More names for the naughty list

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

Sean O’Rourke gets to the heart of the child­care cri­sis and hears a mes­sage of good­will, while Rick O’Shea wel­comes all read­ers and writ­ers

It’s that time of year, when a wise old man seeks to bring hap­pi­ness to chil­dren, while check­ing to see who’s on his naughty list. Yes, Sean O’Rourke spends much of the week try­ing to pre­vent a night­mare be­fore Christ­mas for the na­tion’s pre-school­ers. And while O’Rourke doesn’t bring gifts to kids around the world, is con­spic­u­ously beard­less and, to be fair, isn’t re­ally that old, in his cov­er­age of the crises en­velop­ing the child­care sec­tor, he’s keen to dis­cover who are the bold boys and girls re­spon­si­ble for the mess.

On Tues­day’s pro­gramme ( To­day with Sean O’Rourke, RTÉ Ra­dio 1, week­days), the host starts by look­ing at one wor­ry­ing de­vel­op­ment in the child­care in­dus­try – a sup­pos­edly high num­ber of creches at risk, as re­ported on the RTÉ tele­vi­sion pro­gramme Claire Byrne Live – but ends up ex­plor­ing a more pro­saically press­ing threat. O’Rourke in­ter­views Bernard Gloster, CEO of fam­ily agency Tusla, to dis­cover why an in­ter­nal doc­u­ment ap­pears to say one in four creches isn’t com­pli­ant with reg­u­la­tions, with hun­dreds rated as cat­e­gory “red”.

It’s an alarm­ing statis­tic, par­tic­u­larly given re­cently rev­e­la­tions about low stan­dards in some nurs­eries. But Gloster seeks to calm fears , as much with his bu­reau­cratic jar­gon as with ex­pla­na­tions. He clar­i­fies that the doc­u­ment is not, in fact, a se­cret list of neg­li­gent time­bombs but rather “an in­ter­nal sched­ul­ing tool”. O’Rourke cuts through the tech­ni­cal­i­ties for the lay lis­tener, not­ing the is­sue is that many just haven’t been in­spected for some time. Not ideal, but not the scare story for par­ents that it first ap­pears.

If Gloster thinks he’s es­caped with­out be­ing thrown on the O’Rourke grill pan, he’s mis­taken. The host asks about the high num­ber of child­care providers strug­gling to find in­surance cover, not­ing one Dublin fa­cil­ity has just an­nounced its clo­sure. When his guest re­sponds by of­fer­ing sym­pa­thy to par­ents and work­ers, O’Rourke re­sponds tartly: “They don’t want sym­pa­thy as much as ac­tion.” Gloster can only re­ply that his agency is pow­er­less when it comes to the in­surance in­dus­try.

It’s a re­frain that’s be­come all too com­mon in dis­cus­sions on key sec­tors in Ire­land, from mo­tor­ing to child­care. It’s echoed by O’Rourke’s next guest, Elaine Dunne of the Fed­er­a­tion of Early Child­care Providers, who claims that many fa­cil­i­ties are at risk of clo­sure on Jan­uary 1st if they can­not get cover from the sin­gle re­main­ing in­surer in Ire­land. “Peo­ple are so tired, they’re an­gry, they’re frus­trated,” Dunne says, adding suc­cinctly that if creches can’t open in the new year, “the whole coun­try is snook­ered”.

O’Rourke re­vis­its the story on Wed­nes­day. He hears from two creche own­ers and Frances Byrne of Early Child­hood Ire­land, another rep­re­sen­ta­tive body in a sec­tor which, to the ca­sual lis­tener, seems to pos­sess a Judean Peo­ple’s Front-es­que panoply of or­gan­i­sa­tions. In­deed, as the three guests talk over each other, O’Rourke re­sem­bles a ha­rassed kinder­garten teacher try­ing to con­trol un­ruly charges. At any rate, Byrne re­lays the good news that a mere 400 or so creches don’t yet have in­surance quotes. Ad­mit­tedly, some other creches have quotes three times their pre­vi­ous amount.

All in all, there’s not much Christ­mas cheer for wor­ried par­ents and fear­ful work­ers. But if O’Rourke may not quite be Santa, there’s no doubt that the in­surance in­dus­try is the Grinch of the piece.

It’s not all gloom. A tonic comes in the form of O’Rourke’s con­ver­sa­tion with au­thor and Ir­ish Times colum­nist Michael Harding, who cov­ers top­ics from mor­tal­ity and re­li­gion to the good value of char­ity shops. Harding claims to be “ter­ri­fied” at the prospect of be­ing in­ter­viewed by his host: “It’s like sit­ting out­side the prin­ci­pal’s of­fice,” he says. He need not worry, for O’Rourke sounds en­thralled by Harding’s com­pany, as the writer rhap­sodises about find­ing the “uni­ver­sal­ity of re­li­gion” in ev­ery­day life.

Such talk prompts one tex­ter to dub Harding a “com­mu­nist” for ig­nor­ing God, a charge he re­futes by re­fram­ing the mes­sage of Christ­mas. Speak­ing qui­etly but firmly, Harding says this is a sea­son when we cel­e­brate Christ, “the or­di­nary, poor, hu­man child of a refugee – if you don’t see God there, you can stop talk­ing about God.” O’Rourke, ever alive to the heart of an is­sue, con­curs. “There’s noth­ing to add there.” In a time of uncer­tainty and stress, it’s a wel­come out­break of Christ­mas spirit.

The lit­er­ary tent

A spirit of gen­eros­ity runs through the new it­er­a­tion of The Book Show (RTÉ Ra­dio 1, Sun­day), as host Rick O’Shea wel­comes all au­thors into his lit­er­ary tent, no mat­ter what genre, na­tion­al­ity or in­deed day job. The first pro­gramme in the se­ries, two weeks ago, fea­tured an in­ter­view with Blind­boy Boat­club, the provoca­tive Lim­er­ick rap­per, co­me­dian, YouTu­ber and au­thor: thought­ful and en­ter­tain­ing though he is, Blind­boy hardly needs another me­dia plat­form, par­tic­u­larly when many writ­ers strug­gle to be heard.

But last week’s episode is more on point. O’Shea in­ter­views US nov­el­ist El­iz­a­beth Strout about her writ­ing process, her ca­reer path and her most fa­mous cre­ation, Olive Kit­teridge: the con­ver­sa­tion has ad­mirable brevity, whilst be­ing ami­able and en­light­en­ing. O’Shea, whose voice is so smooth that to call it hon­eyed is to as­cribe it a harsh as­trin­gency, also meets Ir­ish nov­el­ist Eithne Shor­tall, who fields pre-recorded ques­tions from mem­bers of the Be­tween the Sheets book club, a saucy name that causes much good-na­tured mirth for host and guest.

But the seg­ment, along with O’Shea’s easy­go­ing, af­fa­bly well-read man­ner, also em­pha­sises the show’s core mes­sage, that books are not an elit­ist pur­suit, but some­thing ev­ery­one should en­joy. Read­ing, like lis­ten­ing, is for life, not just for Christ­mas.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: RTÉ

Con­spic­u­ously beard­less: Sean O’Rourke.

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