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Pat Kenny’s conversation with Michael O’Leary turns the air sulphuric

Radio: As one of Ireland’s most experienced interviewers, Pat Kenny is forensic in his questioning. But not, seemingly, with Michael O’Leary this week

A win for Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary as Newstalk gives him unfettered access to the airwaves. Photograph: PA

It doesn’t take long for The Pat Kenny Show’s interview with Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss, to descend into pub-bore bingo (Newstalk, Monday).

The new national children’s hospital is in the wrong location: check. Refugees a “complete scam”: check. Refugees flushing their papers down the toilet mid-flight: check. Empty bicycle lanes: check. The put-upon motorist: check.

None of this is surprising in one respect: O’Leary may be the guiding force behind one of Ireland biggest business-success stories, and as such must surely have measured insights to offer, but once a mic goes on we know from previous form that he will take scattergun shots to vent his apparent frustration at the idiocy of everyone who isn’t him.

What is surprising is Kenny’s role in the interview. As one of the most experienced and skilled interviewers on the airwaves, he is forensic in his questioning and analysis. But not, seemingly, when it’s O’Leary across the table.


For the bulk of the interview the airline group’s chief executive uses the airtime to complain about the “insane and stupid” passenger cap at Dublin Airport – lobbying on air, the reason he’s in the studio and a win for him when Newstalk is prepared to give him such apparently unfettered access.

If the person who basically owns the aircraft toilets makes a claim about flushed passports – a theory beloved of right-wing keyboard warriors – doesn’t that at least deserve several clarifying questions?

But then the conversation loosens even further and the hot air turns sulphuric.

If, say, one of the election candidates had been in Kenny’s studio last month and used the words “complete scam” in relation to refugees – as O’Leary does – wouldn’t he have been challenged on his views? I suspect so.

And if that same person then qualified his hot take with, “We should look after refugees. I have great sympathy for the Ukrainians,” mightn’t listeners of a current-affairs show expect him to be pressed to explain what he means in his differentiation?

Also if the person who basically owns the toilets makes a claim about flushed passports – a theory beloved of right-wing keyboard warriors – doesn’t that at least deserve several clarifying questions?

The one person O’Leary namechecks many times is Eamon Ryan. The aviation boss sounds weirdly obsessed. Why else would he stoop to personal insults such as describing the Minister for Transport as having a “gormless smile”?

‘An absolute privilege’: Ryan departs as Green Party leader and will not run in next electionOpens in new window ]

I think of this jibe the following day when RTÉ Radio 1 broadcasts Ryan’s lunchtime resignation speech as leader of the Green Party. He refers to the toxicity on social media and the vile personal online comments he’s received; later he tells Kieran Cuddihy on The Hard Shoulder (Newstalk) that in the real world he has found people to be actually “sound”. Well, maybe not all.

Ryan does the rounds of the drive-time shows – although he apparently swerves RTÉ radio 1′s early-evening news show, favouring Claire Byrne on Wednesday morning.

Ian Guider, sitting in for Matt Cooper on The Last Word (Today FM, Tuesday), opts for a standard and fairly bullish Green Party policy interview while over on Newstalk Cuddihy is more in tune with the mood of the day. The broadcaster knows that this is the time for an amiable conversation around career highs, lows and challenges, while also picking up on Ryan’s resignation speech that talked of time for new leadership, his family commitments, his pride in his party and his admission of a key failure: the perception that the Greens are anti-rural Ireland.

When Ryan started his career a single criticism had him up all night worrying. Not any more

Leaving a job “to spend more time with the family” is one of those reasons, regularly trotted out by business leaders and politicians, that are usually greeted with a sharply raised eyebrow, and often for good reason. Not in this case. His authenticity shines through, as does his love for his family; in every interview Ryan mentions his commitments at home with particular reference to his adult son with special needs.

Asked about the most challenging time in his 30 years in politics, he says it was during the financial crash but also during the Covid pandemic, when he and his Cabinet colleagues were making life-and-death decisions.

The dust in politics doesn’t take long to settle, and by the following day the conversation has turned to who might succeed him as party leader. In studio with Claire Byrne he is pressed on he would favour, but Ryan has been around the block too many times to take a public view or endorse one of his colleagues.

In a reflective mood he describes politics as “an honourable profession to serve the public and do the best you can”. He talks of his hope that the abuse experienced by public representatives doesn’t deter a younger generation getting involved.

What's behind Eamon Ryan's shock resignation?

Listen | 17:42

The Green Party leader, Eamon Ryan, is stepping down after 13 years at the helm. Who is likely to succeed Ryan as the party leader? Presented by Bernice Harrison. Produced by Aideen Finnegan.

Byrne presses him on the abuse increasingly targeted at politicians at every level, some of it highly personal. “You had,” she says, “a particular experience personified by the relationship with Michael O’Leary.” She goes on to remind him – though he probably doesn’t need reminding – that “he called you a dunce, he called you an idiot”. Then she says that on the day he announced his resignation the airline posted on X what could only be read as yet another personal attack.;It’s too pathetic to bother describing here.

She asks Ryan if he could have handled the relationship differently to avoid that happening. A less measured person might have replied by asking Byrne if she had met O’Leary. But, not to be baited, Ryan replies that he has never made a personal comment about Micheal O’Leary or Ryanair. “It doesn’t reflect well on them. That’s not something I could get engaged with.” The politician taking the higher ground, way above the airline boss.

When Ryan started his career a single criticism had him up all night worrying. Not any more. Throughout, he sounds relaxed and upbeat, a man completely at ease with himself and his decision.

Mick Heaney is away

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