Radio: Noonan and Howlin don’t budget for ungrateful callers

Review: ‘Today With Sean O’Rourke’, ‘The Right Hook’, ‘Off the Ball’

In the end it’s not the triumphant last hurrah that the nation has been expecting. A talismanic presence, whether leading his team or merely providing its muscle, the bald, burly Limerick veteran had built his long career on never shying away from a ruck. But this week, after much anticipation that he would finally seize the glory that had long eluded him, his goal was thwarted.

Having presided over grim austerity for most of his time as Minister for Finance, one might expect Michael Noonan to be in bullish mood when he appears on the traditional post-Budget phone-in edition of Today With Sean O'Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) after delivering the most generous package in years. (Whether or not he knew which questions are coming his way is now a matter of controversy at RTÉ.) Instead he cuts a subdued figure as the public barrack him.

And just as his fellow Limerick man Paul O'Connell was carried off during Ireland's epic rugby match against France, Noonan largely cedes the field to Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin.

Given the mood of callers, Noonan may just be exercising prudence. During the opening interview with O’Rourke he denies delivering a recklessly generous Budget, calling it “mildly expansionary”. But even this modest description seems self-congratulatory when set beside the ungrateful verdict of the callers.


The tone is set by Erica, who starkly asks of the duo: “What are they going to do for homeless children?” It’s a trickily emotive question, particularly when Erica identifies herself as a mother who has been forced to live with her nine-year-old daughter in a hotel for several months.

Howlin attempts to put a positive spin on the situation, trying to figure out what benefits might be due, but he struggles to get his point across as Erica makes good her opportunity to sound off at a Government official.

The host doesn’t do the Minister any favours when he asks the caller to expand on how her daughter feels about their plight, with predictably downbeat results. When O’Rourke asks what Erica has gained in the Budget, her reply is withering: “Five euro in the children’s allowance. Whoop-de-do.” It doesn’t help that Noonan’s main contribution is to loudly clear his throat of what sounds like really stubborn phlegm.

Things continue in this vein, with the Ministers fielding a succession of calls from people dubious about everything from pensions to disability benefits. Even when they receive some support it’s a mixed blessing.

One caller, John, acknowledges that they have done their best in difficult circumstances, but he turns out to be a landlord, an occupation somewhere alongside those of bankers and developers in the pantheon of Irish villains. The fact that John just wants to vent like everyone else ends up as the sole bright spot for the embattled pair.

It’s not an enlightening discussion. And if the Ministers knew in advance some of the questions facing them, it yields them no advantage. O’Rourke has to ask several callers to cease their haranguing so the Ministers can answer. But as a portrait of the endemic suspicion with which politicians are viewed it’s a telling spectacle.

Elsewhere, Ireland's progress in the Rugby World Cup provides some inspiration in an otherwise grim news week. As George Hook remarks on The Right Hook (Newstalk, weekdays), such moments show "how sport has the ability to lift people's emotions and bind them together".

Still, even this success gives Hook cause for concern. He’s worried less about the side’s performance – although he does harrumph about tactics – than about the “physical cost” of the heroics that ended O’Connell’s international career.

Speaking with the former Ireland international Conor O’Shea, the host notes that O’Shea used the words “frightening” and “ferocious” to describe the match. “What does that say about the game you and I love?” asks Hook, who is worried about the consequences of young amateur players trying to emulate their heroes.

Far from being another manifestation of his naturally contrarian instincts, Hook’s dampening of the national euphoria about rugby shows that he has got his priorities straight.

Even so, all the injuries suffered by the Ireland team seem as nothing compared with the corporeal woe Hook endures on an ongoing basis, at least if his regular health spot with Dr Ciara Kelly is anything to go by.

Hook has never been a man to spare the audience intimate personal details – even casual listeners must by now be aware of his experiences of erectile dysfunction. But his conversations with Kelly cast him as an atlas of ailments, not to mention a walking Rolodex of questionable cures.

During Monday’s slot he reveals that, although he now finds it hard to see across a pitch, he cancelled an appointment with his ophthalmic surgeon. “I could be going blind,” he chirpily comments. He talks about his experience with gout, recounting a particularly bad bout after drinking too much orange juice in Portugal. For good measure he adds that the medication a local doctor prescribed gave him “ferocious diarrhoea”.

It’s not for the faint of heart or delicate of stomach, but it’s the kind of slot that deserves cult status. That Hook can take such punishment and remain on air suggests he’s not about to be sidelined any time soon.

Moment of the Week: Molloy turns the air blue

Despite personnel upheavals two years ago,

Off the Ball

(Newstalk, weekdays) has proved a durable and enjoyable brand under

Joe Molloy

, who picked up a PPI award two weeks ago. It’s no surprise that the presenter marks the end of Paul O’Connell’s international career in irreverent fashion, playing a clip of one of the player’s motivational team talks. Unfortunately, Molloy neither bleeps out O’Connell’s profanities nor warns the prewatershed audience about them. His copresenter

Colm Parkinson

sees the funny side. “Enjoy that PPI, Joe,” he archly notes.