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Wake-up call on Newstalk Breakfast as inflammatory language on immigration goes mainstream

Radio: Shane Coleman and Ciara Kelly run the gamut from children’s sleepovers to John McGuirk’s bellicose language

Given that they rise at an unsociably early hour to present Newstalk Breakfast (weekdays), it’s understandable that Shane Coleman and Ciara Kelly can get exercised at the prospect of sleepless nights. On Wednesday, however, the pair aren’t concerned about any insomnia of their own; rather they’re at loggerheads at the thought of children being up all night during sleepovers, as nocturnal play dates are so inaccurately called. On the face of things, it’s the kind of minor time-filling talking point that makes you wonder why the presenters bothered getting up in the first place, but it yields a surprisingly lively discussion.

Coleman says he’s sceptical about overnight stays for kids of primary-school age, suggesting that it puts undue pressure on children: the phenomenon is another example of “trying to get them to grow up too fast”. He also describes sleepovers as “a pain in the backside” for parents, a sentiment shared by his fellow anchor, who nonetheless approves of such occasions. Kelly suggests that sleepovers create a sense of independence for kids in an era when they’re otherwise mollycoddled by overprotective guardians, a favourite theme of hers.

Likewise, the clinical psychologist Dr Malie Coyne steadfastly maintains that staying over with friends is a positive rite of passage for children, while for parents it’s “a hell worth paying for”. Coleman remains doubtful – “My experience is they never go to sleep,” he laments in exasperation – but he’s unable to convince either colleague or guest. On the upside, he’s unlikely ever to be asked to host a sleepover again after this.

That aside, Coleman and Kelly cover enough alarming material to drive their morning audience back under the covers in fright. Following Iran’s weekend drone attack on Israel, Coleman speaks to a University of Tehran academic, Seyed Mohammad Marandi, who is bracingly hostile to the prospect of fresh western sanctions, calling the proposals immoral for targeting ordinary Iranians. When the host questions Iran’s support for proxy forces across the Middle East, Marandi firmly replies that “the Iranian position is definitely moral”, before describing Israel as “openly apartheid” and saying the October 7th attacks by Hamas were aimed at “an Israeli occupation force”. Amid this, Coleman struggles to ask questions, not least about the Iranian government’s violent repression of dissenters. One can share Marandi’s outrage at Israel’s lethal destruction of Gaza, but his unyielding tenor is a pessimistic omen for the region’s future.


Another guest in combative mood is John McGuirk, editor of the conservative news site Gript, who explains his online assertion that “the Government is openly at war with its own people”. McGuirk tells Kelly that he heard the phrase from someone he met in Roscrea and that it resonated with him following the deployment of the Garda public order unit during a protest against refugee accommodation in Co Wicklow. Such centres “literally force a change” in communities, he continues, but locals cannot object, as, with infrastructure proposals, “It feels like communities are at war with their own Government”.

One takeaway is that such inflammatorily confrontational language is now part of the mainstream discourse on a charged subject. That should be enough to keep anyone awake at night

This is, to put it mildly, a contentious statement, particularly coming after the earlier segment about an actual war: the writer Emma DeSouza, a fellow guest, objects to the bellicose term. But McGuirk’s claim sets the direction of the conversation, as he largely elides any dark motives behind protests and focuses on the Government’s “usurping” of amenities at the expense of local communities. “It’s not about racism, it’s about capacity,” he says.

An articulate speaker, McGuirk is completely entitled to express his opinions however he likes. Whether they merit an easy hearing on a national radio show is another matter. McGuirk’s provocative description essentially goes unchallenged by Kelly, which is disappointing given that it’s anti-immigrant extremists, not the Government, who plunged the nation’s capital into a riot and have carried out arson attacks on refugee centres. Kelly, who has previously spoken of the need to hear all (nonracist) sides of the immigration debate, dubs it “an interesting conversation”. But, however unintentionally, one takeaway is that such inflammatorily confrontational language is now part of the mainstream discourse on a charged subject. That should be enough to keep anyone awake at night.

It is of course important for differing views to be heard on the radio, and the Newstalk schedule features voices from across the spectrum. (And indeed beyond: Sean Moncrieff in particular has featured a few wingnuts on his show in the past, albeit less for debate than for Barnumesque entertainment purposes.) The station’s comparatively unbuttoned ethos also allows presenters to bring their own distinct perspectives, as with Bobby Kerr on Down to Business (Newstalk, Saturday).

Kerr, a perennially affable host, brings his entrepreneurial perspective to bear when he discusses escalating costs for businesses. Chatting to his fellow businessperson-cum-broadcaster Norah Casey, he bemoans the impact of an increased minimum wage (among other things) on squeezed bottom lines, while barely acknowledging that employees might need more money to live as prices rise. This might seem a glaring omission, but it gives an insight into the concerns and priorities of many in the business community.

Kerr isn’t especially polished – he occasionally tends towards the declamatory – but his enthusiastic approach is accessible for listeners and comfortable for guests. There’s an air of casual collegiality to his interview with the chief executive of Ikea in Ireland, Peter Jelkeby, with the host enthusiastically swapping colourful stories about doing business in Russia during the early 1990s. Similarly, during his conversation with Dr Wieke Scholten about the psychology of boardrooms, Kerr speaks from experience when he describes the difference between serving on the board of a private company and a State body. The latter board, he muses nonjudgmentally, often includes workers’ representatives with different views from the chief executive’s, echoing the wider dynamics at play. Contrasting voices are always welcome, at least when they’re not declaring war on others.

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