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The magnificent obsession of Fergal Bowers

In a world of multi-taskers, RTE's dogged health correspondent is reassuringly single-minded, writes Declan Lynch


Fergal Bowers

Fergal Bowers

Fergal Bowers

Fergal Bowers, RTE's health correspondent, tweeted recently that Glastonbury 2020 had been cancelled. And he added: "Not that I was going." We probably didn't need Fergal to tell us that, but we welcomed it anyway, as it showed his willingness to see the funny side of the whole Fergal Bowers thing.

And it is a thing, or at least it has unavoidably become a thing for most of us, now that it's all health, all the time.

For Fergal Bowers, it has always been thus.

We first encountered him on RTE as a health expert who would frequently be asked to explain something that the HSE had done or had failed to do. Here was a man who had apparently devoted his life to the one thing that everyone else would spend most of their lives trying to avoid - the HSE and its mysterious ways.

Inevitably, he became RTE's health correspondent. Now he could be on 'campus' all the time, instead of leaving for brief interludes only to return on the next bus back to Donnybrook to talk about the latest thing that had happened in the HSE.

Fergal had the demeanour of man who does not expect to encounter much joy in his working life. You would not hear Fergal signing off with some wry banter; he was clearly not using the health service as a springboard to a career in showbusiness: no, you could never see Bowers moving on to explore the many sides of his TV personality. Because there was just one side to his TV personality: health.

Even the most dedicated correspondents might have two sides to their personalities, or even three sides; George Lee has moved around a bit in his time, while somehow remaining the same. Bowers is immovable.

I used to wonder if the RTE News presenters were ever tempted to push the envelope a bit with Fergal. Say he's just after doing another report about the HSE, and Bryan Dobson thanks him for his contribution, and then, instead of going on to the next topic, Dobbo says: "Fergal… if I could just change the subject for moment…"

Ah yes… "if I could just change the subject"… With Bowers, there is no other subject.

No doubt in his private life, from time to time there are other subjects; he might occasionally remark on the nice weather we've been having, or, as we have seen, he might speak of the cancellation of a rock festival to which he would not be going anyway.

But such is his single-mindedness, it is hard to imagine that too. Indeed it is possible that if some mischievous RTE colleague sprang that surprise question on him, the great reporting machine that is Fergal Bowers would simply cease to function, at least until he had found some way to move the subject, however tenuously, back to the general vicinity of the HSE.

Other TV journalists make their mark with some dramatic scene in which there are bombs going off behind them, or they are taking down some evil-doer in a confrontational interview. That is not the Bowers game-plan. The extraordinary thing about Bowers is that there appears nothing extraordinary about him.

Indeed it may be easier to describe him by describing what he is not. For example, he is not Pat Shortt. As far as I can see, Pat Shortt can do everything. I was watching his Music From D'Telly last week, an excellent show which plays a lot of music from the RTE archives, none of which is bad music aimed at appeasing some fictitious community in 'Middle Ireland'.

It's all good, and it's no bother to Pat, who can also do live comedy, or a bit of acting in anything from a light comedy to a profound tragedy, on stage or on film. In fact it is hard to think of a thing that Pat Shortt can't do, with the possible exception of a nightly news report on the doings of the HSE.

For that, you need Fergal Bowers.

Nor should we take this for granted. There is talk in America now of viewers taking legal action against Fox News for misleading them about the dangers of Covid-19. All the time they minimised it, they even laughed at it, seeing the virus as a weapon in the culture war. One recalls that even Hurricane Emma was regarded as something of a liberal plot to discredit the president's stance in favour of global warming. You won't get that from Bowers, but you know what you will get. If you know nothing else in this world, you know that.

Sunday Independent