Philip Boucher-Hayes isn’t having any of it, and Éanna Ní Lamhna goes wild

Radio: Tetchy climate conversations and fiery exchanges could fuel entire RTÉ programmes

Discussions around climate change are inevitably heated – especially when there’s an oil man involved. On Monday, Philip Boucher-Hayes (standing in on Today with Claire Byrne, RTÉ Radio 1) starts the show with a follow-up to that day’s Irish Times front-page story which reports that a “key plank of Government’s climate plan faces legal challenge from oil industry”.

Kevin McPartlan, from the cosy sounding Fuels for Ireland (until recently called the Irish Petroleum Industry Association with its trigger-worthy word “Petroleum? Isn’t the world burning?” in the lobby group’s title) is on air to explain.

From the off Boucher-Hayes isn’t having any of it; his tone is sceptical and his voice at the pitch broadcasters reach when they can’t come straight out with “the neck of you” – though as the tetchy interview goes on, he seems close to saying just that.

McPartlan’s point is that the Government isn’t doing enough to meet its transport targets so it’s unfair that petrol and diesel suppliers should be penalised. The way he pitches it is that this is his organisation fighting for the consumer.


“Your hands are tied, you can’t introduce efficiencies?” baits Boucher-Hayes, who in response to McPartlan’s query as to what those efficiencies might be, rattles off four. As farming representatives discovered in many bruising encounters in the same studio while the agriculture emissions targets were being agreed at Cabinet, climate change is a specialist subject for Byrne’s holiday stand in, who has spent chunks of the past year making (the excellent) Hot Mess climate change podcast and so has an array of sobering facts and terrifying figures at all times on the tip of his tongue.

Those efficiencies – including paying for a guy on the forecourt to check motorists’ tyre pressures so as to reduce fuel consumption or funding eco driving courses are quickly swatted away by McPartlan as “tiny” and “tinkering around the edges”. McPartlan says: “Are you asking us to do the State’s job?” – which by that point sounds like a rhetorical question. And the confrontation goes on.

In the future petrol forecourts as we know them will surely be consigned to history, and the host says: “You guys are raging against the dying of the light.” “Sorry Philip you’re asking the questions and you’re answering them”, says McPartlan who uses the host’s first name several times which in the calmest of radio interactions sounds oily, and here it’s a mark of the lobbyist’s exasperation at the way the interview is going.

Things get heated too – that’s climate discussions for you – on the normally calm Mooney Goes Wild (RTÉ Radio 1, Sunday) which starts out with a lovely item on the introduction of (now) more than 60 goats on Howth hill on Dublin’s northside to create firebreaks by eating flammable vegetation such as gorse. Melissa Jeuken, the goatherd, explains that fences aren’t needed as the goats have GPS systems on their collars which corral them and the herd is divided into three with teenage male goats sent in first to clear the ground because they eat the toughest stuff, the matriarchs next to clear up and lastly the youngest goats to nibble around.

That gentle image of bucolic land management is quickly blown away by the follow-up discussion, also on wildfires, between the programme’s resident panel and their guest, forestry inspector Ciaran Nugent. He runs through how, where and when wild fires happen mentioning illegal dumping and campfires as well as other human behaviours, either accidental or intentional. “A lot of the reports focus on farming, that’s less prevalent now,” he says. He’s hit the hot topic button. Éanna Ní Lamhna gets straight to her point: “The dogs in the streets know land owners are setting gorse fires,” she says, pointing out “we’re a great country for legislation” without follow-up and implementation.

The official counters that there have been prosecutions and fines and fires on farmland are monitored. “Well it must be the greatest secret ever that there are prosecutions,” Ní Lamhna says. “I haven’t seen an example of anyone being made... I think you are letting them off too easily indeed.” And on it goes – a conversation that could fuel an entire programme.

The Fighter, the first in the three-part documentary series My Passion My Power (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday) tells the story – mostly in her own voice – of Dubliner Mary-Kate Slattery who, at 11 years old, was hospitalised for a year in the UK at the Great Ormond Street Hospital. She was suffering from the eating disorder anorexia, and after years of looking for help in the Irish system – she was diagnosed at the age of nine – and acknowledging that doctors here did their best with the resources available to them, she secured one of the two international beds in the specialist unit in the hospital.

“We’ll pay whatever it takes,” her dad remembers saying on visiting the unit and seeing what they could offer his daughter until he was firmly told that admission to the NHS facility was purely on clinical need, and his daughter was in great need. Her parents talk about their confusion and fear on discovering their very young daughter was not eating, of “not knowing where to turn”, the impact on the family (something rarely discussed) – “Life needs to go on, we’ve two other kids” — and their search for a diagnosis and treatment for something they had barely heard of.

“Don’t be ashamed, just get help” is their message, “It’s a long road, it’s all about talking at the end of the day.” For the documentary, Slattery, now a 24-year-old law graduate and a successful amateur boxer, goes back to London to meet her psychiatrist Dr John Golden who talks about the hospital’s therapeutic approach to treatment and who remembers her arriving as a “very lost, very sick, very sad little girl”.

The contrast between then and now is stark in this uplifting story of recovery. “I want to share because not everyone makes a full recovery from anorexia... but there are other people out there and they got better” she says on this intimate, worthwhile documentary that I suspect gives solace to those listeners who are where Slattery and her family were over a decade ago.

Radio moment of the week

“The heatwave has begun,” says Oliver Callan on Wednesday (standing in on The Ryan Tubridy Show, RTÉ Radio 1), “feel free to complain about the heat but do it in our own vernacular”. He starts the ball rolling: “Up in Monaghan we’d say the oxters is burnt off me” (I won’t hazard the Monaghanese spelling of oxters) or “the sweat is rowling off ya” – not rolling, rowling, he explains. “You could rear piglets outside,” which is a bit on the agricultural side for me to understand. Later he warns about listener texts, “people have got a bit sweary”, he says before reading, “In Galway, the men all complain of scalded a***s in this weather”. That business of Inuits having 100 words for snow is surely well beaten by the end of a week with Irish sayings for “the heat”.

Bernice Harrison

Bernice Harrison

Bernice Harrison is an Irish Times journalist