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Saturday 17 November 2018

A Pat on the back for Ryan

Tubridy’s night of Late, Late triumph

Taoiseach Brian Cowen who had to answer some tough questions from the new host.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen who had to answer some tough questions from the new host.

IT was a big gamble for both men. For the presenter stepping into the formidable shoes of Gay Byrne and Pat Kenny, it was a case of plunging straight into the deep end by going head-to-head with the Taoiseach as his first guest on the ‘Late Late Show’.

Would Ryan Tubridy be able to ask the tough questions? Did he have the mettle to mix it with Brian Cowen? Or would he instantly prove to be no more than a lightweight broadcaster better suited for Saturday night fluff ? And it was risky for Brian Cowen too, given that he was subjecting himself to a live, prime-time telly interview on Ireland’s iconic show, at a time when his personal popularity rating is at a shocking low of 15 pc, and his government’s rating is little better.

As it turned out, the new boy done good. He zinged questions and asides at the Taoiseach at speed, which didn’t allow his guest to retreat behind his usual long-winded answers. From the off, Ryan attempted something that many other journalists have done before him – and that was to try and prise a full-hearted apology for the fine mess that he (as former Finance Minister as well as his current gig as head of government) had got us all into.

But despite various attacks, Ryan was no more successful than those of the Fourth Estate who have gone before him. “What do you say to people who think you should apologise for what’s happening now on the basis of what your job was then? Do you think that’s a fair question to you?” asked Ryan. “Well if people want me to apologise, I apologise in the event that people think I did something purposely wrong,” said Brian. But Ryan was back at him instantly. “You see, that’s not an apology. I don’t know what that is, actually.

What are you doing there – are you apologising or not?” he demanded. Ryan’s style of interrogation was a finely balanced mixture of politeness and impertinence, blended with a tinge of humour. He swiftly took the Taoiseach through questions on Lisbon and NAMA and John O’Donoghue’s expenses, ensuring that the jargon-loving leader kept his answers succinct. “Can you tell me Taoiseach, how are you going to stop a bill for €9,616 on car hire while attending the Cannes Film Festival will be stopped?” asked Ryan, to applause. Ruffled “That will not be repeated because the rules have to change,” replied a ruffled Brian. This was no soft-soap interview.

Nor did Ryan confine the questions to political issues, and skillfully approached a particularly tricky subject which has been aired in the media of late. “You’re being very frank and forthcoming this evening, it’s refreshing and I think we’d like to see more of it as a people,” he suggested politely to the Taoiseach, as heads in livingrooms around Ireland nodded in fervent agreement.

Then Ryan threw in the big question. “Do you drink too much?” he asked simply. “No, not at all,” he replied, ruffled. “I work hard, I’ve never in any way, at any time when I was doing my public duties, ever done anything in an inappropriate way. And like yourself, or the members of the audience, there are times at the weekend when you can relax with friends for a couple of drinks. That’s all that’s involved,” Ryan persisted, and the Taoiseach expanded on the question. “I probably rebel against the sort of politically correct culture that seems to dominate, where people are caricatured or stereotyped all the time. People who know me know that stereotype isn’t me. I’m just trying to be my natural self, to talk to people and to behave properly in my public duties and try to relax with friends if I can.”

The audience applauded Brian’s reply. But the real plaudits belonged to the new kid on the ‘Late Late’ block.

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