Pat Kenny’s num­ber crunch­ing would drive you to drink

Drink-driv­ing cov­er­age is il­lu­mi­nat­ing but also man­ages to be spirit-crush­ingly te­dious

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

As if more proof was needed that this coun­try has a, well, com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with al­co­hol, it is pro­vided on the Pat Kenny Show (New­stalk, week­days). On Tues­day, the Gov­ern­ment bill to ban driv­ers just over the al­co­hol limit is cov­ered by Kenny in a com­pre­hen­sive man­ner that’s as in­ad­ver­tently il­lu­mi­nat­ing as it is spirit-crush­ingly te­dious.

First up is in­de­pen­dent TD Danny Healy-Rae, who claims such mea­sures are an­ti­thet­i­cal to ru­ral life. He views his pro­fes­sion as a publi­can not as a con­flict of in­ter­est, but rather as giv­ing him a unique in­sight into the mo­tor­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties of cus­tomers who have had three glasses of beer which, as Healy-Rae em­pha­sises with mind-numb­ing reg­u­lar­ity, is re­ally only a pint and a half. He “hon­estly be­lieves” that this amount of al­co­hol doesn’t im­pair driv­ing, thus con­flat­ing his per­sonal con­vic­tions with sci­en­tific ev­i­dence.

To be fair, Healy-Rae is doggedly con­sis­tent on this is­sue. So he bats aside Kenny’s sug­ges­tion that peo­ple should drink tea in­stead, and says he would be happy to get on a plane where the pilot had three glasses of beer. Which, re­mem­ber, is equiv­a­lent to a pint and a half.

And this is the en­ter­tain­ing bit. Next up is Min­is­ter for Trans­port Shane Ross, who ro­bustly de­fends his pro­posal. This seg­ment at least has the nov­elty value of hear­ing the Min­is­ter bump­tiously hold­ing forth on his own brief for a change. Then the te­dium re­ally kicks in. In an ef­fort to as­cer­tain how many fa­tal ac­ci­dents have been caused by driv­ers just over the limit, Kenny talks to a re­gional road safety of­fi­cer and to Moy­agh Murdock, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Road Safety Author­ity.

Pre­dictably, the in­ter­minable dis­sec­tion of sta­tis­tics doesn’t lead to any guest chang­ing their mind, though lis­ten­ers may well change the chan­nel. In to­tal, the dis­cus­sion lasts a full hour, padded out with out­raged texts about, yes, po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness gone mad. All this over the right (or oth­er­wise) to get be­hind the wheel after con­sum­ing al­co­hol. It’s enough to drive you to drink.

By con­trast, Kenny’s in­ter­view with Alan Thaw­ley, whose wife Malak died dur­ing an op­er­a­tion at the Na­tional Ma­ter­nity Hospi­tal last year, is a sober­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. An Amer­i­can, Thaw­ley re­calls the litany of er­rors that caused Malak to bleed to death while un­der­go­ing a pro­ce­dure to re­move an ec­topic preg­nancy. His voice is un­wa­ver­ing as he re­counts how an hour passed after the ini­tial fa­tal er­ror be­fore a vas­cu­lar sur­geon ar­rived, only for the hospi­tal to lack the nec­es­sary sur­gi­cal in­stru­ments.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the coroner’s court has ruled that Malak’s death was due to med­i­cal mis­ad­ven­ture. Thaw­ley “can’t be­gin to de­scribe” his pain, but his dis­tress has been greatly com­pounded by the hospi­tal’s re­sponse. Apart from an of­fi­cial apol­ogy, re­quests for in­ter­nal find­ings about the tragedy to be made pub­lic have met si­lence. “I feel like I’ve re­ceived al­most hos­til­ity from the hospi­tal,” he says.

Though Kenny in­dulges his pen­chant for mor­bid sce­nar­ios – he sug­gests his guest might be less dis­tressed if his wife had died in a traf­fic ac­ci­dent – he gen­er­ally han­dles this tricky in­ter­view with tact. His well-pitched ques­tions move the story along in all its dread­ful de­tail while teas­ing out the wider mat­ter of ap­par­ent in­sti­tu­tional in­dif­fer­ence to cat­a­strophic er­ror.

There’s a small but cru­cial mis­take in the ti­tle of Dave Fan­ning’s

Story Of Ir­ish Rock (RTÉ Ra­dio 1, Tues­day), the vet­eran DJ’s new sum­mer night­time show. The use of the sin­gu­lar noun “story” may lead the unini­ti­ated to ex­pect some sort of nar­ra­tively co­her­ent overview of home­grown mu­sic.

It is, the pre­sen­ter ad­mits, “less a his­tory of than a jour­ney”, though it’s hard to know where he’s tak­ing us with some of his baf­flingly point­less anec­dotes. Re­call­ing the strong Dublin ac­cents of the au­di­ence at a Thin Lizzy show or mus­ing that there was no rush for tick­ets for Led Zep­pelin back in the 1970s hardly counts as suf­fi­cient ma­te­rial for a con­ver­sa­tion over cof­fee, never mind a show on na­tional ra­dio.

But there’s no doubt­ing his en­thu­si­asm and knowl­edge about his sub­ject. Fan­ning also plays clips from his in­ter­view ar­chive which are en­joy­able and even sur­pris­ing, with Bob Geldof com­ing across as even more “gobby” than he is now. Fan­ning’s sto­ries are hardly new or re­veal­ing, but there’s no harm in get­ting lost with him for a while.

There are a few hair-rais­ing tales in the Doc­u­men­tary On One:

Pesh­merga Mick (RTÉ Ra­dio 1, Satur­day), though not as many as one might ex­pect, given the sub­ject. The new series of the doc­u­men­tary strand opens with Robert Mul­h­ern’s pro­gramme about the epony­mous Michael Martin, a Lim­er­ick-born former Bri­tish sol­dier who ended up join­ing the Kur­dish mili­tia to fight Is­lamic State in Iraq.

Martin tells a fas­ci­nat­ing story, but a slightly frus­trat­ing one too. He glides over de­tails as he re­counts how he came to join the Bri­tish army, serve a prison sen­tence in Ire­land and do a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Sim­i­larly, his ac­count of his time in Iraq is short on specifics, about the train­ing he gave or the fight­ing he saw. But Martin’s voice has an au­then­ti­cally twitchy qual­ity. Some of his vi­gnettes have a vivid ring too, as when he de­scribes the “pearly white” teeth on rot­ting corpses.

Mul­h­ern, who nar­rates and pro­duces, ad­mits to feel­ing con­flicted about this dra­matic story laced with am­bi­gu­i­ties and la­cu­nae. Even the name Michael Martin, we learn, is as­sumed. “All we can say for sure is that this is a sol­dier’s story,” Mul­h­ern con­cludes. At the very least, it’s a rip­ping yarn.

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