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Sarah McInerney’s lethally loaded question leaves her guest flummoxed for an answer

Radio: Drivetime host’s approach is tested by Gazan horrors, while Stephen Rea is a sinister presence on Drama On One

One of the most important skills for any current affairs broadcaster is the ability to ask tough questions that get to the core of an issue, no matter how uncomfortable the answer might be. So kudos to Sarah McInerney for the uncompromisingly inquisitorial tone she brings to the vexed subject of migration on Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). Rather than take the populist route of questioning the number of immigrants arriving in Ireland, she asks why anyone would return to Ireland once they’ve left. Discussing a Government campaign aimed at wooing expatriate Irish construction workers home on Monday’s show, McInerney wonders what could possibly tempt them back.

“You’re in a lovely apartment in Sydney, you get to go to Bondi Beach every weekend, there’s always sun, and you’re getting good pay,” the presenter muses wistfully, “And your option is to come home here, and bunk in your old bed or share a room with your brother. And there’s the rain. Why would you do that?” It’s a lethally loaded question which leaves her guest, Hubert Fitzpatrick of the Construction Industry Federation, flummoxed for an answer. “There’s a quality of life here that people really appreciate, we’ve an awful lot to offer,” Fitzpatrick replies, without offering any specifics.

McInerney may not be working for Fáilte Ireland any time soon, but her takedown crystallises the reasons why many emigrants are reluctant to come home. (Another of McInerney’s items, about the need for better policing and transport in Dublin, adds another layer of factors.) After hearing that, the question may be wondering why Ireland isn’t emptier.

This is facetious, of course. As a wealthy, peaceful country, Ireland is an attractive place to live, at least if you have somewhere to live. By contrast, there can be few more hellish places on Earth right now than Gaza, as underlined by McInerney’s devastating conversation with Irish-based Palestinian woman Nour Ashour. In December, Nour appeared on Drivetime talking about the plight of her Gaza-resident sister Aya, then 29 weeks pregnant; the interview prompted Prof Chris Fitzpatrick, former master of the Coombe Hospital, to help.


As he explains, Aya was at risk due to previous Caesarean sections, but eventually qualified for medical evacuation to Egypt after Fitzpatrick contacted medics and officials. Even then, it was a traumatic experience, with Aya going into premature labour, while her husband and children were initially denied exit from Gaza. “It was like the movie Sophie’s Choice,” comments Fitzpatrick. Even now, things are grim. Aya and her family are stuck in Egypt, their passports confiscated: Ireland really would seem the ideal destination. Moreover, as Fitzpatrick notes, there are 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza, with 180 babies born every day: “This one case highlights the desperate situation that exists.”

As if this isn’t distressing enough, Nour adds a shattering coda: her 80-year-old father-in-law was recently killed when getting food for his family. “It was a definition of a war crime,” she says. “He didn’t do anything to get six bullets, everywhere in his body.” McInerney is stopped in her tracks. “I don’t know what else to say, other than I’m so sorry that your family is going through this,” the host says hesitantly.

McInerney raises the killing with Israeli army spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner, who disregards Nour’s testimony because she wasn’t there for the incident. “Perhaps it was a Hamas fighter hiding behind her father-in-law conducting an attack,” he says, crudely trying to shift the blame. It turns out to be typical of this encounter, alas. McInerney calmly quizzes her guest with well-informed if inevitably upsetting questions, only to be met with blandishments. When she asks whether a baby killed in an air strike on Rafah was a legitimate target, Lerner talks about war being forced on Israel, before coolly if preposterously insisting: “We are going out of our way to limit the civilian strife.” McInerney does her best, but even the most rigorous grilling cannot dent her guest’s callous determination to ignore the carnage being wrought by Israel’s forces.

Still, the item underscores McInerney’s tenacity, as well as her composure: though a formidable interviewer, she eschews the occasionally wanton bellicosity of her co-presenter Cormac Ó hEadhra. She also has a lighter touch than her colleague, who sometimes treats the show as an open mic night for his would-be comic stylings. Flying solo on Wednesday’s programme, McInerney merrily chats with author Edel Coffey about “revenge bedtime procrastination”, the practice of forgoing sleep for leisure activities after a long work day. The host sheepishly admits to reading until 2am the night before, despite being tired: “It’s not good for you, is it. Or is it?” When Coffey outlines the health issues linked to sleep deprivation, McInerney chuckles nervously: “Oh no.” Clearly, there are some questions she doesn’t want to know the answer to.

An ominous thread of mystery runs through Drama On One: The Shepherd (RTÉ Radio 1, Sunday). Why has Darragh (Stephen Rea) turned up uninvited in the home of new parents Jim (Rory Keenan) and Louise (Katy Baker), and what does he want? Garret Baker’s tense play is studded with hidden secrets and unwanted revelations, as the couple’s seemingly idyllic household is shattered by their sinister guest.

Though there is a Faustian element to proceedings – Darragh’s faintly diabolical character is there to collect a debt – the narrative takes a more conventional if seedier turn as Darragh’s demands grow ever more violative. Eventually, something has to give. Baker’s script doesn’t entirely gel: there are elements of class politics, economic injustice and even sexual violence, but also a dusting of Grand Guignol. But it’s also gripping, with Keenan and Baker bringing the requisite outrage and fear to their roles, while Rea’s performance is characteristically compelling, switching between avuncular threat and outright menace. When it comes to disturbing drama, there’s no place like home.

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