Stealthily does it at the late hour

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - RADIO - Mick Heaney

Katie Han­non hits just the right note of in­for­mal­ity for her noc­tur­nal slot, but when her guests slip up or be­tray in­con­sis­tency, she’s ready to turn the screw

In a week when di­vi­sions in the Dáil grow ever greater, there’s a heart­en­ing show of po­lit­i­cal unity on The Late De­bate (RTÉ Ra­dio 1, Tues­day-Thurs­day). Even as the health and hous­ing crises es­ca­late, TDs and Sen­a­tors from across the spec­trum agree on one is­sue: no­body likes politi­cians.

For most peo­ple, this hardly counts as news, but judg­ing by the con­tri­bu­tions of some politi­cians on Katie Han­non’s noc­tur­nal cur­rent af­fairs panel show, the re­al­i­sa­tion that they’re re­garded with the same af­fec­tion as sup­pos­i­to­ries seems like a rev­e­la­tion of Fa­tima-like pro­por­tions. Fine Gael Se­na­tor Tim Lom­bard, for one, ad­mits on Wed­nes­day’s show that the week has been “pretty damn­ing for the Ir­ish po­lit­i­cal sys­tem”. Lom­bard isn’t re­fer­ring to creak­ing hos­pi­tals or ram­pant home­less­ness, how­ever, but rather to the grabby double-job­bing of his party col­league, for­mer TD Dara Mur­phy.

The in­verse re­la­tion­ship be­tween the spot­ti­ness of Mur­phy’s Dáil at­ten­dance and the alacrity of his salary and ex­penses claims is a theme that crops up across talk ra­dio all week. But it’s an es­pe­cially keen pres­ence on The Late De­bate, as Mur­phy’s be­hav­iour hov­ers over fel­low politi­cians like Ban­quo’s ghost. So toxic a brand is the for­mer TD that other Fine Gael­ers pile in on him: on Tues­day’s show, Se­na­tor Martin Con­way calls his ac­tions “scan­dalous”, while mak­ing sure to draw at­ten­tion to his own hard work in pub­lic of­fice. Such con­dem­na­tions might have been more use­ful while Mur­phy was still in of­fice, but it’s a start.

Han­non, for her part, seems to rather en­joy her guests’ dis­com­fort, as when she and jour­nal­ist Christina Finn go through the panoply of TDs’ ex­pense en­ti­tle­ments. The dis­cov­ery that leg­is­la­tors can claim mo­bile roam­ing ex­penses, years af­ter such charges were lim­ited by the EU, causes par­tic­u­lar mirth to the host. “That’s my favourite,” she says, barely both­er­ing to hide her mock­ing laugh­ter. The as­sem­bled pols are, for once, si­lent.

Gen­er­ally, how­ever, Han­non’s guests are happy to sound off on the is­sues of the day, though whether this counts as de­bate is another mat­ter. When Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen com­plains that the gov­ern­ment has failed to pro­vide enough new hous­ing, Con­way shoots back, “At least we’re build­ing houses.” Such yah-boo-sucks stuff is great sport, but hardly helps those caught up in the hous­ing calamity.

There’s a re­minder of the re­al­ity that lies be­hind the party po­lit­i­cal jibes on Tues­day, when Han­non talks to Ir­ish

Times re­porter Kitty Hol­land about the death of Anne Marie Con­nors, whose two chil­dren spent the night alone with her body af­ter she died of an over­dose in homeless ac­com­mo­da­tion last year. Hol­land, who broke the story, speaks of her up­set at the sit­u­a­tion, as well as her low opin­ion of so-called “fam­ily hubs”, which she com­pares to Magdalene laun­dries.

The politi­cians in at­ten­dance also in­tone con­do­lences and con­cern, all doubt­less sin­cere, but also slightly hol­low. Cowen talks about peo­ple in sim­i­larly grim sit­u­a­tions whom he has met, such as a 17-year-old girl in emer­gency ac­com­mo­da­tion who has tried to take her own life. “I feel some re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Cowen says plain­tively. “What do you do in re­sponse to that?” Han­non asks sharply, by way of re­mind­ing her guest that this is lit­er­ally the job of politi­cians.

Such mo­ments un­der­line Han­non’s qual­i­ties in the job. She hits just the right note of in­for­mal­ity for the time of night, with a nicely un­der­stated sense of hu­mour. But if a politi­cian slips up or be­trays in­con­sis­tency, Han­non turns the screw on them. Not ev­ery­one would be so kind these days.

Pos­i­tively be­nign in com­par­i­son Han­non’s stealthy ap­proach seems pos­i­tively be­nign com­pared with the tac­tics em­ployed on Satur­day with Cor­mac Ó hEadhra (RTÉ Ra­dio 1). Ó hEadhra has a rap­port with the politi­cians on his show in the same way that Muham­mad Ali had one with Ge­orge Fore­man. “The good, the bad and the ugly have come be­fore me,” Ó hEadhra says by way of in­tro­duc­ing his pan­el­lists. “I won’t say which is which.” Pleas­antries thus dis­pensed with, the host can get re­ally stuck into his guests. When Fianna Fáil TD Thomas Byrne com­ments on the cur­rent Green Party re­vival by smugly re­mark­ing “we liked the Greens be­fore they were pop­u­lar”, Ó hEadhra curtly re­minds him how that ill-fated coali­tion ended: “You chewed them up and spat them out.”

This un­com­pro­mis­ing style doesn’t al­ways en­gen­der rea­soned argument, par­tic­u­larly with the host in­ter­ven­ing more than usual with by­elec­tion count up­dates: at one point he even apol­o­gises for in­ter­rupt­ing him­self. But amid the melee, the host lands a few ac­cu­rate digs, as when he asks why Fine Gael stuck by their mis­fir­ing proto-pop­ulist can­di­date Verona Mur­phy. But over­all, it’s not so much po­lit­i­cal theatre as pure pan­tomime.

The con­se­quences, or not

Be­yond the du­elling an­tics of TDs, how­ever, peo­ple live with the con­se­quences of their ac­tions, or lack thereof. On Tues­day’s Live­line (RTÉ Ra­dio 1, week­days), Joe Duffy talks to Carol Con­nors, the mother of Anne Marie Con­nors, about her daugh­ter’s dif­fi­cult life and tragic death. With as­ton­ish­ing com­po­sure and clar­ity, Carol de­tails the blows that be­fell Anne Marie, from men­tal health and ad­dic­tion is­sues to her son’s autism and the stress of home­less­ness, be­fore ty­ing it into the big­ger pic­ture. “She was a per­fect storm of ev­ery­thing that’s wrong in this coun­try,” she says of her daugh­ter.

Hav­ing played to the peanut gallery over the farm­ers’ protests the pre­vi­ous week, Duffy is far bet­ter here, pro­vid­ing the time – and, more­over, the sym­pa­thetic space – for Carol to talk about her “naive, in­no­cent and vul­ner­a­ble” daugh­ter. It seems al­most cruel to lis­ten in as Carol talks of mind­ing her grand­chil­dren as they play games pre­tend­ing to move house, caus­ing a rare catch in her voice. “That got me,” she says. But it’s an es­sen­tial piece of ra­dio, a heartrend­ing re­buke to our fail­ures as a so­ci­ety.

“You’re a re­mark­able woman,” says Duffy. Out politi­cians may de­bate, but Carol’s words rang true.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: RTÉ

Katie Han­non: seems to rather en­joy her guests’ dis­com­fort.

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