The ‘pack them tight’ landlord is a gift for Sarah McInerney

“You look delighted with yourself,” the RTÉ host curtly tells her cartoonish guest

As the lockdown is further lifted, there's a sense of nervous excitement among retailers as they finally reopen. At least that's how it seems to the reporter Evelyn O'Rourke when she visits Newbridge for Monday's edition of Today with Sarah McInerney (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays).

Speaking to shopkeepers in the Co Kildare town, the talk is of cautious optimism at being able to meet customers again. But by the next day it becomes clear that there’s room for improvement when it comes to winding down anti-infection measures. One metre of room, to be precise.

On Tuesday, McInerney talks to Adrian Cummins of the Restaurants Association of Ireland about the next phase of the Government's plans, which will see the reopening of eateries (and a few drinkeries too). Far from being enthused by the prospect, Cummins says there is "huge concern" among the hospitality sector that businesses won't be able to operate under the new regulations. In particular, he thinks the 2m distance currently mandated between tables is unworkable in restaurants. "Most won't be able to reopen," he says bluntly.

The discussion's only upbeat participant is the ubiquitous epidemiologist Prof Sam McConkey, who adds to the cheer by calling for stringent measures to be maintained

Cummins sees other obstacles to reopening: he calls for VAT to be reduced to zero and for rates to be written off for the crippled sector. But “the big one” is for social distancing in restaurants to be lowered to 1m. “They know well it’s the only way to get it up and running,” he says. For Cummins, it’s not so much a case of having one’s cake and eating it as getting his space and seating it.


Other guests are even more forthright. Neil McDonnell of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association thinks that the State ignored the needs of his sector when rolling out rescue measures for the economy, which he thinks is reflective of a wider issue. “We need to get rid of the mindset that considers people who run their own business as sleeveen tax dodgers,” he says.

By now the optimism of the previous day has evaporated, something underlined by the fact that the discussion’s only upbeat participant is the ubiquitous epidemiologist Prof Sam McConkey, who adds to the cheer by calling for stringent measures to be maintained.

Throughout all this McInerney peppers her guests with pertinent questions but maintains a relatively low-key presence. With so much coverage of the retail and hospitality sectors – Brian O’Connell also reports on the challenges faced by reopening hotels, while McInerney interviews diners venturing out across Europe – the programme at times seems less a current-affairs magazine than a consumer-affairs show, a format that doesn’t necessarily suit the cut-and-thrust style of the host.

Luckily for McInerney, a juicier topic arrives ready wrapped on Wednesday when she deals with another contentious personal-space issue, in the form of a viral video suggesting that landlords double their rent by letting council houses to two families. She talks to Joe Doyle, the landlord responsible for the video and its tagline, “Pack them tight, collect the money”.

Doyle defends this as satire. “Is it funny?” asks a conspicuously unamused McInerney. When the guest responds it is “a bit of craic” – what else? – the host refers to the 2017 case in which 23 tenants were living a three-bedroom house in Dublin, wondering whether those people would find the video hurtful. “I didn’t give it any thought,” Doyle replies, with an honesty that’s depressing or refreshing, depending on your point of view.

Doyle then says it was “marketing” for an unspecified “big announcement”: the subsequent outrage proves the efficacy of his ploy, he adds. “You look delighted with yourself,” McInerney observes curtly.

When Sinn Féin’s housing spokesman, Eoin Ó Broin, joins the discussion, he is also dismissive but remarks that it’s a sideshow: “We’ve more important business.” Given the general fracturing of the world as we know it, this is a statement of the obvious. But then a guest as cartoonishly villainous as Doyle is a gift for any presenter, especially one as fond of the fray as McInerney, who in this instance also demonstrates a keen ear for entertaining radio.

You are beautiful, you are special, you are brave, you are smart, you are loved, you can be anything you want to be in this life. These words helped me overcome those feelings of hurt and pain. Don't let anyone take your light away

Beyond the easing of lockdown restrictions, the issue of racism continues to rumble across the airwaves. Between hearing yet more reports about reopening hotels, Mary Wilson on Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) talks to the veteran American civil-rights campaigner Jesse Jackson on the aftermath of the protests that followed George Floyd's killing by police in Minneapolis.

Those hoping for a stirring call to action may be in for a disappointment. As Wilson conducts the interview in uncharacteristically deferential fashion, Jackson is in expositional rather than inspirational mode. It’s only at the end, when he talks about a “new awakening” among the young, helped by social media, that echoes of the Jackson of yore can be heard. Still, it’s something of a coup for Wilson.

A more nuanced overview comes from US-based Irish novelist Colum McCann, when he appears on The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays). McCann places American racism in a context closer to home. "I do feel Irish people can understand this," he says, "We know what it's like to be kicked around." He highlights how both Irish- and African-Americans worked together building New York's first subway tunnels but notes the contrasting fortunes of the two communities since, putting much of it down to systemic inequities in education and opportunity.

Kenny, clearly thrilled at chatting to his articulate guest, eagerly chips in his own analysis about the power of money in the United States. But while McCann is deeply sympathetic to those protesting against discrimination, he is also alive to the ambiguities of the situation, such as NYPD officers of colour being taunted as racists. Instead, McCann aspires to “a revolution in how we accept one another”, though his melancholy tone suggests he doesn’t expect this any time soon.

When it comes to ending racial prejudice, the space between dream and reality remains stubbornly – and tragically – distant.

Radio Moment of the Week: Duffy digs deep on race

As the Black Lives Matter movement reverberates across the world, Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1) spends a second week exploring how racism is, unfortunately, alive and well in Ireland. Following the previous week’s heartbreaking conversation with 11-year-old Tré, who recounted the names he has been called for being black, Joe Duffy hears story after story of racial abuse encountered by people of colour. But there are glimmers of hope.

Martina, who is biracial, recalls having her ears covered by her mother on the bus to shield her from the epithets of other passengers. She addresses Tré, using the words her parents would say to her. “You are beautiful, you are special, you are brave, you are smart, you are loved, you can be anything you want to be in this life,” Martina says. “These words helped me overcome those feelings of hurt and pain... Don’t let anyone take your light away.” Duffy deserves credit for covering the issue, but Martina commands our respect.