Radio: No regrets as Conor Lenihan wrecks the party

Review: ‘The Last Word’, ‘Morning Ireland’, ‘Culture File Weekly’

It's a story that won't go away. For all Fianna Fáil's rebranding efforts, the troublesome past always comes back to haunt it. Tuesday's edition of The Last Word (Today FM, weekdays) illustrates this clearly. During a short interview with Matt Cooper, its host, the former Fianna Fáil minister Conor Lenihan undoes Micheál Martin's best efforts to remodel his party as paragons of openness and responsibility, by reminding listeners who got us all into this mess to begin with.

As a member of the government that presided over the economic catastrophe of 2008, Lenihan may be an unwelcome blast from the past for some, but he doesn’t feel that’s anything to be embarrassed about. Discussing his potential Dáil run in Roscommon, he is unapologetic about his political past. “I don’t regret that experience,” he says. “I enjoyed it most of the time.” It’s good that someone did.

Cooper probes why his guest is, to use his own lofty phrase, "available to serve again". Faced with the prospect of a fragmented Dáil, Lenihan thinks that "the country needs careful and committed leadership". Asked to define his abilities, Lenihan points to his role in raising $1.2 billion in investment for Skolkovo, a Moscow research facility headed by the billionaire Viktor Vekselberg. "I don't like boasting about my own abilities and skills," Lenihan says, "but he saw that I had some abilities and skills."

That Lenihan plays up his lucrative fundraising work for a Russian oligarch – not normally exemplars of democracy and transparency – rather than highlight his ministerial pedigree is revealing. At least when the former minister promises “strong leadership” he doesn’t insist that it be of the Putin variety.


It’s breathtaking stuff, particularly as Lenihan also comes across as smart and self-aware at times. Cooper sounds as if he can’t believe what he’s hearing, conducting the conversation in the smugly bemused manner he adopts for unintentionally hilarious items. So much for the new broom sweeping away the old guard.

Elsewhere, the question of the Provisional IRA's existence dominates the news, with the Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin sounding indignant about the issue on Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). He is particularly exercised by the decision of Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald to ask for a Garda reassessment of the IRA's status following the murder of Kevin McGuigan in Belfast, calling it a politically motivated smear.

“It is not for the Garda to re-evaluate their view as whether the IRA exist,” the deputy says. Rather, it seems that the word of Sinn Féin should suffice, as Ó Caoláin constantly reiterates that “the IRA no longer exists”. On one thing Ó Caoláin is correct: Sinn Féin’s opponents north and south are indeed making political hay from this issue. More ominously, he is right to suggest that the fallout may harm the peace process, which would be a calamitous outcome.

But, equally, the deputy seems oblivious to the uncomfortable contradiction in his party constantly eulogising the IRA's past deeds – as Gavin Jennings of Morning Ireland points out, Gerry Adams recently called it an "undefeated army" – but then crying foul if anyone else asks whether this organisation has fully disbanded, even when a murder prompts the query. Ó Caoláin sounds perplexed by the fuss when there's a simple way to clear up any confusion. "Ask the questions. We'll answer them," he says, by way of reassurance. Given how open Ó Caoláin's party has previously been about its internal affairs, that should suffice.

The unwelcome whiff of cordite gives way to the soothing aromas of balsam, citrus and oud on Culture File Weekly (Lyric, Saturday) as Luke Clancy, its presenter and producer, concludes a three-part history of perfumes over the past century. Using radio to tell a story about smells may seem quixotic, but Clancy's imaginative command of the medium ensures that it holds the attention of even the most olfactorily challenged of listeners.

Much of this is down to Clancy's guide to the world of fragrances, and to the writer and blogger Odette Toilette, whose obvious knowledge of her field is matched by her talent for evocative descriptions of the scents from various eras. One moment she describes the molecular breakdown of a perfume, the next she's talking about "the 1990s world of sun-dried tomato and polenta".

If such language flirts with pretentiousness, it is redeemed by the wider tale Odette spins. (Calling her Toilette seems unfair.) One of the reasons she loves perfume is that “you’re taken on a journey over the course of a day”, as more obvious notes are replaced by deeper aromas. But where perfumes once aspired to literary and historical associations “to build up a story”, fragrances are now simplified. “It’s all about art direction now,” she says, gently lamenting that celebrity fragrances have become the industry’s fiscal lifeblood.

In this the world of perfume echoes the way other areas of culture evolved, but Clancy and his guest are too canny to draw easy parallels. Instead they allow their captivating tale to unfold in its own right: to let the fragrance do the talking. It whets the appetite for Clancy’s next esoteric subject, the banjo.

Moment of the Week: Reeling in the Years
Tuesday evenings on Lyric FM will be poorer following the final transmission of Reels to Ragas, Gerry Godley's long-running treasury of surprising, exciting and hypnotic music from across the globe. He is clearly sad that the show is ending – "Them's the breaks" – but the last edition showcases the musical spectrum he has traversed on his "great personal journey", with everything from Roma and Scots Gaelic songs to Japanese and Malian music. There's also a typically wry apology for his "schoolboy French". Still, it's baffling that a "serious" music station such as Lyric can give Marty Whelan 15 hours a week but cannot spare one hour for such a stimulating show.