Once upon a time, the world was divided into haves and have-nots. While this was unfair, it was reasonably straightforward for people to ascertain which group they came from and should pledge fealty to. Now, however, the division increasingly seems to be between "them" and "us". It's a definition that's not only obviously subjective but also handily adaptable in a world rent asunder by grievances, as we (or they) hear during a lively debate on Today with Seán O'Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays).
Compared with the Manichaean worldviews such as the Islam of Isis or indeed the US of Donald Trump, the faultline between rural and urban Ireland seems a minor one. But as Senator Michelle Mulherin, economist Dan O'Brien and planner Diarmuid Ó Gráda discuss the disparity between the economic recovery in Irish cities and the rest of the country, the division is bitterly palpable.
To go by the testimony of Mulherin, or at least the urgent manner in which she delivers it, rural Ireland is a landscape of deserted villages, abandoned by a metropolitan population unwilling to share their riches. But according to the figures that O’Brien uses, rural Ireland has never had it so good, not since 2008 anyway. He says rural populations have not declined, housing is cheaper and urban areas subsidise countryside life. It seems hard to reconcile the two opposing visions.
Mulherin counters that there’s no job growth and people are older in the country, before claiming that money is being pumped into “deprived urban areas” while their rural equivalents are ignored. O’Brien isn’t impressed by the last assertion, seeing is as symptomatic of the “post-fact world”.
“That’s the kind of language that worries me,” he says, “because it makes people feel one group is getting it and others aren’t.” But that’s just what someone would say if they were one of them, or at least not one of us.
O’Rourke, meanwhile, brings real passion to the issue, although it’s unclear whether he’s in the first- or third-person plural camp. He is wary about redeveloping rural areas willy nilly, pointing to “hideous destruction” by apartment blocks in Barna, Co Galway. But when O’Brien says the idea that rural Ireland hasn’t recovered is “bogus”, O’Rourke robustly argues against this, pointing to villages “pockmarked” by closed shops and empty houses. O’Brien says there are many derelict buildings in the (largely gentrified) area of Dublin 8 where he lives, suggesting he’s not above using stories as well as statistics himself. But it all makes for a thought-provoking item.
There are times during the final week of The Right Hook (Newstalk, weekdays) when George Hook sounds like an inhabitant of the post-fact world that Dan O'Brien decries. He certainly has a cheerful indifference when it comes to getting names right. He giggles as he tries to remember the actor married to Robert Wagner – it's Natalie Wood – while rhapsodising about old travelogue films presented by "a guy called Fitzpatrick, I think". Maybe because it's the last week of his show, Hook's usual appetite for nostalgia tips into gluttony. He has a long conversation about milk deliveries with father and son milkmen Tom Gaskin snr and jnr. Along the route, Hook takes several diversions down memory lane, recalling the profusion of dairies in the 1960s and the perils of foil tops on milk bottles. The dottiness of these reminiscences is enough to elicit wistfulness at Hook's departure from the evening slot, until you remember he's back with a new afternoon show in September.
In recent times, Hook’s pronunciations on the risks of mass migration and the Syrian refugee crisis have had an unappealing “them and us” quality. Hook touches on this theme again after the Isis murder of French priest Fr Jacques Hamel, but now he seems half-hearted about it. His discussion with philosopher Fr Brendan Purcell has garbled references to Christian values creating democracy – which must be news to the pagan ancient Greeks – and even contains the loaded phrase “clash of civilisations”. But for the most part, Hook and Purcell are more concerned with the idea that good should triumph over evil by peaceful means. It’s as though Hook is trying to find a middle ground between “them” and “us”: “youse”, maybe.
Once deemed a divisive figure, feminist author Gloria Steinem has an idiosyncratic message of unity when she talks to Áine Lawlor, the stand-in presenter for Marian Finucane (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday & Sunday). Always a welcome presence in this slot, Lawlor sounds a bit starstruck as she interviews her guest – when it ends, the presenter wishes she could talk for much longer – but it's still an enjoyable encounter.
Steinem welcomes Hillary Clinton’s nomination while being excoriating if perceptive about Trump’s White House bid. But she is optimistic about the future. Our idea of gender is made up, she says, “so we can unmake it up”; the same with race. “We’re a circle not a pyramid,” she says, “linked, not ranked.” Steinem is sketchy about how people might resolve their differences, but it’s nice to hear the crazy notion that we might all be in this together.
MOMENT OF THE WEEK: GILLICK'S UNEXPECTED HURDLE
With the Olympics almost upon us, Off the Ball (Newstalk) carries a timely interview with Irish 400m runner David Gillick, who opens up about the mental pressures he faced after retiring. He tells presenter Joe Molloy about "falling into a hole" and how he would project confidence while feeling like a fraud. Having been diagnosed with depression, Gillick says things only started improving "when I accepted that is was all right not to have a plan". The other solution, Gillick says, was "just talking" – which he does, his admirable candour helped by Molloy's sympathetic approach. If Molloy maintains this compelling standard for the Rio games, an interesting Olympiad beckons.