RED MEAT BREAK­FAST

New­stalk host Shane Cole­man’s menu of fes­tive fare ruf­fles all kinds of feathers; while on RTÉ’s Driv­e­time, Mary Wil­son un­cov­ers the re­al­i­ties of evic­tion

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - AUDIO REVIEWS - MICK HEANEY

As he set­tles into his on-air part­ner­ship with new co-pre­sen­ter Kieran Cud­dihy on New­stalk Break­fast (week­days), Shane Cole­man has been re­cal­i­brat­ing his role. While he was cast as the voice of rea­son along­side pre­vi­ous co-host Paul Wil­liams, who never missed the chance to sound off con­tentious opin­ions, Cole­man has now donned the man­tle of res­i­dent con­tro­ver­sial­ist. But whereas Wil­liams would go for the low-hang­ing fruit by mer­rily ruf­fling lib­eral sen­si­bil­i­ties, the newly provoca­tive Cole­man opts for a more taboo route, break­ing a Christ­mas tra­di­tion that has re­mained sacro­sanct even in sec­u­lar Ir­ish so­ci­ety.

On Mon­day, as the pre­sen­ters dis­cuss their plans for Christ­mas din­ner, Cole­man makes a star­tling ad­mis­sion. “We’re not get­ting a turkey this year, we’re go­ing for roast beef,” he says, sound­ing sheep­ish, or per­haps bovine. As Cud­dihy as­sumes the straight man role with ease – “You’re what?” – Cole­man suc­cinctly lays out the rea­sons for his choice: “Turkey’s crap.” As be­fits the panto sea­son, Cud­dihy cheer­fully slags off his part­ner – “You’ll be hav­ing bat­tered sausage and chips next year” - while play­ing to the au­di­ence: “If Shane dis­gusts you, let me know.”

It’s all great fun, so much so that the topic car­ries over to Tues­day, when food writer Ross Golden-Ban­non dis­cusses seasonal culi­nary cus­toms. He gives a di­vert­ing over­view of how cher­ished fes­tive tra­di­tions arose, while also sug­gest­ing that Cole­man’s pref­er­ence for beef is in­deed “kind of blas­phe­mous”, and ex­plains that as red meat was the “Vi­a­gra of me­dieval times”, fish, poul­try and pork were viewed as “less lust­ful” choices for such a feast day.

Cole­man is un­re­pen­tant, how­ever: “I’m a bit of a trail­blazer.” Cud­dihy is un­sure. “Ir­ish­man eats beef, breaks mould,” he shoots back. Ev­ery­one is hav­ing such a rare old time that, as ever with New­stalk Break­fast, it’s easy to for­get this is a news pro­gramme. The pre­sen­ters can do the trim­mings well, but where’s the beef?

When it comes to the se­ri­ous stuff, such as the vig­i­lante at­tack on pri­vate se­cu­rity men who had re­pos­sessed a fam­ily farm in Strokestown, Co Roscom­mon, the pair ac­quit them­selves well. On Mon­day, Cole­man hears from lo­cal news­pa­per ed­i­tor Em­met Cor­co­ran, who ex­plains that peo­ple were “vis­cer­ally an­noyed” by the heavy-hand­ed­ness of the orig­i­nal evic­tion, car­ried out by se­cu­rity staff from the north, lead­ing to am­biva­lence about the in­ci­dent. “There’s no­body con­don­ing it, but no­body’s overly sur­prised,” Cor­co­ran says. Tues­day has Cud­dihy un­cov­er­ing the le­gal tech­ni­cal­i­ties of re­pos­ses­sions, while on Wed­nes­day, af­ter Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar’s jibes at Sinn Féin on the is­sue, Cole­man has a vig­or­ous but bal­anced in­ter­view with the party’s TD, Pearse Do­herty.

Such items es­tab­lish the fac­tual con­text of the story while air­ing the am­bigu­ous at­ti­tudes sur­round­ing it. But be­ing New­stalk, the pro­gramme also serves up a big side help­ing of opin­ion. Cole­man dis­misses the idea that all re­pos­ses­sions should cease as “a lot of big mouths talk­ing non­sense,” as it would lead to higher mortgage re­pay­ments. Cud­dihy, on the other hand, ques­tions the wis­dom of evic­tions be­ing car­ried out by “heav­ies from out­side the ju­ris­dic­tion”. As they forge their fledg­ling part­ner­ship, the two pre­sen­ters may get ex­er­cised over poul­try, but at least they don’t duck meatier top­ics.

