Seán Mon­crieff still has the chops for cur­rent af­fairs

RTÉ and New­stalk han­dle the Manch­ester bomb­ing with ad­mirable pro­fes­sional poise

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - ARTS & BOOKS - Mick Heaney

Tun­ing into Morn­ing Ire­land ( RTÉ Ra­dio 1, week­days) al­ways re­quires a cer­tain de­gree of com­part­men­tal­i­sa­tion. The chances of get­ting one­self out the door in time for work or school would be stymied if one stopped to pon­der the cus­tom­ary cas­cade of de­press­ing news, par­tic­u­larly when it’s re­layed by the dole­ful voice of Cathal Mac Coille.

On Tues­day morn­ing, how­ever, the usual emo­tional dis­tance is shat­tered as the story of the Manch­ester ter­ror­ist at­tack emerges in all its hor­ror. When co-an­chor Au­drey Carville re­ports that “po­lice say chil­dren are among the dead”, the sick­en­ing enor­mity of the atroc­ity the night be­fore hits home. By the time the pre­sen­ters hear ac­counts of in­juries caused by bolts from the bomb, it’s hard to know whether to weep or vomit.

Carville and Mac Coille keep a com­posed tone, even as they hear eye­wit­ness ac­counts of the bomb­ing and read out heart­break­ing tweets from wor­ried rel­a­tives. If any­thing, the duo’s calm de­meanour, even if strained at times, un­der­lines the grim­ness of the event. Rather than ful­mi­nat­ing in rage – which would be un­der­stand­able – the pre­sen­ters lay out the facts of the story. Sim­ply by re­port­ing on this mass mur­der com­mit­ted at a pop con­cert for chil­dren, they draw at­ten­tion to the un­speak­able moral void be­hind the crime far more ef­fec­tively than if they sucked the air out of the room with vol­u­ble apoplexy.

Mean­while, the im­me­di­acy of the hu­man voice brings an emo­tional di­men­sion to the ra­dio cov­er­age that is per­haps lack­ing in the more vis­ceral vi­su­als of tele­vi­sion news. John Mur­ray, guest host on To­day

with Sean O’Rourke ( RTÉ Ra­dio 1, week­days), checks in with re­porter Fiona Mitchell for up­dates from Manch­ester, only to be greeted by a slightly breath­less voice.

“If it sounds like I’m on the move, it’s be­cause I am,” Mitchell tells Mur­ray. As she ex­plains how the po­lice have just or­dered peo­ple in the city cen­tre to “get out now”, Mitchell main­tains ad­mirably poised. Not only does she pass on the lat­est de­vel­op­ments in the story, but she even puts the at­tack in his­tor­i­cal con­text by re­call­ing the IRA’s 1996 bomb­ing of the city.

Seán Mon­crieff ( New­stalk, week­days) plucks the clos­est thing to a good news story from the whole tragic day, though it’s still an ap­palling tale. He talks to AJ Singh, a Manch­ester taxi driver who of­fered his ser­vices for free through­out the night to the many peo­ple left stranded with­out trans­port or money. Mon­crieff’s guest paints a pic­ture of chaos and fear in the af­ter­math of the bomb­ing, re­peat­edly de­scrib­ing it as “a night­mare”. When Singh talks of see­ing some­one with an arm blown off, even the un­flap­pable Mon­crieff blas­phemes in hor­ror. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the ex­pe­ri­ence has taken its toll. “Talk­ing to you now I’m shak­ing,” Singh tells the host.

Mon­crieff, in turn, seems wor­ried that his guest should even be on air, so dazed does he sound. “You’ve wit­nessed some har­row­ing scenes, go easy on your­self,” he sug­gests. The raw­ness of Singh’s tes­ti­mony is more strik­ing than his broad fac­tual strokes, but his self­less ac­tions speak louder than his words.

Hav­ing re­minded his au­di­ence that he can han­dle hard news top­ics, the next day has Mon­crieff re­sum­ing his usual role as wry chron­i­cler of con­tem­po­rary foibles. He speaks to Brad Vez­mar, a Texas res­i­dent who is su­ing a woman he dated for the price of a cin­ema ticket. Vez­mar ex­plains how he was an­noyed by his date’s “egre­gious” be­hav­iour of tex­ting dur­ing the film; when he asked her to go out­side, she left and didn’t re­turn.

Even as Vez­mar stresses the hu­mor­ous el­e­ment to his law­suit, it’s un­clear from his earnest tone – “I didn’t stand up to be a hero,” he says, with ap­par­ent sin­cer­ity – whether he is a post-ironic japester or merely a wheedling mil­len­nial snowflake of pop­u­lar stereo­type. Ei­ther way, it’s a wel­come dis­trac­tion from more se­ri­ous mat­ters, as Mon­crieff’s archly amused man­ner at­tests. Amid the pain of Tues­day, News

at One ( RTÉ Ra­dio 1, week­days) fea­tures a voice of un­re­strained, al­most un­seemly joy. It be­longs to Seán Fitz­Patrick, the for­mer chair­man of An­glo Ir­ish Bank, af­ter his ac­quit­tal on charges of mis­lead­ing au­di­tors over mul­ti­mil­lion euro loans made to him by the bank.

“It’s a won­der­ful day for me and my fam­ily,” Fitz­patrick tells re­porters, be­fore ask­ing for his pri­vacy to be re­spected. Given that the reck­less lend­ing of An­glo-Ir­ish Bank led di­rectly to the cat­a­strophic crash of 2008, one might ex­pect a bit less eu­pho­ria from its guid­ing force, let alone on a day when oth­ers are con­sumed with sor­row at gut-wrench­ing events else­where.

If that’s hard to stom­ach, the in­dig­na­tion rises to crit­i­cal lev­els on the next day’s pro­gramme, when busi­ness edi­tor David Mur­phy analy­ses why the case failed. He says that the depart­ment re­spon­si­ble for purs­ing the case “failed at a key point in Ire­land’s his­tory” by not in­ves­ti­gat­ing it to a prop­erly high stan­dard, partly due to a lack of re­sources.

But Mur­phy stresses an­other key is­sue. “When you take on wealthy in­di­vid­u­als in so­ci­ety, it’s clear you can face mul­ti­ple court chal­lenges.” Try com­part­men­tal­is­ing your anger af­ter that.

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