‘Sobering’ Covid restrictions and a ‘dog’s dinner’ redress scheme. Only Ray D’Arcy had a good week

Radio: Disappointment at the mother and baby home redress scheme is unmistakable

As the Government announces new measures on Tuesday, the reaction on the airwaves is that the proposals don't go far enough to improve the situation. That's putting it mildly. Canvassing opinion on Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), its presenter Cormac Ó hEadhra hears one hostile verdict after another from those at the coalface.

"The Government, and in particular the Minister, has made a complete dog's dinner of the whole thing," says Paul Redmond, chairman of the Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors, by way of damning the Government's planned redress scheme.

The disappointment surrounding Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman's compensation scheme for survivors of the infamous institutional homes is unmistakable, and not just because the news is overshadowed by the reintroduction of Covid-19 restrictions. "It's unfortunate that this is somewhat of an undercard on a very sobering day," says mother-and-baby-home adoptee Samantha Long, "So unfortunately it probably won't get the longer-lasting attention it deserves."

Though billed as the biggest compensation project in the history of the State, the mother and baby home redress scheme is predicted to cause 'chaos and bitterness'

In fact, not only does the redress scheme receive comprehensive coverage on Drivetime and elsewhere, but the story also leaves a more lasting impression than the latest pandemic-suppression measures. Whereas the announcement of earlier closing times for night-time venues is largely greeted with a weary fatalism, even by industry figures, the mother-and-baby plans elicit a more charged response.


Though billed as the biggest compensation project in the history of the State, with €800 million set aside to recompense 34,000 people in a “nonadversarial” manner, the scheme, Redmond claims, is going to cause “chaos and bitterness”, because of the exclusion of survivors who spent less than six months of infancy in the homes. “To separate mother and child is a lifelong trauma, and this has not been acknowledged by the Government,” he says.

Long’s reaction is more subtly expressed. The plan has good elements, she says, but she’s angry at the creation of a “hierarchy” of people entitled to redress. Long spent more than six months in a home before being adopted, “but I don’t want to be any more special than a baby who was there for a shorter term”.

She is also annoyed that mothers who were sent to the homes, now in advanced age and frequently in precarious circumstances, have to wait until late next year before any compensation. “They are just getting too old to wait any longer,” she says, describing the delay as a “further disregard of their dignity”.

Ó hEadhra is obviously moved by what he’s hearing, reassuring Long that the mother-and-baby story won’t be forgotten on his programme. But he doesn’t forget his journalistic duties either, pressing Redmond for clarity at various points. Either way, Drivetime’s coverage suggests that, far from bringing closure to this dark episode in Irish history, the Government’s response has created fresh problems.

The special rapporteur for child protection, Conor O'Mahony, details his regret at the lack of financial provision for children 'boarded out' to foster homes, his criticism all the more damaging for being so coolly articulated

Wednesday's edition of Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) does little to dispel this notion, with items on the scheme that are, if anything, more negative. Some of this is self-inflicted, as O'Gorman half-heartedly apologises for suggesting that those who left the homes before six months of age can't remember their experiences.

Meanwhile, the special rapporteur for child protection, Conor O’Mahony, details his regret at the lack of financial provision for children “boarded out” to foster homes on the State’s watch, his criticism all the more damaging for being so coolly articulated.

Not that the Government faces any less heat for its Covid-19 strategy, as Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is put through the wringer by Mary Wilson. The presenter, who has enjoyed the odd combative encounter with Donnelly in the past, quizzes her guest about the Coalition's attitude to antigen tests, asking why it's taking so long to subsidise their availability. Under pressure from Wilson, the Minister at times sounds more concerned about the cost of providing such tests for free than about encouraging their use. Intentional or not, it's not a great message.

To be fair, Donnelly performs passably in the circumstances, particularly in the light of the torrid personal abuse he (and his family) endured earlier in the pandemic. But again the impression is of an administration reacting nervously to crises as they arise. In contrast, the Morning Ireland team cover the week’s big issues with an energy and clarity that in recent times have gone Awol amid the programme’s heavily formatted approach. Bad news clearly suits the show.

As if to underline how botched a job the redress scheme is, even Ray D'Arcy (RTÉ Radio 1) uses his normally meandering monologue to get mad as hell about the matter. Opening Wednesday's show, D'Arcy sympathises with the plight of survivors before homing in on O'Gorman's line about babies not remembering their time in such institutions. In response, the host reads from a book by the American psychiatrist Bruce Perry, which asserts that traumatic experiences in the first two months of a child's life have more impact on outcomes than the next 12 years.

Ray D'Arcy's conversation about the late singer-songwriter Fergus O'Farrell is awash with fond anecdotes and raucous laughter, making for uplifting radio

“That rubbishes the six-month cut-off,” D’Arcy says, adding that he’s posting the book to the Minister, with the relevant pages marked. Sure enough, the sound of a rustling envelope is heard in the background. “That isn’t some cheap stunt. People need to know these things,” D’Arcy says, protesting just a little too much. Even so, the host’s theatrics seem driven by real conviction, injecting much-needed energy into proceedings.

It's just one of several compelling items that D'Arcy hosts throughout the week, as he reminds listeners (and, ahem, critics) of his broadcasting chops. His discussion with Senator Lynn Ruane about addiction is both in-depth and wide-ranging, spurred by the host's obvious engagement with the issues.

Meanwhile, his conversation about a new documentary on the late singer-songwriter Fergus O'Farrell, with his father, Vincent, and the filmmaker Michael McCormack, focuses on the singer's struggles with muscular dystrophy yet is anything but maudlin. Instead it's awash with fond anecdotes and raucous laughter, making for uplifting radio.

Kudos to D'Arcy – at least someone has a good week.

Moment of the Week

Usually the weekend host on Rising Time (RTÉ Radio 1), Lilian Smith has motored along nicely during her weekday stint over the past fortnight. But she has a near-miss on Wednesday morning as she checks in with Gráinne Brookfield for the traffic update.

After exchanging pleasantries, Smith asks if the roads are quiet. “It looks it, yeah,” replies Brookfield, who suddenly adopts a slightly more urgent tone: “Is that my link there?” “Yeah, you’re on,” replies the phlegmatic Smith. Brookfield apologises: “I thought you were just checking for the chats.”

Smith is amused but also clear: “We can have the chats as well, but you’re live on air.” “Fabulous,” says Brookfield, presumably relieved that she didn’t say anything indiscreet. After all, it’s best to avoid car-crash radio during a traffic report.