Sunday 17 December 2017

Radio: 'Panic, dust, I couldn't hear... it turned into living hell'

In shock: Midlands-North-West MEP Mairead McGuinness
In shock: Midlands-North-West MEP Mairead McGuinness
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Another Islamist terror attack on a European city - how many is that now, over the last 12 or 15 months? Brussels was the victim this time, and victims they all were, with no ifs, buts or maybes. Victims of senseless horror and poisoned minds, of brutal men and the ignorant imperatives of their death cult, which would be laughable if it wasn't so sickening and worrying.

On radio, I deliberately avoided anything even approaching the usual appeasement, weasel words and whataboutery you hear, depressingly often, in the aftermath of such atrocities. Much too nauseating for a delicate stomach like mine, but they were out there: pampered westerners shaming themselves once more.

Instead I stayed in neutral (as much as anything can be neutral): reports, interviews, background, basic information. Drivetime (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 4.30pm) delivered good, edifying reports; especially powerful was the collection of first-person, on-the-day accounts - mostly Belgian, with a few Irish voices to be heard, too.

Damien O'Reilly reported from Brussels, describing the city - by then in lockdown - as "quite eerie". They also had an interview with John Harkin, son of Marian, who lives in Brussels and was nearby when the bombs went off.

This is where Drivetime (and Radio 1 in general) comes into its own, when a major news story of this size and importance is unfolding: they have the resources and a large team of experienced, talented journalists to provide news and information, not just comment and speculation (though there's obviously a place for that too).

The Last Word (Today FM, Mon-Fri 4.30pm) spoke to Declan Power about how to prevent these sort of attacks from happening. Essentially, what's needed is "joined-up thinking": intelligence-gathering, work on the ground, agencies working in tandem and to a plan, not doing things on the hoof. And disrupting the malevolent thinking behind Isis and their fellow terrorists.

Matt Cooper also got MEP Mairead McGuinness on the phone. Brussels, of course, is not just a European city - therefore a ripe target for these barbaric morons in and of itself - but the home of the European Union, therefore a politically symbolic target too.

She told the show: "It's been a horrible day…a very bad day. There's a huge amount of shock." Tellingly, she finished by saying, "This isn't a Brussels problem. It's a global problem, and the world is going to have to wake up."

The most chilling thing I heard all week came on Morning Ireland (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 7am), when Clare man David Garrihy described how he was in the check-in area where one of the explosions happened.

"All I heard was this loud bang," he said, "followed by a kind of fireball that was coming near me - I could feel the heat in my face. I was just far enough away that I wasn't directly hurt by it, but at that moment, things started falling. A piece of the roof fell just beside me."

The whole scene, he said, immediately devolved into pure panic. "Everything went dark," David told the programme, "there was dust everywhere. Because of the loud bang, I couldn't really hear anything. It really turned into a living hell, straight away… It was quite a shock."

Airport security briskly evacuated the airport, delivering people into a safe area in the car park. Outside, David recalled, he saw a lot of people who had blood on them.

He was asked if he felt lucky to have survived the attack. "I do, I do, I do. Someone was looking out for me up there, you know? The explosion wasn't far from where I was sitting; I was lucky, thank God… I just thank my lucky stars that I'm in one piece."

The piece ended on a fittingly positive, even defiant note, as David declared that he was "taking a positive attitude to life now. Something like this really brings home what's important: friends, family, the people you love. I'm going to continue my life; we can't let these people get away with what they've done. We can't let them win".

There's nothing more to say, really.

Ending on a happier note, a slightly belated shout-out to Father Hood: The Holy Man and the Heist (Newstalk, Thu 11.30am), which aired on St Patrick's Day. You might remember the infamous 1993 Rochester Brinks heist, when over $7m was nabbed - the fifth biggest armoured-car robbery ever in the US.

Eoin Brennan's documentary told the backstory, and it was - a cliché, I know; still true - stranger than fiction. Much stranger. We had an ex-IRA blanket man turned comics dealer, a former cop with a shady past, and especially, Father Patrick Maloney: a Limerick-born priest, suspected gun-runner and, for over half a century, a Manhattan legend for his charitable work.

Father Hood ran a bit too long in my opinion - this is a problem with a lot of radio documentaries - but other than that was engrossing, entertaining and kind of crazy. And I just got that pun in the title, too.

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