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Jolly Marty’s new year cheer is quickly displaced by Liveline tales of hospital horrors

Radio: Marty Morrissey’s on-air geniality fades as Katie Hannon brings journalistic heft to callers’ stories of woe

Feeling good? The first week of 2023 has barely begun yet the airwaves are already full of such depressingly familiar bad news that the natural reaction is to forego all those well-meaning new year’s resolutions and crawl back under the covers. That’s assuming you’re lucky enough to have a bed in the first place, of course. As a swathe of compellingly grim radio coverage makes clear, beds are at a premium in this country, whether for hospital patients, refugees, or those who simply want a home.

Admittedly, a karmic backlash against festive good cheer is probably inevitable following the remorselessly chirpy atmosphere of Marty’s New Year Party (RTÉ Radio 1, Monday). Marty Morrissey, a broadcaster of such indefatigably upbeat energy that he’s in danger of wearing himself out (“I’m exhausted already and I’ve only done the opening link”), is joined for jolly ruminations by the likes of hotelier Francis Brennan, writer Michael Harding and singer Niamh Kavanagh, who duly tempts fate with a rendition of the optimistic standard Feeling Good.

Sure enough, the next day brings news of record overcrowding in hospital emergency departments, prompting few positive emotions beyond a newfound appreciation of Morrissey’s exuberant on-air geniality. Standing in as host of Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1), Katie Hannon hears callers testify to the perilously stretched state of the health service, where the conditions are so dire that Irish-born Seattle resident Laura removed her sick teenage son from hospital rather than have him stuck on a trolley for days. “It’s a frightening situation,” says Laura, adding that were she in the US she would have kept her son in hospital.

That many others contact Hannon with similar ordeals as patients is sadly predictable. Less expected, and even more damning, are her conversations with healthcare professionals. Hannon also talks to Edward, a consultant at a regional hospital, whose unflappable surgeon’s demeanour can’t mask his despair at the situation. “The problem is we can no longer deliver safe care in emergency departments,” Edward says, adding that many patients can’t even access trolleys. “It’s reached a tipping point beyond which we can actually manage,” he adds. Likening conditions in his hospital’s emergency department to a horror film, Edward is clear as to where responsibility lies: “It boils down to management and the HSE structure.”


Hannon is a deftly authoritative presence throughout. She is naturally sympathetic when callers share difficult experiences, while equally being alive to potential audience fatigue towards health service dysfunction. “People might tune out,” she admits. Not when Hannon is around: she brings journalistic heft to the issue, keen to uncover the bigger picture rather than milk stories of woe to fill airtime. “I want to try and dig into this, where we’re going with the health service,” she says, Edward on the line. Her alertness helps capture a necessary and vivid snapshot of this latest healthcare calamity, though it’s a tough listen.

There’s further telling coverage on Wednesday’s News At One (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), when Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is subjected to a typically thorough interrogation by anchor Bryan Dobson. Questioned about the Government’s strategy for the trolley crisis – “Has that plan simply failed?” – the Minister gamely maintains his default management consultant delivery, talking up additional capacity in the health system. “And still we have record numbers on trolleys,” Dobson bluntly reminds his guests.

But it’s only when the host asks if lives are being put at risk that Donnelly sounds discomfited, awkwardly replying: “The literature is very clear that overcrowding puts patient safety at risk.” It’s a curiously arid response, unintentionally framing the hospital trolley disaster as an abstract academic proposition. Faced with multiple crises, Donnelly has a thankless and possibly insurmountable task, but pressed by Dobson, his self-confident mien seems misplaced.

A scarcity of beds features in Dobson’s next item, as he discusses warnings that there will soon be a shortfall of 14,000 refugee places as more Ukrainians arrive in Ireland. Eugene Quinn of Jesuit Refugee Service acknowledges the “extraordinary pressures” caused by an influx of nearly 90,000 refugees in 2022, while suggesting the Government needs to formulate a plan that offers both emergency and longer-term accommodation. All this, of course, in the midst of a national housing crisis with the potential to trigger public resentment, particularly if local communities aren’t consulted about sheltering new arrivals. Asked by Dobson for possible solutions to this unprecedented situation, Quinn is succinct: “Housing supply is the answer.”

Well, quite. As if to underline the failure of successive governments to provide sufficient homes, the year’s first edition of Today with Claire Byrne (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) has a lengthy item on, yup, the housing crisis. Guest host Philip Boucher-Hayes interviews Fianna Fáil Senator Mary Fitzpatrick and Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin about the Coalition’s housing strategy, including proposals for landlords to write off the cost of white goods. “Does it not create an impression of a Government that’s tinkering around the edges?”, the host asks Fitzpatrick, who responds by reeling off measures to alleviate the shortage. “Everything that can be done is being done,” the Senator states firmly. “Is it enough yet? Absolutely not. We get that.”

Again, there’s a difference between getting it and doing it. Fitzpatrick sounds on top of the detail but makes the housing crisis sound like an unforeseen problem rather than an issue that her party and her Fine Gael Coalition partners have consistently flunked for two decades. Not that Boucher-Hayes, whose carefully enunciated tones can radiate gimlet-eyed dismissiveness, plays favourites: in a hypothetical royal flush, he asks whether Ó Broin will resign if his housing strategy fails, should the Shinners get in power.

Either way, it’s another dispiriting omen for the next 12 months. Marty Morrissey’s cheerful resolve notwithstanding, sleepless nights beckon.