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Kieran Cuddihy searches for festive joy, Pat Kenny warns of Christmas tree surprises

Radio: Anti-immigrant attitudes worry Hard Shoulder host, while his Newstalk colleague is wary of seasonal speedbumps

‘Tis the season to be jolly, but it is difficult to feel much gaiety when the only Yuletide glow is emanating from an arsonist’s flames. It’s Monday, and Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) kicks off the week before Christmas with the news that a hotel in Rosscahill, Co Galway, has been deliberately set on fire, to prevent asylum seekers taking up residence there. Speaking to presenter Gavin Jennings, Fianna Fáil county councillor Noel Thomas expresses his disgust at the act: “Everyone is gutted,” he says, an unfortunate phrase in the aftermath of a blaze – before delivering a message that harks back to the very first Christmas, albeit in an unexpected manner.

“We really have to start realising that the inn is full,” Thomas says firmly, demanding that the Government no longer accept people seeking asylum in Ireland. And not a manger in sight as a fallback. The councillor also stands by his support for an earlier blockade to protest the arrival of 70 male refugees at the now damaged hotel, claiming their presence could “instil a certain amount of fear” locally. Pressed by Jennings to be more specific, Thomas suggests “there may be some antisocial behaviour”. Given a building has been torched, he may have a point, though possibly not the one he intended.

Either way, the whole dreadful affair underlines how the issue of immigration has been thrust to the forefront of public discussion this year. The subject dominates proceedings elsewhere, with Kieran Cuddihy covering the topic extensively on The Hard Shoulder (Newstalk, weekdays). Cuddihy is pessimistic about anyone being brought to justice over the fire, indignantly reeling off a litany of unpunished arson attacks on refugee accommodation in recent years. “We won’t be holding our breath,” he says. “When people keep getting away with it, they’ll keep doing it.”

We all know Christmas is full of surprises, but the one thing you don’t want find under your tree is an STI

—  Pat Kenny

His guests are similarly glum. Broadcaster and author Emer O’Neill talks about the effect of such actions on people of colour, concluding that “burning down our country is not the answer”. Meanwhile, restaurateur JP McMahon decries the “fearmongering and misinformation” that often surrounds the topic of immigration, particularly when it comes to young male asylum seekers. “We’re all unvetted males,” he notes ruefully. Cuddihy, by way of balance, wonders if there are legitimate questions – “not necessarily racist” – to be asked about the wisdom of locating people in small communities, and wonders if the Government is making things worse by not addressing such worries. It’s a pertinent query, but McMahon’s response is simple and powerful. “We should be less afraid,” he says. “We have a very short memory of how many countries welcomed us.” You never know when you need an accommodating innkeeper.


More cheerfully, Cuddihy covers other festive rituals, and – just as crucially – how to survive them. Television chef Edward Hayden shares tips on cooking Christmas dinner, while toy shop owner Ruth Roberts gives advice on family board games, a pastime that can be as fraught as roasting any turkey. Keeping things simple, fun and inclusive is the key to success in both areas, seemingly. As for Cuddihy, he continues to sound like he’s enjoying himself on-air, no matter what the topic: while not exactly ho-ho-ho in his delivery, his spirited presence keeps listeners buoyed, which is something to be grateful for.

For his part, Pat Kenny (Newstalk, weekdays) is keen that people don’t get too carried away with their carousing in the run-up to the big day. “We all know Christmas is full of surprises, but the one thing you don’t want find under your tree is an STI,” Kenny forebodingly intones on Wednesday. This is prime Kenny: unless “tree” is a euphemism I’m unfamiliar with, it’s a perplexingly unsettling metaphor to use about sexually transmitted diseases.

But the seasonal theme is apparently appropriate. Consultant Dr Aisling Loy tells Kenny that such infections can surge in the more uninhibited atmosphere that pervades Christmas parties. “People get a bit too merry,” she says tactfully, though her host looks for more detail: “Is it work colleagues who fancy each other and finally get it on?” It’s a serious issue, however. Dr Loy outlines the varying incubation periods and painful effects of such infections, with women more likely to suffer significant consequences. As a result of this cautionary item, Kenny’s later chat with horticulturalist Paraic Horkan about the traditions around mistletoe seems somehow less carefree.

Then again, as psychologist Niamh Fitzpatrick reminds Kenny, many people feel anything but celebratory at this time of year, with personal loss often felt more acutely amid the revelries. “If you have that empty chair and you’re missing that person,” Fitzpatrick says, “it doesn’t necessarily feel like the most wonderful time of the year.” Despite the melancholy subject matter, it’s a practical yet moving conversation. With Kenny at his most empathetic – not always a given – his guest talks candidly about getting through her first Christmas after the death of her sister Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, the Coast Guard pilot who died in a 2017 helicopter crash along with three colleagues. Fitzpatrick also offers wise counsel for the bereaved – “Allow yourself to lean into those feelings” – and those around them: “We don’t need to force people into festivities.”

For those who are unable to avoid the mandatory merriment of family gatherings, comedian Jarlath Regan offers lighthearted suggestions on staying calm in the face of triggering statements such as: “Ah Jaysus, you’re no craic any more.” Kenny chuckles his way through the segment, while hinting that he needs little help when it comes to savouring Christmas. Asked by Regan about his seasonal duties, the host is positively gleeful: “For public consumption, I’d say I did the cooking and cleaning up, but privately, I just eat, drink and be merry.” With everything that’s going on, we might all follow Kenny’s example. Just be careful about what’s lurking under that tree.