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A rogue Ivan Yates returns to the airwaves and takes aim at Leo Varadkar

The former Fine Gael minister displays little loyalty for his old party during his snap analysis of Leo Varadkar’s shock resignation as Taoiseach

During his years as a presenter on Newstalk, Ivan Yates was many things – opinionated, argumentative, irreverent even – but it’s fair to say he wasn’t famed for his flights of wistful reflection. So, in his role as guest host of The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays) it’s unusual to hear Yates in elegiac mood. “Lovable rogues don’t exist any more,” he laments while trailing his show on Newstalk Breakfast (weekdays).

The spur for this plaintive outburst is the death of the actor Emmet Bergin, who played the philandering Dick Moran on Glenroe, as well as the “bitchiness” of the music Svengali Louis Walsh on Celebrity Big Brother. “The point is this: whether it’s pantomime villain, whether it’s contrarian, you just don’t get people like that,” Yates says ruefully.

Now then. Yates is speaking to the Newstalk Breakfast anchors, Ciara Kelly and Jonathan Healy, when he makes these observations, but one senses he’s really talking about himself. That’s what Healy thinks, at least. “You do contrarian very well, Ivan,” he says with a chuckle. Sure enough, during his short stint standing in for Kenny, Yates shows that he’s not given to toeing the party line.

The former Fine Gael minister certainly doesn’t display much loyalty for his old party during his snap analysis of Leo Varadkar’s shock resignation as Taoiseach. “It’s either very indulgent or very selfish, or something has emerged that has made his position untenable,” Yates says, likening Varadkar’s abrupt exit to a captain abandoning ship.


He continues this theme when he remains on deck during Lunchtime Live (Newstalk, weekdays) to discuss the news with Andrea Gilligan, the programme’s host. “He was a very driven person, and for him to throw in the towel is out of character,” Yates says of the departing Fine Gael leader. He doesn’t offer any further evidence for his hypothesis, but his dissection of the political bombshell shows his flair for creating a buzzy atmosphere in the studio.

Yates doesn’t have to work hard to generate tension during his interview with the Israeli ambassador to Ireland, Dana Erlich, even if it isn’t quite the “knock-down, drag-out” encounter he promises beforehand. Erlich, a regular guest on Kenny’s show, is implacable in her defence of the destruction of Gaza. She objects when the host says the Israeli army will “smash Rafah” – perhaps Yates should have called the devastation “urban regeneration” to spare her blushes – and implausibly claims there are no Israeli restrictions on aid coming into the area. (She instead points to looting as a problem, conveniently skipping over the carnage visited on Gazan infrastructure.)

Yates remains calm if sceptical throughout, well aware how untenable her unyielding position is. “I put it to you that you’re turning Israel into a pariah state,” he says. You’d want to be very contrary indeed to argue against that.

Yates displays his penchant for upending expectations during his conversation with the podcaster Mark Mehigan about his new memoir of alcohol addiction. Where other presenters might adopt an audibly sympathetic manner, Yates takes an altogether brisker approach. “What was your lowest point?” he asks curtly, as though interviewing a prospective employee.

Mehigan, to his credit, is frank in his responses, prompting the host himself to open up. Wondering whether addiction is down to nature or nurture, Yates talks about suffering a breakdown some years ago, and how the counselling he received uncovered childhood incidents that fed into his unhappiness.

It’s a surprisingly candid moment, akin to a panto villain suddenly wandering into an Ibsen play. While maybe not the maverick he aspires to be, Yates is probably too much of a throwback to Newstalk’s rambunctiously macho era to merit a permanent return to the airwaves (plus he’s busy with his podcast with Matt Cooper, Path to Power), but his cameo is a reminder of his waspy broadcasting talents.

Over on Wednesday’s Newstalk Breakfast, Jonathan Healy covers the perverse, not to say grotesque, enterprise that is the Enhanced Games, an athletic tournament that encourages the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Subbing for regular host Shane Coleman, Healy talks to the games’ organiser Aron D’Souza, who grandly claims his competition as the latest incarnation of the Olympics, reinvented “for an era of science and technology”.

If nothing else, one has to admire the chutzpah of D’Souza, who retains a slick assurance in the face of Healy’s questioning. When the host says using drugs is cheating, his guest blandly replies that the Olympics once regarded professionalism the same way; instead, anabolic steroids help “overcome our limits as biological forms”. When an increasingly exasperated Healy suggests the tournament sends a dangerous message to younger people, D’Souza claims it will help “restore the credibility of science and medicine”. It’s a preposterous performance, though D’Souza is on to something about the obscene riches of the Olympic committee: “They literally live in palaces, but they can’t find the money to pay the Olympian.” It’s probably not enough to justify the rogue games, but it makes for terrific radio.

By Thursday, the main topic is of course Varadkar’s departure, a decision that the returning Coleman describes as “admirable and noble”: “He decided to walk on his terms.” But not everyone is so generous in their assessment, as the presenter Colm Ó Mongáin notes on The Late Debate (RTÉ Radio 1, Tuesday-Thursday). There’s still a slightly stunned air in the studio at the Taoiseach’s decision when the host suggests to the Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd that “you needed this like a hole in the head”. More pointedly, Ó Mongáin chides the Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire for his party’s lukewarm response to the news: “I’ve heard DUP leaders and Tory Northern Ireland secretaries get more generous send-offs than Leo Varadkar got today.” It’s a mischievous question: as Ó Mongáin surely knows, being a contrarian is practically a prerequisite in today’s more populist politics.

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