As one of RTE’s leading lights prepares to bow out, we look back at some of his best interviews
With his razor-sharp intellect and comprehensive grasp of current affairs, Sean O’Rourke has provided some of radio’s most seminal moments over the past seven years.
Helming two hours of live radio every morning is no easy task, but the Galwayman has always proved adept at tackling a wide range of issues and controversies.
Whether it’s probing top politicians on the burning issues of the day or interviewing a celebrity on their fall from grace, his interview style is always thorough and occasionally combative - but never cruel.
He could either make or break a person’s career and has an innate ability of knowing when to stay silent and provide the proverbial rope that allows his interviewee to finish off the job themselves.
Here we take a look back at some of his key moments since he began his morning show in 2013, following Pat Kenny’s defection to Newstalk.
His jaw-dropping interview with Fine Gael TD Maria Bailey in the wake of the ‘swing-gate’ controversy left listeners choking on their cornflakes. An interview appeared with her in the Sunday Independent and on the Monday morning she surfaced on Mr O’Rourke’s show.
She attempted to explain why she decided to drop her personal injuries claim against the Dean hotel in Dublin following a fall from a swing during a night out with friends. The Dún Laoghaire TD said she had only been looking to have her medical expenses recouped and said it had been a “hugely distressing, intrusive, abusive week”.
Mr O’Rourke allowed her to speak about how tough it had been on her before getting into the nitty-gritty about the night in question. Not letting her off the hook, he repeatedly asked her if she had something in each hand at the time of the incident.
Although she tried to evade specifics, Mr O’Rourke didn’t let it go and then asked her the question that was on everyone’s minds. “How can you sit on a swing and hold bottles in your hand and presume you won’t fall?” he said.
He then delved into her performance in a 10km race three weeks later and put it to her that she had run a “pretty good time” (53 minutes, 56 seconds). “Not for me!” she shot back memorably.
Mr O’Rourke then quizzed her about on the level of advice given to her by former Culture Minister Josepha Madigan, which she again declined to get into. She ended the interview in a terse fashion by stating that she was “drawing a line in the sand on this today, and I am moving on”.
Despite that declaration, the controversy rumbled on for months and eventually Ms Bailey was de-selected by Fine Gael as a candidate in the 2020 general election.
Being branded an a**shole is an unlikely high-point for a radio journalist. But when it comes from the motor-mouth of US President Donald Trump, it’s practically a compliment.
In May 2014, prior to his election, Mr Trump sat down with Mr O’Rourke at his golf resort in Doonbeg for a 20-minute interview, which appeared to flow quite smoothly.
There was no sign that just a short time later, Trump would speak of him in far less favourable terms in an interview.
It appears he took extreme umbrage to being asked about his hair. Asked if it bothered him that people made jokes about his blond-hued barnet, he appeared to brush the questions aside on-air.
He insisted that he doesn’t wear a hair-piece, but when Mr O’Rourke pointed out that he was one of the few guys to leave his cap on in a bar, Mr Trump retorted that he took it off and he “takes it off all the time”.
Mr O’Rourke then said it was the kind of “trivial question” that people expect to be asked.
There was then an off-air exchange between the pair after the broadcast, but the US president insisted in an interview with ‘Life’ magazine that he was “not angry”.
“I understood. It was not a nice interview. I told him ‘You’re an a**hole!’ Essentially that,” he said.
In the same week as the Maria Bailey interview, former Justice Minister Alan Shatter gave a jaw-dropping interview chronicling his difficulties since resigning from the Cabinet.
He claimed he was “constantly being vilified” after he resigned on the findings of the Guerin report, an investigation into complaints made by ‘whistle-blower’ Maurice McCabe.
He told Sean that he had never acted inappropriately when dealing with Mr McCabe – and was later cleared of any wrong-doing by the O’Higgins Commission in 2016.
He said he had been “the butt of criticism” and felt he was put in a position where people doubted his version of events. “I would have had many sleepless nights and a great deal of stress,” he said.
“Anyone who tells you, even when you know you’re telling the truth, [that] giving evidence to a commission of investigation is an easy thing is talking nonsense.
“So it was for both myself and my family and my wife an extraordinarily stressful and difficult period.”
He said that he endured five years of “substantial upset and difficulty” as a result of the investigations.
He was on the show to speak about his new book, ‘Frenzy and Betrayal.’
June 17, 2019 and former Garda Majella Moynihan had lifted the lid on the injustices that had been meted out to her by the State.
Ms Moynihan, who grew up in an industrial school in Mallow, Co Cork, after her mother died, suffered physical violence in the institution.
She turned to An Garda Siochána in a bid for a better life and it was there she began a relationship with another recruit.
When she got pregnant, there was uproar and an investigation took place where she was made testify against the baby’s father.
He was fined IR£90 and she said she was pressured into giving up her baby boy for adoption. She said that her career in the Gardaí then stalled due to “her history”.
She suffered from depression as a result and attempted suicide before leaving the force in 1998.
She has now rebuilt her life and retrained as a mindfulness coach.
Speaking on Mr O’Rourke’s show she said: “They thought they’d break me. They didn’t. I’m a very strong woman and I am so grateful for my strength.”
Former President Mary McAleese did not hold back when it came to her views on the Catholic Church. She had been barred from speaking at a conference in the Vatican and she then called the church a “primary carrier of the virus of misogyny”.
Speaking on the show on March 12, 2018, she told Mr O’Rourke that her youngest brother was “seriously, physically, sadistically abused” by a priest.
This was while he was attending St. Colman’s College in Newry, Co Armagh, and she called for an independent inquiry into allegations made against Fr Malachy Finnegan.
She said her brother did not confide in anyone about the abuse at the time, due to the “culture of silence”.
Her own mother found out about it in a newspaper.
“To think that he suffered and never felt that he could tell anyone… So many people had to have known,” she added.
In 2010, former Defence Minister Willie O’Dea claimed he was the victim of the political storm caused when he wrongly accusing a rival candidate of being involved in the running of a brothel - before Mr O’Dea publicly apologised for the affair.
The controversy started in 2009, when Mr O’Dea wrongly accused a local election candidate in Limerick – Sinn Féin’s Maurice Quinlivan – of being involved in the running of a brothel during a taped interview with a reporter from the ‘Limerick Chronicle’.
“In so far as Mr Maurice Quinlivan is concerned, it turned out to be incorrect,” Mr O’Dea said during a bruising encounter with Sean O’Rourke on the ‘News at One’ on RTE Radio.
“I apologise for that. The moment I discovered it was incorrect, I apologised that I said it.”
Replying to Mr O’Rourke, he stressed: “I am not a perjurer. Neither I nor any members of my family ever committed perjury. I never did that. I’m a victim here as well.
“Everybody’s a victim. I’m being accused of something I didn’t do, which is perjury, so from that point of view I’m a victim.”
“Sometimes I say things I don’t really mean, in the heat of battle,” he added.
In a lengthy interview with Mr O’Rourke in January 2010, former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan discussed his pancreatic cancer and his intention to remain in office during fortnightly chemotherapy sessions.
“It’s a growth I intend to defeat – or it will defeat me,” he said.
Writing in the Irish Independent at the time, Martina Devlin described the interview on RTE’s ‘News at One’ as having “the air of a fireside chat”.
“It felt as though Mr Lenihan was addressing the Irish people directly, speaking from the heart; and radio was the perfect medium to project this intimacy,” she wrote.