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Pat Kenny is fuming – and it’s not because of his property dispute

Radio: Host tires of Charlie McConalogue’s vagueness as Ministers fudge pandemic plans

Every man has his breaking point, as Morgan Freeman observed in The Shawshank Redemption, and on Wednesday Pat Kenny reaches his.

And, no, it has nothing to do with any plans to build unwanted residences beside the broadcaster's Dalkey home. Rather, it happens after the host of The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays) has been quizzing Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue about the Government's pandemic plans only to be met by vagueness and evasion.

Eventually, Kenny has had enough. “You’re very good at just filling the time with platitudes,” he fumes, almost choking with exasperation.

'You just keep talking through my questions because you don't seem to have the answers,' Kenny mutters to Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue

Notwithstanding the fact that an ability to spout banalities is regarded in politics as a virtue rather than a vice, Kenny’s frustration is understandable. With lockdown again extended for all but a few pupils, the presenter is keen to find out “what the science is” behind school reopening, with case numbers higher this time around.


McConalogue says the Government is taking a “much more gradual approach”, with classes returning on a phased basis, but provides little detail. He then repeats variations of this answer to practically every question Kenny subsequently asks about school.

The Minister mixes this up with the mandatory bromides about the public being tired – no faeces, my dear Holmes – but there also being “light at the end of the tunnel”. By way of mitigation, he repeatedly asserts that if it weren’t for the UK variant, the country would only have a tenth of its current cases. Pesky microbiology, not co-operating with our plans.

Kenny is having none of this. Instead he highlights the Government’s sluggish movement on implementing quarantines or antigen tests. “We are becoming impatient with the lethargy,” Kenny says, characterising the official strategy as “Lock ’em down and try to vaccinate”. McConalogue does little to dispel this impression, rigidly sticking to his mantras and further irritating his host. “You just keep talking through my questions because you don’t seem to have the answers,” Kenny mutters.

The interview seems symptomatic of the wider situation. Certainly, Kenny’s disgruntled attitude echoes the wider public mood of disillusionment, though his much-publicised dispute with a property developer can’t have lifted his spirits either.

Under Kenny's furious questioning, McConalogue, and by extension the entire Cabinet, comes across as lacking in ideas, energy or forward planning

But it’s notable that he sounds far happier when interviewing the immunologist Prof Kingston Mills about how the vaccine rollout might proceed. Kenny is buoyed by his guest’s use of hard data and scientific fact rather than metronomic spin, leaving both host and listener feeling cautiously optimistic about the longer term. “Thanks for making us feel a little more cheerful,” the presenter says, expunging his ministerial clash from memory.

The Minister’s performance is likewise indicative of where we are. For all that he sticks to the official script, his rigidity speaks of inflexibility and nervousness. The pandemic is, of course, almost impossibly challenging, but under Kenny’s furious questioning, McConalogue, and by extension the entire Cabinet, come across as lacking in ideas, energy or forward planning. “You’re trying to pretend the Government is doing things. It’s not,” is Kenny’s withering verdict.

Or, as Roy Keane might have it, fail to prepare, prepare to fail. As for Kenny, on this showing he should have little to fear as Newstalk and its fellow Communicorp stations come under new ownership, passing from Denis O'Brien to Bauer Media, the German company that owns such high-profile British radio stations as Magic, Absolute, Scala, Planet Rock and Jazz FM (as well as Downtown Radio and Cool FM in Northern Ireland).

Elsewhere, Government figures continue sending out the wrong signals on the airwaves. Interviewed by Cormac Ó hEadhra on Monday's Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan sounds on top of her brief when discussing the return of schools.

But when Ó hEadhra asks if Madigan understands people’s frustration at being unable to travel 5km while there’s still no mandatory hotel quarantining for international arrivals, she plumps for rote empathy.

“We’re all frustrated. It’s extremely challenging for everyone at the moment,” the Minister says before, inevitably, talking about “light at the end of the tunnel”. When the host redirects his guest back to the actual question, she sounds almost surprised. “Oh, the mandatory quarantining? That legislation is coming in this week,” Madigan responds breezily.

When Ó hEadhra presses on when it will be operational, the answer is nebulous, at best: “I would imagine sooner rather than later.” Madigan’s blithe attitude is possibly unwitting, but it’s another ministerial media appearance that feeds the notion of a Government passing the buck on to a weary public.

The inchoate fury of Liveline's guests emphasises how tempers are fraying

Sure enough, a restive atmosphere pervades Tuesday's Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), though on this occasion the Government isn't the object of unhappiness, at least not at first. Instead Joe Duffy hears callers express their outrage at Keith Flynn and Lyndsey Clarke, married solicitors from Cork convicted for defrauding banks using the identities of homeless people, who were paid €100 for their PPS numbers.

The couple are condemned for their callousness. “They preyed on the most vulnerable,” says Annette, whose late son ended up homeless through addiction. “They don’t know the stories behind them, they don’t know the pain and the anguish,” she adds, sorrowfully. “Clarke and Flynn knew the worth of each homeless person,” Duffy observes scornfully. “They paid 100 quid for each PPS number.”

Others join in the opprobrium. One caller, Frances, is annoyed that the couple’s legal defence team highlighted Clarke’s past depression. “So what?” she says, “You don’t get a medal for depression.”

Duffy plays along, calling the couple “evil”, but he’s aware of a deeper current of discontent beneath the anger. Another guest, Martin, bemoans the light sentences for such white-collar crimes, while Frances is more forthright. “There’s no justice,” she says. “What is wrong with our Government that they allow this to happen? Our beautiful country has become crime, crime, crime.”

Perhaps aware that such raw despair can lead to more uncomfortable statements, Duffy tamps down emotions. But the inchoate fury of Liveline’s guests emphasises how tempers are fraying. Everyone has their breaking point.

Moment of the Week: Moncrieff nails it

On Monday Sean Moncrieff (Newstalk, weekdays) is joined by his regular guests Barbara Scully and Declan Buckley for the So You Think You're an Adult advice slot, with the trio hearing from a woman grossed out by her guitar-playing boyfriend's long nails, particularly when it comes to, ahem, "intimate touching".

Cue much tittering, as the panellists ponder the dilemma and the conversation gets ever dodgier. “I’m very bothered about this intimately touching business,” Scully remarks. “Surely not all lesbians have short nails, that’s all I’m saying.”

Moncrieff sounds mildly alarmed by this. “I’m thinking about that. I still don’t know what you’re saying,” he says, giggling. “I don’t want to know,” says Buckley, tactfully. It’s funny, but mainly icky and iffy. No wonder Moncrieff suggests using a plectrum.