Radio: Pat Kenny’s travels illuminate a charged subject

Review: ‘The Pat Kenny Show’, ‘Liveline’, ‘Sunday with Miriam’

Having broadcast a blow-by-blow account of his experience of commuting by bike some months back, Pat Kenny again outlines his chosen modes of transport on Wednesday.

On The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays) he details recently getting a morning flight to London, catching a train to Manchester and then taking a taxi. True, he neglects to mention how he walked through the airport, but otherwise listeners are fully apprised of his itinerary.

Kenny is reporting on the logistics that face Irish women travelling to Britain for abortions, from financial cost to actual procedure, as part of his show’s series on this charged subject. In describing the prosaic minutiae of getting to a Manchester clinic he evokes the sense of dislocation and loneliness that many women have when making this difficult journey.

Kenny's report is as revealing as it is nonjudgmental. In London he interviews Mara Clarke of the Abortion Support Network, a voluntary organisation that provides monetary aid for Irish women seeking abortions in England. Clarke has harrowing tales of women in desperate straits but equally talks of the wide spectrum of those she deals with, from college students and couples unable to afford another child to victims of rape and incest. What they have in common, she says, is that "they're pregnant, they don't want to be pregnant and they're poor".


Throughout the interview Kenny maintains an impartial air, asking pertinent questions without any emotive slant. This coolly inquiring manner is a welcome reminder of his past as a current-affairs reporter. He allows Clarke to outline her strong pro-choice views – “I’m for abortion over drinking bleach” – and lets her make some damning observations. She remarks that Ireland’s anti-abortion legislation means women are often able to get terminations only late in their pregnancies.

Thursday’s interview with Vanessa, who had an abortion after being raped, is again marked by rigour and respect from the host. Kenny’s guest, who is also a pro-choice advocate, talks frankly about her experience – “It’s very abstract until you go through it” – while underling the solitary nature of such trips, describing how she shared her flight with boisterous stag and hen parties.

Coming from a seasoned professional, Kenny's scrupulous balance is to be expected, but in tackling the subject from the point of view of women who have undergone abortions his report is an indictment of the current restrictive legislation. (In a subsequent debate on the matter, the anti-abortion campaigner Cora Sherlock complains about this emphasis, which Kenny robustly rebuts.) And although it's telling that these tales have to be articulated via a heterosexual sixtysomething man to be heard on mainstream media, such calm testimony is preferable to the timidity, virulence and piety that have dominated the abortion debate.

Respect is a commodity in short supply among many young Irish males, judging by the disturbing anecdotes that Alison Spittle recounts on Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). The comedian tells Joe Duffy that she regularly encounters physically intimidating gestures and verbal abuse about her weight from gangs of teenage boys and drunken twentysomething men.

There’s no disguising her upset. “It’s all about fear,” she says. “If they feel they can go up and hurt your feelings, what’s the difference from them wanting to hit you?”

Duffy sounds taken aback by his guest's experiences, but he doesn't forget to apply his signature touch of posing questions of blatant obviousness. "What is your feeling when this happens?" he asks. "Not happiness," replies Spittle, displaying a gift for understatement that probably rules her out as a future host of Liveline.

What is truly scary is the frequency with which these incidents occur: Spittle says she endures this behaviour twice a week. “It would be lovely if there was a bit of education [for young men] on how to behave and stop ruining my day,” she says. But, as a comedian, she probably realises it’s a bit of a joke to expect this soon.

There's a lot of humour in the air when Bob Geldof talks to Miriam O'Callaghan on Sunday with Miriam (RTÉ Radio 1), which may seem surprising given the personal tragedies that have befallen him. But Geldof is in fine, if not entirely PC, form as he recalls how being in The Boomtown Rats fulfilled his rebellious and libidinous streaks.

But talk eventually turns to the death of Paula Yates, his former wife, in 2000 and that of his daughter Peaches last year. With O’Callaghan at the helm the personal angle is explored at greater length.

He says that he “half-expected” something to happen to Peaches because of her lifestyle, but he is still inconsolable. “This thing of [her] being forever 25 in my head, that’s unbearable,” he says. “I wait for it to stop. Time doesn’t heal; it accommodates. But it ain’t accommodating this.” He also resists O’Callaghan’s trademark follow-up about belief in God: “It’s over. That’s it.” But he still tries to sound a positive note; since their ashes were scattered, he says, “their molecular structure is still fizzing about”. Geldof may not be as dewy eyed as some of O’Callaghan’s previous guests, but what he says is no less emotionally devastating.

Moment of the week: Savage language
After his resignation as president of the Irish Farmers' Association following revelations about the high salary paid to the organisation's former chief executive Pat Smith, Eddie Downey appears on The Anton Savage Show (Today FM, weekdays) to explain why he left. The interview is notable for Savage's persistently tough questioning but even more so for Downey's metaphor-laden contributions. As well as being apparently "thrown under the bus" and "hung out to dry" for revealing Smith's pay, Downey says: "I was the one holding the parcel when the music stopped, but what I'm not getting credit for is the fact that I stopped the music." That's cleared that up, so.