Radio: John Murray’s contrite guest shows that sorry is still the hardest word

Review: A banker’s remorse makes for rare radio when John Rusnak appears on the RTÉ presenter’s show. On Newstalk, George Hook makes no apologies for his opinions

For fans of extraordinary natural phenomena, Wednesday's edition of The John Murray Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) provides an exciting spectacle, as rare as a total solar eclipse or a great comet. On the day the Oireachtas banking inquiry announces it is finally ready to begin work, a former high-flyer from an Irish bank pops up on air to express deep contrition for the damage he did.

It's unprecedented stuff. As Murray's guest recounts how being imprisoned for his misdeeds has made him a better person, one wonders if the host has decided to extend his opening jokey monologue into the realm of satire, if not actual humour. John Rusnak's tale is real, but as the reference to his time in jail suggests, the one-time AIB man has not enjoyed the cushy ride afforded to Irish bankers. But, then again, he is American, not Irish. As a rogue currency trader working in Baltimore for AIB's US subsidiary Allfirst, he fraudulently ran up losses of nearly $700 million, a criminal act for which he was convicted in 2003, serving five years in federal penitentiaries.

The most striking element in all this is not the story itself – Simon Carswell's recent Irish Times feature on Rusnak boasts more detail – but the tone of the interview. There is an embarrassed note as Rusnak remembers his arrogance: "I always thought I was the smartest guy in the room, even when all the evidence was to the contrary." He sounds genuinely sorrowful: "I feel awful about the mistakes I made and the consequences they had on others."

For all that he committed a crime, the environment in which he acted has an eerily familiar air: “I didn’t have accountability or people to tell me I was wrong.” And there is real anguish in his voice at recalling his “sins . . . It’s a terrible time that I don’t like to look back at too much, but I know I have to remember the past, so that I don’t repeat it.”


Rusnak’s candour is not always easy to endure, particularly when Murray deploys the thorough interviewing skills he honed as a news anchor: he presses his guest about tricky aspects of his past and muses whether his sentence was too light. But Rusnak’s frank acknowledgment of his past failings only highlights the reticence of Irish bankers, as well as how grudging they have been about accepting blame for their monumental recklessness, much less taking responsibility. Prison, Rusnak remarks, “added a level of humility that I would never have come to”. One wonders whether an Oireachtas inquiry will have a similar humbling effect on those arrogant few whose actions cost the public billions.

On Monday's Lunchtime (Newstalk, weekdays) the presenter Jonathan Healy focuses on another group of people in receipt of State funds, albeit far less than the banks. He meets asylum seekers in Cork protesting against the system of "direct provision" – official jargon for supervised accommodation centres.

Teresa, a Nigerian woman who has been waiting nine years for her application to be approved, describes her living conditions as degrading. Her Irish-born son says he is ashamed to tell his classmates about his background. “We are not miscreants, we are not villains, we are not criminals,” Teresa says, appealing for the right to work.

It's an old-fashioned piece of crusading journalism, underpinned by Healy's palpable outrage at injustice. This attitude cuts no ice with his station colleague George Hook, however. As a self-conscious scourge of political correctness – he spits out the phrase twice in the opening half-hour of Monday's edition of The Right Hook (Newstalk, weekdays) – the presenter is withering as he replays Healy's clips of Teresa's impassioned plea.

“Sorry, mother,” Hook says, “nobody is suggesting you’re here to commit a crime.” But he says that until the woman can prove she faces harm in her homeland, “you don’t have an entitlement to live in this country, so saying you are not here to commit a crime simply doesn’t wash”. This may well be a point worth making in Ireland’s asylum-process debate, but the apparent contempt with which a wealthy broadcaster sticks the boot into a woman with few rights and fewer possessions makes for unedifying listening.

Hook goes on to have a zesty ding-dong with Healy, who is at least in a position to argue back. The Lunchtime presenter talks passionately about the misfiring system that has evolved because of the State "not dealing with claims properly" and voices his unease about a regime under which a child cannot get a drink of water at night without a supervisor's say-so.

For Hook the problem lies elsewhere. “We were good guys,” he bleats, pointing to the lengthy appeals process that clogs the system. He bemoans Healy’s focus on long-running cases, saying this skews the argument. “Don’t be trying to make the hard boy out of George,” he says, sounding sorry for himself.

In fairness, Hook takes a deeper look at the topic on Tuesday, speaking to Sue Conlan of the Irish Refugee Council. Among other things, Conlan says that Ireland's acceptance rate of 10 per cent, a figure much trumpeted by Hook, is lower than the European average; even in the supposedly tough UK there's a 40 per cent acceptance rate. By the time Conlan talks of the long-term impact of the regime on the children of asylum seekers, denied rights despite being born here, Hook is ready to end the interview.

But he doesn’t concede his ground. Talk about being unapologetic.

Moment of the Week: Sinéad's still sharp
An unlikely guest pops up on The Nicky Byrne Show (2FM, weekdays) in the form of Sinéad O'Connor, who tells Byrne and his cohost, Jenny Greene, about paying a busker his air fare to London to see his girlfriend. The only condition, she says, is that the couple have to name any future daughter Sinéad, adding the curious fact that "there's a cow named after me somewhere in Australia". Pre-empting any wisecracks, O'Connor then wryly adds, "I'm a cow, some might argue."