Law and or­der trumps pol­i­tics

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

New­stalk host Ivan Yates wisely keeps his coun­sel as all elec­tion cover­age is over­shad­owed by the sav­age mur­der of a Drogheda teenager

The wait is over. Af­ter months of an­tic­i­pa­tion, Tues­day’s gen­eral elec­tion an­nounce­ment is the sig­nal for con­tenders to start cam­paign­ing for real. Sure enough, as­sertive slo­gans ap­pear al­most im­me­di­ately. “I’ll be cut­ting through the crap,” one sea­soned po­lit­i­cal vet­eran prom­ises in his pro­mo­tional pitch. “No­body is safe.” It’s fair to say that Ivan Yates, pre­sen­ter of The Hard Shoul­der (New­stalk, week­days), sounds ex­cited at the prospect of the elec­tion.

His ar­dour is un­sur­pris­ing. A former Fine Gael TD and min­is­ter for agri­cul­ture, Yates is not so much a pol­i­tics junkie as a re­cov­er­ing ad­dict: as he reg­u­larly re­minds lis­ten­ers and guests, he par­tic­i­pated in eight gen­eral elec­tions. He cer­tainly has a tal­ly­man’s eye for de­tail when it comes to cov­er­ing how votes break down at con­stituency level. As the cheer­fully con­fronta­tional ads for his show at­test, Yates is in his el­e­ment.

The only prob­lem is that there’s not much for him to sink his teeth into yet. His first proper de­bate of the cam­paign, be­tween Fine Gael Min­is­ter Richard Bru­ton and Fianna Fáil TD Marc Mac Sharry, is more no­table for Yates’s dis­ap­point­ing even-hand­ed­ness than any dis­dain­ful grilling – he notes that Bru­ton, who is on the phone, is at a dis­ad­van­tage to his op­po­nent in the stu­dio.

Still, the show has its in­trigu­ing mo­ments. One po­lit­i­cal fig­ure voices fears that Ireland could be­come a so­ci­ety where “cap­i­tal is all-pow­er­ful”, in which “for­eign-owned funds are go­ing to be the land­lords of the next gen­er­a­tion”. The sur­prise is not so much the sen­ti­ments, which have been well aired by left-wing TDs, than the person ex­press­ing them: Se­na­tor Michael McDow­ell, the former Pro­gres­sive Demo­crat leader.

Yates, for his part, dis­plays lit­tle overt party po­lit­i­cal bias, at least when it comes to the two main par­ties. If any­thing, he sounds harder on his old party, won­der­ing whether there’s a “hu­mil­ity is­sue” in Fine Gael, and sin­gling out Min­is­ter for Health Si­mon Har­ris for be­ing “sub­sumed in his van­ity”. Clearly, the host is no shrink­ing vi­o­let him­self.

In the ab­sence of po­lit­i­cal drama, he has more ur­gent is­sues to deal with, pri­mar­ily the sav­age mur­der of Drogheda teenager Keane Mul­ready-Woods. There’s no hid­ing Yates’s re­vul­sion as he de­scribes the teen’s killing and dis­mem­ber­ment as reach­ing “new lev­els of hor­ror and de­prav­ity”. His as­sess­ment is shared by crime jour­nal­ist and erst­while New­stalk col­league Paul Wil­liams: “This as bad as we’ve ever seen it, and that’s say­ing some­thing.”

The cir­cum­stances of Mul­readyWoods’s mur­der are so sick­en­ing that Wil­liams, not one to es­chew charged lan­guage, comes across as un­der­stated. He de­scribes the chief sus­pect as a “psy­chopath” and com­pares gang lead­ers to pae­dophiles for groom­ing chil­dren as crim­i­nal “can­non fod­der”. But when Yates asks why the sus­pect is at large, Wil­liams sounds more ir­ri­tated, re­ply­ing that crim­i­nals can avail of due process be­cause Ireland is a “civilised so­ci­ety” where the rule of law pre­vails.

One might think these im­por­tant el­e­ments in a coun­try, but Wil­liams sounds some­what am­biva­lent about them. “The bleed­ing-heart lib­er­als that are so close to our hearts,” he says in an un­prompted aside to his host, “they would be out on the street march­ing, wor­ry­ing about this an­i­mal, if his rights weren’t prop­erly ad­hered to.” But he’s con­fi­dent the mur­derer will be caught. “This bas­tard needs to be put be­hind bars and the key thrown away,” he says, “and the bleed­ing-heart lib­er­als shut the hell up.”

One shares Wil­liams’s rage and frus­tra­tion at the vile­ness of this mur­der, but such cheap point-scor­ing is surely in­ap­pro­pri­ate. It’s no­tice­able that Yates, who can of­ten be heard mer­rily bait­ing “pinko left­ies” him­self, keeps his coun­sel on this oc­ca­sion, in­stead fo­cus­ing on the vic­tims of the gang feud. But on this ev­i­dence, it won’t be sur­pris­ing if law and or­der joins health and hous­ing as one of the key elec­tion is­sues cov­ered by Yates in the com­ing weeks.

Gang­land con­nec­tions

As if to un­der­line this, Mary Wil­son, host of Driv­e­time (RTÉ Ra­dio 1, week­days) talks to Sharon Keoghan, an in­de­pen­dent Meath county coun­cil­lor and Dáil can­di­date whose Duleek of­fice was fire­bombed on Tues­day morn­ing. Keoghan, an out­spo­ken op­po­nent of drug crime who had ear­lier con­demned the shoot­ing of an in­no­cent taxi driver in the on­go­ing gang feud in Drogheda, thinks there is a con­nec­tion be­tween her stance and the in­ci­dent, which she calls “an at­tack on the en­tire com­mu­nity”. “You’ve got to ask, where is the law and or­der in this State?” she asks.

Wil­son, for her part, is sen­si­tive to her guest’s shock, while qui­etly clar­i­fy­ing the de­tails of the story. The calm­ness of the in­ter­view is ad­mirable, given what a sin­is­ter de­vel­op­ment the at­tack is. Wil­son al­lows Keoghan have the last word, ask­ing if she’ll con­tinue to speak out. “I have to,” comes the re­ply. “It’s just wrong that they get away with this.”

No such le­niency is shown when Wil­son talks to politi­cians, how­ever. While Yates, her New­stalk ri­val, rev­els in the role of showy ring­mas­ter dur­ing po­lit­i­cal in­ter­views, Wil­son is the dogged in­ves­ti­ga­tor, me­thod­i­cally chip­ping away to fre­quently dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect. Talk­ing to Fianna Fáil TD Stephen Don­nelly, she re­counts his shift­ing al­le­giances – an in­de­pen­dent in the 2011 elec­tion, a So­cial Demo­crat in 2016 – be­fore deftly wield­ing the blade. “How can peo­ple vote for you when they can’t be sure what plat­form you’ll be stand­ing on next time?”

Don­nelly, who re­calls be­ing “scared stiff” the first time he was in­ter­viewed by Wil­son, replies that his pol­i­tics are “ex­actly the same”. But he sounds un­com­fort­able as his host keeps at him: “Did you ad­just to Fianna Fáil or did Fianna Fáil ad­just to you?” Don­nelly wheels out phrases about be­ing part of a team that has apol­o­gised for its mis­takes in gov­ern­ment and learned from them, but sounds un­con­vinc­ing. He per­forms bet­ter when talk­ing about health pol­icy past and present, but the dam­age has been done.

Politi­cians take note. As Wil­son proves, you don’t have to snarl to be fear­some.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: NEW­STALK

Ivan Yates: not so much a pol­i­tics junkie as a re­cov­er­ing ad­dict.

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