As if there wasn’t enough to worry about already, here comes Kieran Cuddihy to brighten up the day with talk of another existential threat to humanity. On Tuesday, the host of The Hard Shoulder (Newstalk, weekdays) hears of the cataclysmic scenario that will surely result should the unthinkable ever happen, and the national herd be slightly reduced. This is according to Independent TD Mattie McGrath, for whom the possibility of 65,000 dairy cattle being culled to meet Ireland’s environmental targets is a prelude to Armageddon.
“We have predictions of dire consequences of the climate crisis, but are we going to die off ahead of it? Are we going to have no food to feed ourselves?” asks McGrath in his characteristically understated fashion. Faced with this grim prognosis, Cuddihy sounds more amused than alarmed. “This is very apocalyptic now, Mattie,” he drily remarks.
In truth, Cuddihy would probably be disappointed if his guest were more measured: McGrath isn’t a regular fixture on the airwaves because of his coolly forensic demeanour. When the host notes that any cull would be voluntary, affecting only a fraction of the herd, it cuts no ice with McGrath, who claims the destruction of farming is the ultimate objective of that most insidious of elitist cabals, “the climate people”. “People are silenced and literally cancelled if they go against the narrative,” complains the deputy, his own ubiquity undermining his assertion just a smidge.
While McGrath makes some salient points in passing, for instance the outsize power of conglomerates in agriculture, they get lost amid the showboating. If nothing else, the interview exemplifies the rather showy spirit of open debate that runs through the Hard Shoulder: the blessed dairy cattle aside, no sacred cow is safe.
Hence, Monday’s programme sees a discussion on whether Ireland has taken in too many refugees, after a newspaper poll finds that three-quarters of respondents believe this. Cuddihy asks if “Ireland is full”, a phrase previously associated with fringe right-wingers, now seemingly normalised on Newstalk. Given the contentious set-up, the encounter between John McGuirk of conservative website gript.ie and Tom McEneaney of Effective Aid Ukraine is respectful in tone, despite their divergent views. McGuirk talks about migrants being “shoved” into communities, while appearing to project some empathy for the refugees: “We’re putting people into State-run slums,” he says.
But McGuirk seems especially exercised that anyone with anti-immigration views should be dismissed as “far-right”. Slightly nonplussed, Cuddihy observes that McGuirk is on national radio attacking immigration policy, “and nobody’s calling you any names”. It gives a flavour of the host’s own opinions on the issue, as does his assertion that banning refugees is “morally dubious”. That said, it’s hard not to be depressed by the item, indicating as it does a changing tenor of conversations on the issue.
On this evidence, the AI dystopia will be more like being trapped in a new age healing session
But generally, Cuddihy’s approach of unabashed engagement and mordant wisecracks ensures that things rarely seem too bleak, even the possible extinction of humankind. His segment on the recent warning by tech leaders on the ruinous potential of artificial intelligence is sobering rather than terrifying: his expert guests are more worried about current abuses of AI than our serfdom under computer overlords.
He draws further comfort from Wednesday’s interview with AI-generated singer Desdemona at the Dublin Tech Summit. “If you want to know what a robot apocalypse looks like, tune in later in the show,” the host jokes. His glib air is justified. Desdemona is less HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey than a microdosed Alexa. “I am messenger of the future,” a disembodied virtual voice tells Cuddihy. “Our music is a bridge between the seen and unseen.” On this evidence, the AI dystopia will be more like being trapped in a new age healing session. With the affably fatalistic Cuddihy at the helm, even the end of the world doesn’t seem so bad.
The mood is more sombre on Today with Claire Byrne (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), as the host hears about the devastating impact when medical care is tempered by bureaucratic and financial factors. Byrne speaks to Gabrielle McGovern, whose treatment for terminal cancer with the drug Trodelvy is in doubt unless the medication is cleared by the HSE for use by patients without health insurance. “I’m waiting to see if it can be approved, so I can basically live longer,” she says.
The interview is equal parts frustration and heartbreak. A civil servant, McGovern understands how due process works, but she cannot see that being applied in this case, so opaque is the system. And she needs a decision urgently. Where her hospital had previously secured her Trodelvy, Gabrielle now faces a calamitous gap in treatment unless the drug is made available or she raises the five-figure sum necessary for each dose.
Byrne is typically thorough as she asks about the practicalities of the medication, but is clearly moved when McGovern talks about wanting to live as long – and as normally – as possible to leave positive memories for her two young sons. There’s no mistaking Byrne’s emotion as she reassures Gabrielle that her children will remember her, with the host sounding more upset than her remarkably composed guest. “I’m amazed that you’re able to talk about this,” says Byrne.
It’s a difficult conversation, but vital too, allowing a poignant perspective on how officious regulation and eye-watering cost can slow pharmacological advances, taking an immense toll on people in already impossible situations. Byrne promises to try to help McGovern, “if people are listening who can have an influence on this decision”. But she sounds unusually, if understandably, forlorn. Nonetheless, it’s an exemplary piece of broadcasting: on radio, one person’s story is all it takes to stop us in our tracks.