Friday 27 April 2018

Radio review: How many lives is freedom worth?

Sinead Gleeson
Sinead Gleeson

Eilis O'Hanlon

Are we glossing over the realities of the Easter Rising? That was the question posed by Tuesday's Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk.

As it happened, the conversation quickly took a diversion into the separate question of the rebels' democratic legitimacy, but it remained a pertinent talking point in a week when another European capital was dealing with a large scale civilian death toll from the latest terrorist attack by Isil.

Take Moore Street, recently declared a national monument for its role in the Rising. RTE's History Show explored what actually happened to the hundreds of residents of what was then a largely civilian area around the GPO as they found themselves trapped by the fighting.

Among the victims was 15-year-old Bridget McCain, shot in the head as Irish Volunteers tried to gain entry to her house. One later wrote of poor people in the city: "All we were doing was bringing them death and destruction."

No country should have to apologise for the circumstances of its birth, as Gabriel Doherty from UCC's School of History said to Pat Kenny in that aforementioned interview, but it's important to hear this multiplicity of testimonies before deciding whether violence was justified.

A greater variety of voices wouldn't hurt either. RTE seems to have decreed that Diarmaid Ferriter, Professor of Modern History at UCD, should be the "go to" guy for punditry on 1916.

He was back again to discuss Sean O'Casey's The Plough And The Stars on Tuesday's Today With Sean O'Rourke. Not that Ferriter isn't extremely informative, but it's getting to the point where they should start issuing a disclaimer each time he's on: Other Historians Are Available.

The question posed by BBC Radio Four's Moral Maze in the wake of events in Brussels was: how many of our freedoms should we be prepared to give up in return for greater security from terrorist attacks?

That one wasn't really probed in sufficient depth either, with most contributors uniting around a shared reluctance to trade hard-won rights of privacy and free speech either to crack down on, or alternatively appease, fanatics on the grounds that doing so would mean "the b******s win".

Commentator Melanie Philips probably made the most pertinent point, namely that tweaking our own culture in response to jihadists is an abdication from the urgent duty of transmuting theirs.

On a happier note, The Book Show on RTE Radio One, contrary to this column's claim last week, is indeed back for a new series. Welcome news, despite the fact that one of last Saturday's subjects was Scottish literary identity, recalling PG Wodehouse's famous dictum: "It has never been hard to tell the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine."

Presenter Sinead Gleeson's enthusiasm remained admirably undimmed throughout.

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