jim, was for years only “vaguely aware that there was a country down there called the Free State”, but now enthuses about the beauty of the Irish language. There are still “sensitivities” surrounding Jim’s newfound passion, however: “I’m careful about who I tell.”

By resisting the temptation to present the Turas project as a neat fable of reconciliation, Ní Chinnéide emphasises just how remarkable the story is, showing how figures such as Ervine can find common ground with once-bitter adversaries.

Taking listeners on a journey to somewhere new and surprising, this documentary is the best kind of trip.

Moment of the Week: No More Mr Nice Guy
On Wednesday Ryan Tubridy (2FM, weekdays) reveals another side to his supposedly bland image when he talks to Chris, convicted of domestic abuse 20 years ago. As Chris tries to explain why he beat his wife so badly he thought he broke her bone, Tubridy cannot hide his disgust. "We appreciate you coming on to tell the story, and yet if you did that to somebody I loved, I swear to God I would have personally called over and broke both your legs, I'm not going to lie to you," Tubridy says, sounding agitated. He adds that he knows his reaction is "wrong", but it's "man to man". Bracingly honest, but slightly self-defeating.