Farewell (for now) host Vincent Browne: You made debate TV real
LAST WEEK marked the end of an era in Irish broadcasting when politicians’ torturer, journalist Vincent Browne left the hot seat of his TV3 late night debate show. A journalist to be reckoned with, the previous night on Tonight with Vincent Browne he tackled Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on his definition of class, when the Fine Gael man described people on the minimum wage as being middle class.
Over the years countless hardened politicians have been skewered and reduced to mumbling wrecks by the trained barrister, who delighted to provoking his guests, or should that be victims.
From the beginning Browne’s hosting skills raised eyebrows. The camera zooming in to his face was, at times, more terrifying than horror movie terror climactic scenes on horror films showing at the same time. This was meaty stuff and viewers couldn’t get enough.
Browne came into his own as the recession gripped the country and through his persistent lines of questioning and doggedness, the beleaguered people of Ireland felt they, through their licence fee, were getting their pound of flesh. True, RTE Investigates and Prime Time also do an admirable job, but nobody could match Browne for journalistic brimstone and fire. At times, he was relentless, never suffering fools gladly, in fact slaughtering them from several angles.
He would wrap up before ads by turning away from the camera, mid-thought. This was not always polished TV, but it was strangely addictive. He had a darkness about him, but also a good sense of humour and he was never afraid to ask the questions other journalists were afraid to.
In his interview with Mr Varadkar, he rightly tackled him on his assertion that the Government would begin offering more supports for the hard working middle class, who he described as anyone earning the minimum wage (€9.55 an hour or around €1,600 a month), and up.
Being of Indian heritage, Mr Varadkar is no doubt well versed in class systems, where, in India, people are born into ‘castes’ - many forced to remain in roles of effective servitude for the rest of their lives. He claimed 70 per cent of Irish people, including those on the minimum wage, are middle-class. In turning the notion of middle class as professional class on its head, the Taoiseach has set the cat among the pigeons. Browne looked nonplussed. The nation, (well those able to stay up that late to watch the programme), scratched their heads, and held their breath.
To me the class system is nothing more than a label. It is not a term I ever recall using, even if I was always conscious of a social strata. Having recently been in America where the mighty dollar rules all, I had my country blinkers lifted somewhat to see poverty first hand. Walking city streets you see homelessness and are aware of how much a sink or swim, dog eat dog world it can be in a country of hundreds of millions,
Mr Varadkar seemed to be hinting at the need to help hard working people struggling with astronomical childcare costs and mortgages, in a meaningful way. Describing the two million people who work in Ireland today as citizens who contribute a lot to society but don’t get much back, he said this class of person deserve more representation and talked about creating a ‘Republic of Opportunities’. Of course this could all be political mumbo jumbo, but for me the sooner the notion of class disappears and all people can access justice, health and education without barriers, the better.
Journalist Vincent Browne and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on his TV3 debate show.