The moment the interview begins, Sean O’Rourke gets into the swing of things. As his guest tries to explain away the political controversy enveloping them with chaotic results, O’Rourke brings all his experience to bear. Ever the seasoned newsman, the presenter knows when to direct the conversation with astute questions and when to let his guest’s strident patter careen off into car crash territory. And this is only his interview with Dublin City Councillor Mannix Flynn.
Normally, O'Rourke's heated encounter with Flynn and People Before Profit activist Kieran Allen would be the highlight of the week (Today with Sean O'Rourke, RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). As the guests trade blows over a raucous local election count, Flynn provides most of the entertainment, aiming taunts of "You're a fake" at Allen. But coming as it does a day after Fine Gael TD Maria Bailey's toe-curling appearance on the show, a public self-immolation so hypnotically embarrassing that it has already entered Irish political lore, Flynn and Allen's farcically fiery ruck seems like prosaic filler.
Inquisitive rather than confrontational, O'Rourke gives his guest a generous length of rope
For those who missed it – and if so, I hope your stay amongst the undiscovered tribes of the Amazon was enjoyable – Bailey appears on Monday’s show to defuse the controversy surrounding her lawsuit for medical costs against a Dublin hotel where she fell off a swing in 2015. Instead, the hapless Dun Laoghaire TD delivers a performance so self-serving and cack-handed as to jeopardise her political career, portraying herself as a victim of dirty tricks while dodging basic questions about her now-withdrawn case. After such a humiliation, it’s almost cruel to revisit Bailey’s interview. Suffice to say her closing aspiration – “I’m drawing a line in the sand on this today and I’m moving on” – now sounds as deluded as Peter Casey’s plan to become a fast-track Taoiseach.
O’Rourke, for his part, displays all his skills as a current affairs interviewer. Inquisitive rather than confrontational, he gives his guest a generous length of rope before yanking it up sharply, asking if there were drinks in both her hands when she sat on the by-now infamous swing. Bailey’s refusal to answer, on dubious legal grounds, is as cringe-inducing as it is slippery. When O’Rourke finishes the interview, it’s an act of mercy, though his unfortunate guest’s ordeal is about to get worse off-mic.
It’s no wonder O’Rourke is in such lethal form. The election season is his ideal milieu. Whether interrogating flailing deputies, refereeing spirited jousts, or hearing former Fine Gael minister Alan Shatter criticise Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Thursday, the presenter’s relish for the red meat of politics is palpable. He’s not as keen on other carnivorous cuts, however, judging by his conversation with chef JP McMahon.
McMahon comes on to discuss a supposed revival in traditional Irish cooking, though O’Rourke sounds ambivalent about such foodstuffs. “Cabbage boiled to within an inch of its life as bits of bacon cling on,” the host says, as he associates the dish with “wet Saturdays in Galway”. Still, this is mouth-watering fare compared to what follows, as talk turns to delicacies such as sheep’s heart, cow’s head and, finally, pig’s ear. “They must be incredibly chewy,” the host ventures. “They’re an acquired taste,” admits McMahon, who suggests deep-frying them. Vegetarian sensibilities aside, it’s an enjoyably offbeat item. Unlike some of O’Rourke’s other guests, McMahon avoids making that other feared porcine delicacy, a pig’s mickey, out of the interview. O’Rourke, meanwhile, is unfazed by the offal nature of the item. Given his appetite for political blood sport, he needs a strong stomach.
If O’Rourke’s show at times resembles a sanguinary butcher’s block, then 2FM40: The Uncensored Story (2FM, Friday) is more like cold porridge. Purportedly a documentary marking the 40th birthday of RTÉ’s pop music station, 2FM40 is so blandly self-congratulatory that it could almost pass as a meta-parody of corporate onanism. But alas, this “celebration” of 2FM’s past is for real.
In truth, the celebratory nature of the documentary isn't the problem. It's the lazily generic script, which flaunts its clichés from the moment Derry Girls actor Nicola Coughlan starts her narration. "2fm is 40, how did that happen? It just seems like yesterday that RTÉ let a bunch of young DJs loose on the airwaves," says Coughlan, who wasn't even born at the time. Cue the story of how 2FM brought pop to the airwaves of Ireland in 1979, when "everything was brown".
There's a compelling documentary to be made about 2FM, but it's not this promotional puff piece
To be fair, there are some interesting contributions amidst the platitudes. Former 2FM boss John Clarke recounts how the pirate radio explosion of the late 1970s pushed RTÉ to launch the station, while producer Ian Wilson recalls the decision not to broadcast the Angelus on the new station as surprising but significant.
Otherwise, 2FM’s history is portrayed as an endless cavalcade of unprecedented broadcasting landmarks, the only blemishes coming when rival commercial stations poached the likes of Marty Whelan and Ian Dempsey. Even the untimely 2010 death of 2FM’s biggest star, Gerry Ryan, is turned into a positive, allowing the station to focus on attracting a younger audience. “It seems like 2FM is just getting started,” Coughlan concludes.
With 2FM launching a newly revamped schedule next week, such boosterism is unsurprising. Far from being “uncensored”, anything remotely contentious is airbrushed out of the documentary. Sensitivities about the late Ryan’s drug use may be understandable, but it’s baffling, indeed offensive, to coyly describe the late Vincent Hanley as “flamboyant” when he was one of the few identifiably gay public figures in Ireland. There’s a compelling documentary to be made about 2FM, but it’s not this promotional puff piece. “Here’s to the next 40 years as the sound of the nation,” says Coughlan. Let’s hope it sounds better than this.
Radio Moment of the Week: Bunker mentality
On Tuesday, Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) gives lengthy coverage to rail delays caused by signalling faults in Dublin, before a sheepish-sounding Rachael English concedes that things haven't been running too smoothly in the studio either. "We've had our own signal failures," she says, explaining that newsreader Brian Jennings has shifted studios due to technical glitches, before tentatively asking if he's on-air. Happily, he is. Immediately afterwards, Ryan Tubridy chuckles at his colleagues' mishaps. "We have Brian doing the news from a remote location," Tubridy says, "which I suspect makes him RTÉ's designated survivor in the case of the bomb going off." It's official: there is a bunker mentality in RTÉ.