Radio: Shatter provokes a slip from Adams and pining from Wallace

Sympathy for the former minister comes from unexpected corners and water charges remain stubbornly opaque

Former minister Alan Shatter. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Former minister Alan Shatter. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

 

There may or may not be a “dark side” lurking amid the force, but there is little denying that, after years of trying to nail their man, the police have finally landed the big scalp they had long desired this week. It’s little wonder that Gerry Adams, fresh from PSNI custody, sounds a surprisingly sympathetic note for Alan Shatter, after the former minister for justice, long unpopular with rank-and-file gardaí, resigned in the light of the Guerin report into alleged Garda malpractice. But the Sinn Féin leader could choose his words more carefully for his appearance on Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays).

Interviewed by Cathal Mac Coille, Adams adopts a humble tone as he says that his party takes no pleasure in these developments, noting that the ex-minister’s friends and family must be shattered. It seems like a cruel joke, but Adams quickly corrects himself, changing the term to “devastated”. Given his own recent experiences – about which he complains in relation to the legal technicalities of his arrest – Adams is wise not to appear to be crowing.

Indeed, despite the previously deafening clamour for Shatter’s exit, the reaction to his departure seems curiously muted. His most vocal adversary, the Independent TD Mick Wallace, sounds almost wistful on Wednesday evening’s Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) as he praises Shatter’s intelligence and hard work to Mary Wilson, the host, and contemplates a future without the “incredible battles” the pair have waged. “I swear I’ll miss him,” says Wallace, apparently bathed in nostalgia for a minister who at this stage has been gone for all of an hour.

His mood seems jarring in light of his appearance on Morning Ireland earlier in the day. Talking to Mac Coille, the TD was excoriating about the findings that Shatter had breached data-protection law by revealing that gardaí had cautioned Wallace over a traffic offence. Wallace said that the former minister had “twisted and turned like an eel to avoid censure”, in contrast to his “very self-righteous” stance when in opposition.

Coming so soon after such an evisceration, Wallace’s later elegy for his erstwhile political opponent veers perilously into humbug territory. But in a week when Morning Ireland underscores its place as the first call for news and analysis, it is a wonderful example of how radio can give telling vignettes of the constantly evolving priorities, not to mention enmities, of political life.

As the on-air coverage attests, the Shatter affair is so big that it eclipses otherwise mightily newsworthy issues, such as the Government’s unveiling of water charges and Mary Hanafin’s farcical candidature in the local elections. The latter debacle, which saw Micheál Martin first issue and then withdraw an invitation to the former minister to stand for Fianna Fáil, is best described by Hanafin herself, stubbornly stickingto her guns, as a “hames” on Today With Séan O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays).

As for the water charges, despite much coverage, neither pundits nor listeners are any clearer about how much people will pay. Trevor Haslett, the former head of Northern Ireland Water, cannot disguise his bemused air when he talks to Rachael English, again on Morning Ireland. As he attempts to square the mooted charges with the “complex framework of social exemption” and the as-yet-unclear costs of running Irish Water, he predicts that many will pay well above the proposed average of €240. In a masterclass of understated scepticism, Haslett also foresees what he charitably terms an “administrative headache” as the new water service encounters disagreements about exemptions.

There are, perhaps inevitably, more homespun contributions on the matter on Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). Peter, a Kildare plumber full of practical wisdom, suggests forgoing long sessions in calamitously thirsty power showers in favour of a brief douse, a quick soaping with the water off, and a final rinse. Another caller, Marian, endorses the effectiveness of this tactic, as a chuckling Joe Duffy charmingly comments that “there’s no whiff off Marian”.

Considering the rancour that usually accompanies discussions of public levies on Liveline, it’s a good-natured discussion, given an entertainingly bizarre twist courtesy of Ben Dunne. The businessman, who regularly talks to Joe, criticises the approach of the “powers to be” on this matter, while jovially if confusingly referring to his large domestic water bills (€1,800 a year, he says). This prompts Duffy to wonder how Dunne is being metered before the rest of us.

But a jolt comes in the form of a caller from Spain, again named Peter, who says he pays €175 for a “fantastic” water service in one of the most arid areas of the Iberian peninsula. “The rain in Spain,” Duffy muses, with the doleful air of a man who knows it’s not the last he’ll hear of the issue. After all, when the rain-sodden Irish public start to receive large bills for a seemingly abundant commodity, people will likely get worked up into a metaphorical, as well as literal, lather.


radioreview@irishtimes.com

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