Saturday 24 March 2018

Radio: Celebration as Ireland says 'Yes, we can - and we do'

The scene at Dublin Castle last Saturday for the referendum count. Photo: Stephen Collins
The scene at Dublin Castle last Saturday for the referendum count. Photo: Stephen Collins
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

'I was as proud on Saturday as I ever have been as an Irish citizen. It's a great thing for the country. And I think people who voted No will see that in the future."

So said Ray D'Arcy (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 3pm) on his first show after the referendum. He brought in a wide group - gay couples, family members, celebrities, activists - to bask in relief, joy and satisfaction. And why not? It had been a good weekend and good result.

I know it's the default setting for media to be suspicious, cynical, always looking for faults. But sometimes, nice things happen and people feel good about it. There's no need to constantly rain on the parade or be a tedious malcontent. Sometimes it's okay to smile.

So Irish radio, from last weekend, was in an unusual place: instead of bitterness, divisiveness and endless circular arguments, we had blissful vibes and high spirits. There was celebration but - importantly - no triumphalism. The whole tone of our airwaves had changed, at least for a while. And hallelujah for that.

It wasn't all sweetness and light. Some resistance lingered on the No side, and I suppose that's understandable. Dr John Murray, on This Week (Radio 1, Sun 1pm), was quite reasonable, I felt, in tone at least if not in substance.

John Waters, on The Sunday Show (Newstalk, Sun 11am), sounded a doomy, almost apocalyptic note: using terms like catastrophe, extreme, propaganda, crazy, dismaying, shocking.

Breda O'Brien, on Saturday with Claire Byrne (Radio 1, Sat 1pm), made this daft statement: "This was never a rejection of gay people. It was never about gay people as far as I was concerned." That the referendum was not about gay people was news to literally every other voter in the country.

Meanwhile, George Hook (who actually supported the amendment) and Tom McGurk sounded like The Muppet Show's resident grumps, Waldorf and Statler, on The Right Hook (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 4.30pm). The levels of "whataboutery", bizarre non-sequiturs, red herrings and general air of "the world is ending" hysteria were hilarious and depressing, in equal measure. On the flipside, Sheila Reilly on Talking Point (Newstalk, Sat 1pm) sharply cut through a lot of the BS myth-making which bedevilled political debate.

"I don't know why (No) people said they couldn't raise (various issues), because it was all I was listening to on radio and TV. So where couldn't they raise it? And I was hearing it around and about. The silent No we heard so much about were coming out stronger in the last few weeks, making their voices heard. I don't accept they weren't having their say."

Kudos also to Noel Whelan, the passion evident in his voice as he told Claire Byrne why he was involved in the Yes campaign. The Irish people had done a "magnificent thing", he said. You did pretty well yourself, sir.

In general, it was all very good-natured, relaxed and affirmative. The D'Arcy Show introed on the air of "positivity and giddiness at the polling station", and a story of how his daughter, and another girl, brought to school newspaper clippings of the result. All of this is normalised for them - which bodes well, I dare say, for the future.

D'Arcy, actually, is ideal for this kind of thing. He's good at doing sentimental without tipping over into mawkish. He's comfortable with personal stories. And while he can come off as a bit humourless or self-righteous at times, he's also often witty and good craic.

His chat with Yes campaigner Una Mullally exemplified the best of D'Arcy, and indeed the best of her. I was really impressed by Mullally during this campaign.

As a gay woman with an Irish Times column and SoCoDu drawl, she'd be seen as the stereotypical "Dublin media liberal". But I found her reasonable, composed and fair-minded throughout.

And in the aftermath, she's been quick - here and elsewhere - to stress that the vote was carried by young and old, urban and rural. (David Norris, on the same show, graciously defended Roscommon.)

"The myth that this was a Dublin liberal conspiracy was false," she said. "My girlfriend Sarah is from Donegal - the only thing she was concerned about was that it would be carried in Donegal!"

It really was, and this really was the Irish people, across all social definers, coming together to say - forgive me - yes, we can. We did. We do.

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