Parenting slots have become as ubiquitous an element of talk radio as traffic reports or weather forecasts. The predictable subject matter under discussion remains of limited appeal, however. Bedwetting isn't the most riveting topic, even (or especially) for those with young children. But the advice of Mary O'Kane, resident child psychologist on The Anton Savage Show (Today FM, weekdays), has a resonance for anyone listening to this week's news bulletins.
On Wednesday O'Kane outlines how best to explain the terrible events in Buncrana and Brussels to curious offspring without leaving them traumatised. Young children, in particular, don't need to know everything about what happened. "Some of the detail is hard enough for an adult to listen to," says O'Kane, showing a gift for understatement.
It's certainly a tough task for those who have to relay the details on air. Cathal Mac Coille, who as presenter of Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) is no stranger to difficult stories, glumly sums up the mood on Thursday: "What a sad week it's been." Similarly, Shane Coleman on Newstalk and Sean O'Rourke on Radio 1 use the term "unspeakable" on Monday to describe the drowning of five family members in Co Donegal, but both still have to present in-depth coverage of the tragedy.
Those on the scene unsurprisingly sound even more shaken. The testimony of Francis Crawford, who witnessed the tragedy, becomes if anything more terrible as he appears first on Morning Ireland and then on Today with Sean O'Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). As Crawford describes how the McGrotty family's four-by-four slipped off the pier and sank, listeners get some sense of how what initially seemed a mishap inexorably became a catastrophe. Even then it's difficult to fathom the full horror of what unfolded.
The human cost of the brutal terrorist attacks in Brussels may be similarly sickening, but the tone of reaction varies widely, as Wednesday's edition of Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) shows. Joe Duffy hears from Imam Ibrahim Noonan, who is keen not only to stress that "what happened in Belgium has nothing to do with Islam" but also to urge other imams to notify the Garda about any extremists in their mosques. The latter request, according to Noonan, is not as straightforward as one might hope. As a representative of the minority Ahmadiyya sect, he says that other imams "don't necessarily recognise me as a voice for all of them", and may even have ties with scholars who support extremism.
Noonan is particularly critical of Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Dublin, who has earlier spoken on Sean O'Rourke's show about Muslims perceiving "a duality" and "a high level of hypocrisy" in the Brussels and Paris attacks being condemned more strongly than those in Turkey and Syria. Noonan agrees with Duffy's characterisation of this as "moral ambiguity" and "what-aboutery", prompting a call from Selim.
The ensuing exchanges are robust. On several occasions Selim repeats his condemnation of events in Brussels: “It is an atrocity.” But, even as he says the attacks have no justification, Selim adds that the West has been “turning a blind eye or worse when it happens in a Muslim country”. Duffy suggests that in saying this his guest is nuancing his condemnation.
The sense of mutual incomprehension is heightened when the discussion turns to Saudi Arabia. Duffy describes the kingdom, which has been accused of funding extremists, as “not a democracy by any manner or means”. “That’s your opinion,” comes the curt reply. Overall it’s not an encouraging conversation, and it hints at potentially troubling fault lines in a changing Ireland, not least within the Muslim community. In highlighting this Duffy does his job well.
Lest anyone think that the 1916 commemorations might provide some light relief during a grim week, the events in Dublin 100 years ago instead give rise to another disheartening discussion on Monday's Liveline. Prompted by a memorial wall at Glasnevin Cemetery that lists everyone killed in the Easter Rising, Donna Cooney of the 1916 Relatives Association tells Duffy of her outrage that the names of British soldiers are to be displayed alongside those of the dead rebels. "It's an absolute insult," she says.
George McCullough of Glasnevin Trust turns up to explain the rationale behind the wall. He cites the Government’s plans for all the dead to be remembered equally. But Cooney is far from mollified. “This is our Rising,” she says. She is not opposed to civilians or even British forces being commemorated in other places, but, lest anyone overlook her use of the first-person-plural possessive, she emphasises the point: “This is our centenary.”
This is about as subtle as the debate gets. As he argues with another caller, Ger, McCullough cautions against creating a hierarchy of death that implies the rebels were better than the other dead. “But they are better than them,” replies Ger. That the worth of a life is still up for discussion 100 years after their death doesn’t bode well for the future.
Moment of the Week: Decoding the Rising
For all the many fine programmes marking the 1916 centenary, few are likely to match
Drama on One: 100
(RTÉ Radio 1, Sunday) for imaginative flair and ambition. Written – or, rather, assembled – by
, 100 is more collage than conventional drama; it tells the story of the Rising and its aftermath idiosyncratically. Starting off with the tale of how a wireless transmitter was seized during the rebellion and used to broadcast the Proclamation in Morse code, Dineen and Eadie use vintage clips to celebrate the role of radio in recording Irish life in subsequent years. Backed by an evocative soundtrack, what it lacks in linear narrative it makes up for in compelling audio theatre.