Saturday 22 October 2016

Radio: New kids on the block come out swinging in debate

Published 21/02/2016 | 02:30

Ballsy: Stephen Donnelly.
Ballsy: Stephen Donnelly.

Second-last week of the election campaign, and the end is in sight. The main action was probably the second Leaders' Debate - the one where seven people came to the dance, instead of four for the first go-round.

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Today with Sean O'Rourke (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 10am) brought in a panel to analyse, parse and adjudicate - journalists Alison O'Connor and Fionnán Sheahan, PR man Paddy Duffy and Professor Gary Murphy of DCU - moderated with his customary brisk competence by the host. O'Rourke can be a little shaky on "lighter" subjects, but current affairs and politics are his real forte, and he's been excellent all through the campaign, as expected.

I was most interested in what the panel had to say about the leaders of the "smaller" parties: Lucinda Creighton of Renua, the Social Democrats' Stephen Donnelly and Richard Boyd-Barrett of AAA-PBP, which if nothing else should win some sort of prize for having the most unwieldy, borderline-unpronounceable name in political history. I think we all know by this stage where everyone stands on Enda, Micheál, Joan and Gerry.

Boyd Barrett seems to have been the big winner from this debate, on social media at any rate (I know, I know, they're not representative of the electorate at large… or even particularly normal, in many cases). But the panel mostly concurred.

Professor Murphy called Boyd Barrett "very impressive - he had an easy wicket but (to switch sporting metaphors) hit a home run". Alison agreed, praising RBB's "conviction politics", how he wasn't "thinking in terms of focus groups". That came with a caveat: "There was no sense of how this might be applied if he does end up in government… and I don't know if it will translate into new votes."

Paddy referred to how Boyd Barrett's words "reverberated very positively - you could feel the warmth coming to him in the hall". A dissenting voice came from this newspaper's Fionnán Sheahan, who joked that the socialist would "make a great presenter of The Late Late Show: there was one for everyone in the audience. Whatever you want, he's going to give it to you. But when it got into the nuts and bolts of how to pay for it… there was nothing."

Lucinda, meanwhile, was variously described as "hitting the nail on the head", "very severe", "did very well but there's a Marmite element to her", "really hit that feeling of crime getting out of hand" and purveying "right-wing ideological zealotry - but that's no bad thing, because it gives voters a clear choice".

Donnelly, according to Fionnán, "won the first half of the debate hands down (and) did well in carving himself out as different from establishment." Alison described him as "ballsy" and "tapping into something". The best line here came from Gary, who said, "Donnelly struck me as a well-hyped prize-fighter who dazzled early on but then faded." However, he added: "It was a tough gig and he performed creditably."

All quite informative, and more importantly from my standpoint, it made for good radio. And proved once more that the medium has strengths which television lacks. TV is more immediate and arresting, but it's also faster, more impatient, always seeking the next sensation.

Radio is more contemplative; they can take their time with things, and don't feel that horrible pressure to always be moving, moving, moving. In times like these, when we're all about to make a seismic decision, that's important.

Sadly, the fact that this was all on a non-visual medium meant that we couldn't once again admire Boyd Barrett's outfit of casual shirt, no jacket, no tie. What a cool rebel, to do something like that (even if he is hitting for 50). He's not like all those other squares in their boring suits. Hasta la revolucion siempre, dude.

Possibly the strangest moment of the campaign thus far - indeed, of any campaign - was Leo Varadkar stumbling across an armed robbery in Carpenterstown, a suburb of Dublin. This is like something you'd see in a TV comedy or some farcical novel: right in the middle of a general panic about crime, a senior Government minister is there when two armed raiders run out of a shop.

Green Party councillor Roderic O'Gorman was also present. He told The Anton Savage Show (Today FM, Mon-Fri 9am) all about it, including this gem of information: the robbers hopped on a No 37 bus as part of their escape.

"Not the fastest bus," he said wryly. (But don't say that too often, we still want people to give up their cars). It wasn't all fun and japes: these guys were armed with a machete and possibly a gun. Two canvassers - one each from Fine Gael and the Greens, showing admirable cross-party co-operation - bravely gave chase. Leo, he added, went into the shop to console traumatised staff.

"It all happened very fast," Roderic added. True, but it will presumably be remembered for quite a while. I can see it now: Reeling in the Years, 2050 version, and Leo's brush with the sharp edge of criminality is sound-tracked to Judas Priest's 'Breaking the Law'. Rock on.

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