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An incredulous Pat Kenny keeps his cool at Israeli ambassador’s ‘hollow-sounding’ concern for Palestinians

Radio: Newstalk host is perplexed by diplomat’s unbending stance on conflict that also dominates RTÉ Radio 1′s Drivetime

Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) isn’t usually the most touchy-feely of programmes, but its presenters have been getting in touch with their emotions of late.

“When was the last time you’ve had a cry?” Sarah McInerney asks on Monday as she discusses the reasons for blubbing. She muses whether parenthood or ageing makes people more prone to shedding a tear, then hits on a starker explanation: “I wonder is it anything to do with the state of the world over the past couple of years?” Her cohost, Cormac Ó hEadhra, suggests that personal loss in later years is a factor. “You can go for decades without crying, and then the dam bursts,” he says before fretting that he’s getting too deep: “It feels like we’ve been in therapy together.”

Indeed it does, but not in the way he thinks. So distressing are the stories of violence and loss from Gaza and Israel featured elsewhere on Drivetime that it would be only natural if listeners sought solace in therapeutic sessions or simply sobbing in despair.

On Monday the Gaza-based plastic surgeon Ghassan Abu-Sittah starkly describes the horrific conditions all around him, from his lack of operating capacity to the festering wounds he sees; his account of the effects of phosphorus bombs on human flesh is particularly gruesome. Tuesday brings no respite, as the reporter Una Kelly chronicles the atrocities committed by Hamas against Israeli civilians, as documented in a video of raw footage screened by the Israeli embassy to mark the month since the attacks that triggered the current carnage.


Hope is in short supply. The Israeli peace campaigner Gershon Baskin, who previously negotiated the release of hostages for prisoners, is clear-eyed about the pressure-cooker conditions in Gaza that feed Palestinian anger. “You can’t keep two million people locked up like that and expect them to simply acquiesce,” he tells McInerney. But he’s also deeply pessimistic about the likelihood of any negotiated settlement, believing Hamas has forfeited its right to govern after its massacres: “You cannot be a human being and not be shocked by what they did.”

Baskin hasn’t completely given up on peace – “We need a Belfast moment,” he says – but it appears a forlorn aspiration. And that’s before Ó hEadhra’s interview with the deputy prime minister of Ukraine, Olha Stefanishyna, which provides a sobering reminder that Russia’s invasion continues to wreak destruction on that country, even as it’s shunted from the headlines by the bloodshed in the Middle East.

After all that, the shortage of teachers in Irish schools might seem like a joyful distraction. Instead it’s merely infuriating. Regarding the number of positions currently vacant, a Carlow principal, Simon Lewis, tells McInerney: “I’ve never seen the situation so bad.” The factors are wearily familiar, from more challenging work conditions and increased bureaucracy to the “nigh-impossible” chance of landing a permanent job. It’s only a brief item, but it throws a stubborn pinch point in public policy into sharp relief.

That’s the job of any self-respecting news show, of course, one that the Drivetime duo still do with vim, even if Ó hEadhra sometimes seems to relish argument for its own sake. But, when they’re at their best, the pair’s tag-team approach makes for invigorating current-affairs radio, by turns thorough and accessible and, as their Gaza coverage underlines, unflinching. As well as chipping into each other’s interviews with additional questions, the two presenters continue to engage in zippy repartee – the atmosphere is more Newstalk than Radio 1, truth be told – while largely avoiding the stagey disagreements that can sometimes bedevil radio double acts, McInerney’s eye-rolling exasperation at Ó hEadhra’s leaden humour notwithstanding: “You always just take it that little bit too far,” she remarks in long-suffering fashion on Monday.

This lively on-air ambience is in stark contrast to the rock-bottom morale across RTÉ, where a sweeping cutbacks plan is due to be unveiled next week, to the likely accompaniment of weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Everyone feels better after a good cry,” McInerney reckons. It remains to be seen.

“We see the Palestinians not as our enemy but as our neighbours,” says Dana Erlich, Israel’s ambassador to Ireland. With friends like this, etc. Showing great forbearance, Pat Kenny eschews such sarcastic rejoinders

There’s not much to feel good about on Tuesday’s Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays) when the presenter interviews Dana Erlich, Israel’s ambassador to Ireland. Kenny seeks to engage rather than spar with his guest, initially discussing the hostages taken by Hamas, now presumed to include the eight-year-old Irish-Israeli girl Emily Hand. But while the host is sympathetic about the dreadful events of October 7th, he grows perplexed by the ambassador’s unbending stance that “Hamas is responsible for everything that is going on”, as though Israel has no agency in its military’s razing of Gaza.

When Kenny posits the grimly logical notion that by killing and maiming thousands of children “Israel acts as a recruiting sergeant for the next generation of Hamas”, Erlich rejects the idea. “We need to break that cycle,” she says, without explaining how relentless bombardment might achieve this. As befits a diplomat, Erlich largely uses measured language throughout, claiming Israel adheres to international law even as it flattens a city, and insisting Hamas is the target, not Gaza’s civilian population. “We see the Palestinians not as our enemy but as our neighbours,” she says. With friends like this, etc. Showing great forbearance, Kenny eschews such sarcastic rejoinders. He maintains his calm demeanour, though he sounds incredulous at the ambassador’s assertions. “Expressing concern for the Palestinians sounds a bit hollow when over 10,000 have been killed,” he says bluntly.

Yet again, the overwhelming emotion for the listener is one of hopelessness. After his encounter with Erlich, it’s hard to disagree with Kenny’s Manichean portrayal of the Gaza catastrophe: “It’s them or us.” (Nothing Hamas has said detracts from this view.) The tears of grief and anger will be flowing for a long time to come.