An il­lu­mi­nat­ing in sight

That said, for those seek­ing re­ally com­pre­hen­sive cov­er­age of the Strokestown af­fair, the des­ti­na­tion has to be Driv­e­time (RTÉ Ra­dio 1, week­days). On Mon­day, re­porter John Cooke con­ducts a telling vox pop with lo­cal res­i­dents, who speak of re­sent­ment to­wards the banks: for one (English-ac­cented) re­spon­dent, the at­tack rep­re­sents a “fight­back”. Mean­while, pre­sen­ter Mary Wil­son in­ter­views John Fitz­patrick, the for­mer County Sher­iff for Dublin, who pro­vides an il­lu­mi­nat­ing in­sight into what evic­tions ac­tu­ally en­tail.

Ini­tially, Fitz­patrick de­scribes the task with bracing brevity. Hav­ing no­ti­fied the peo­ple in­volved, he says, he would “just go in and do it”. This turn of phrase doesn’t sat­isfy Wil­son. “And what does go­ing in and do­ing it in­volve?” she asks, briskly in­quis­i­tive as ever. Thus up­braided, her guest says how he tried not to call in se­cu­rity staff or the gar­daí, pre­fer­ring ne­go­ti­a­tion to con­fronta­tion.

Per­haps the most star­tling rev­e­la­tion in­volves the le­gal ter­mi­nol­ogy sur­round­ing evic­tion, as Fitz­patrick out­lines how the law al­lows the sher­iff to “raise a posse”. “That’s ex­tra­or­di­nary lan­guage,” says Wil­son, her un­flap­pa­bil­ity briefly dis­turbed. But it also high­lights the of­ten cen­turies-old age of the laws gov­ern­ing re­pos­ses­sion and, by im­pli­ca­tion, how Ir­ish leg­is­la­tors have avoided deal­ing with such a his­tor­i­cally charged sub­ject.

All the while, of course, evic­tions hap­pen. Fitz­patrick con­cedes that on the oc­ca­sions when talk­ing failed, he had to call in back-up and phys­i­cally re­move peo­ple from their homes. “That was one part of the job I didn’t like, to evict some­one with chil­dren, with tears. That’s hor­rific.”

It’s hard to feel much cheer af­ter that, but Wil­son gets in the hol­i­day spirit with Tues­day’s item on Christ­mas food. Re­porter Grainne McPolin talks to sup­pli­ers, re­tail­ers and cater­ers across the coun­try to dis­cover what peo­ple are eat­ing on the big day. The an­swer, un­sur­pris­ingly enough, is turkey.

McPolin hears from Leitrim farmer Rose­mary, who has been rais­ing the birds since the 1950s, en­thus­ing about the suc­cu­lence of the white turkey she helped in­tro­duce into Ire­land. Tralee food shop owner Muham­mad de­scribes the high de­mand for ha­lal turkey, killed in “the proper Mus­lim way”, de­spite Christ­mas be­ing a Chris­tian fes­ti­val. “We are here in Ire­land so we have to fol­low the cus­toms,” he says.

Hos­pi­tal cater­ing chief Mary, mean­while, is up­beat at the prospect of work­ing on Christ­mas Day for the 20th year in a row. “It’s a plea­sure, there’s a beau­ti­ful at­mos­phere,” she says, de­scrib­ing how the staff lay on spe­cial events and turkey din­ners (of the ha­lal va­ri­ety) for the pa­tients. “As long as peo­ple are happy at the end of the day, that’s all we can do,” says Mary. “A lot of them would pre­fer to be at home, that’s why we do our best for them.”

It’s a fit­ting way for McPolin’s brief but qui­etly up­lift­ing re­port to end. Af­ter all, where you spend Christ­mas matters far more than what you eat.

‘‘ Golden-Ban­non sug­gests that Cole­man’s pref­er­ence for beef is in­deed ‘kind of blas­phe­mous’ and ex­plains that as red meat was the ‘Vi­a­gra of me­dieval times’, fish, poul­try and pork were viewed as ‘less lust­ful’ choices for such a feast day

PHO­TO­GRAPH: NEW­STALK

The new con­tro­ver­sial­ist: Shane Cole­man.

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