Rodney Rice turns thoughts to home after 40 years of talking politics at RTÉ

 

A highly-regarded broadcaster will retire today after a career he regards as a ‘privilege’, writes ALISON HEALY

MORE THAN 40 years ago, a young Northerner called Rodney Rice arrived in RTÉ to start his new job. The 24-year-old was due to start work on the current affairs programme 7 Days. “But they’d forgotten I was coming so I was sent out to have a coffee. I came back the next day.”

His bosses may have forgotten his arrival but they won’t forget his departure as he signs off on Saturday Viewfor the last time today and retires from RTÉ.

He is extremely well-regarded in RTÉ, both by colleagues and by the politicians he interviews. He has presented Saturday Viewfor a quarter of a century and the development programme Worlds Apartfor 23 years.

Today’s show will end with an interview with Taoiseach Brian Cowen. In fact, when asked about the politicians he enjoyed interviewing, Cowen’s name is mentioned. He describes him as good company and “the most bright guy having the most unfortunate time”. Garret FitzGerald and Jack Lynch are also name-checked as ideal interviewees.

“I respect politicians, but I don’t think I was ever blown away by any of them,” he says.

However, if he had to single out one outstanding figure, it would be former Labour Party leader Frank Cluskey. “We hit it off straight away,” he recalls. “It was his system of values. He cared about his community and he was also a quintessential Dub. He was a great, great character.”

Rice’s fascination with politics and development issues has dominated his life. Born in Whiteabbey, Co Antrim, he studied history and political science at Trinity College before getting a job in the Belfast Telegraph.

About a year later he received a call out of the blue from RTÉ and began his career with the station in December 1968.

“I kissed the mammy a fond farewell but I was back before I knew it,” he says. His first job was working on a package about the civil rights movement and he would then spend about four years working on Northern Ireland issues.

Controversy in the Dáil over a programme on money-lending resulted in the break-up of the 7 Daysteam and he transferred to radio in 1972, when it was still based at the GPO.

Two years later, he began presenting Here and Now, similar in content and time slot to Today with Pat Kenny.

A decade later, he began presenting Saturday View, which was a lunchtime chat show at that time. “It had more of a Doheny and Nesbitt feel to it but I’m very political in orientation so I began bringing in actual politicians rather than observers,” he says.

During the 1990 presidential campaign the then Fianna Fáil minister Pádraig Flynn caused offence by referring to what he called Mary Robinson’s new-found interest in her family.

“And bang, it was all over [for Brian Lenihan’s presidential campaign],” Rice says.

He modestly downplays his role in the Flynn episode. “I wasn’t saying anything terribly important to get it out of him,” he says. “My only contribution was to stop the panel in Dublin from actually interrupting him. He was in Castlebar.”

As soon as he heard the words, Rice knew it was the final nail in the coffin for Lenihan, as it followed a difficult appearance on Questions & Answers.

“Michael McDowell just went for him. It was one of the electrifying moments on radio.”

His work on Worlds Apartled to him being banned from South Africa in 1981 for 10 years, after a programme on the apartheid regime. “I was just appalled by what went on,” he says.

He hopes to continue his involvement with development issues with one or two radio documentaries from Africa. “And I’ll see where it goes from there.”

In the meantime, he will reintroduce himself to his wife Margo and three children: Cian, a financial consultant; Caitríona, who works with Frontline, which protects human rights defenders; and Eoghan, a former Sunday Tribunejournalist who now works with the FAI.

Rice says he likes to think that he has seen a lot of the world, but his children still manage to travel to places he’s never been. It sounds like some more travel is on the cards.

“I’ve had a blessed life and a wonderful life with Saturday Viewand Worlds Apart.I couldn’t choose two things that I’d rather do,” he says.

“For a quarter of a century doing those two things I never felt that I wanted to do anything else.It’s been a privilege.”