Ireland's most opinionated talk-show host, Ivan Yates, isn't often left speechless, but there was a time when words failed him at the moment he needed them most.
t was the winter of 1978 and his father, John F Yates, was on his death bed. Two years earlier, Ivan had been uprooted from boarding school to take over the family farm. At 17, he learned his father was dying of cancer. "I was sitting by the solid fuel fire in his bedroom, where I spent most of my evenings. I would sit for an hour and tell him all about the farm." It was the only subject they ever spoke about.
His father had been told there was nothing more doctors could do. "And unbelievably," Ivan says, "because he was a tough man, he started crying. And he absolutely…" - he makes the 'floods of tears' motion with his hands.
"And I felt so inadequate. To see this big, model father-figure crying about his mortality and crying that there was no way out… that the 'living with dying' was actually worse than the dying itself." He shakes his head.
"I just felt so inadequate because there was absolutely nothing I could say. I couldn't tell him it would be OK, because it wasn't going to be. He was only 57. He had never seen any of his kids get married or have any grand-kids and he was looking back with such regret, while realising he didn't have a future. It was the utter humanity of it all…"
Yates has often said he has spent the rest of his life trying to please his father. If he had his father back for a moment, what would he say? He takes a deep breath: "He never once told me he loved me."
So he'd want to ask why?
"Yes, that would be it. Why didn't you ever tell me you loved me?"
It's a mere five months since he announced he was quitting his busy broadcasting career at Newstalk and Virgin Media ("it's time I got a bit of sense," he said then). To nobody's surprise, his latest retirement proved short-lived and his return to TV screens is imminent: he will be the host of a new sports show, The Green Room with Ivan Yates. It will air as a one-off Christmas special this Wednesday, before a normal schedule every Friday from late January.
So what was wrong with the easy life? Retirement, he says, was "very, very difficult" due to "boredom". He takes a handful of giant pills from his pocket and shows me what keeps him ticking over: "I'm on medication all day, every day. Horse tranquillisers and painkillers."
Eighteen years ago, he woke with an excruciating pain in his back that has rarely left him. Today, he twists and turns on the couch as we speak, yet nothing will stop him working again, escaping from the listless days.
It wasn't that he sat back and did nothing after briefly disappearing from the public eye. He immersed himself in several businesses, becoming chair of a new bloodstock company and investing in Webdoctor, an online medical service. Soon, he will also chair a residential business development company in Wexford and Cork. But it wasn't enough.
Before quitting Newstalk and his role alongside Matt Cooper on Virgin Media, he'd been fed up with all the time away from the family home in Wexford, where he lives with his wife, Deirdre. When the long-running litigation with AIB over their property in Enniscorthy was finally resolved, he no longer needed to work day and night in the capital, so he moved home full-time.
The couple are married 35 years and he regularly gushes about the woman he calls his "soulmate". In an autobiography published in 2014, he confessed to having had an affair - but now, at 61, he seems enormously grateful that the marriage survived.
"All the kids are reared and working away and it's great to see them at Christmas and special occasions, but ultimately the rewards of staying together are unbelievably positive. So many political friends went through marital break-ups. I have to say that both from a monetary point of view - paying for two households - and from a kid's point of view, by God, forgiveness and reconciliation is well worth it. There might be more thrill-seeking and adrenalin from affairs but there are rewards in keeping at it.
"So look, I know monogamy is only for swans, and I know that there are times of your life when you are particularly full of testosterone and virile and maybe you are resisting a mid-life crisis, but the fact of the matter is that I am so glad we stuck together.
"Life goes on. Life grindingly goes on," he laughs, "and if you let it go on there are maximum rewards."
Why did he have the affair? "A million and one things. Boredom, drink, excitement, physical… it's the same for everybody else, it's not just me. But the number one reason was immaturity."
He's keen to change the subject but doesn't duck a final question: why did his marriage survive when infidelity destroys so many others? He turns serious: "Because we are desperately in love with each other."
We move on to Golfgate and he isn't long emptying both barrels. He retired - well, supposedly - three weeks before the scandal erupted in Connemara, so he never had the chance to air his views publicly. He says the backlash and the demand for resignations among those who attended the ill-fated dinner made his blood boil.
"The truth about Covid is that everybody is Covid a-la-carte. And the level of denial and righteousness and bullsh*t that has gone on about Covid is just outrageous. Golfgate was portrayed as the worst thing of all time to humanity. In reality, nobody died."
He thunders on, now in full flight: "When this is all over, Nphet will have done more damage to the Irish economy than the banks ever did. And that is saying something. I have no doubt this whole time will be viewed very differently in retrospect because we haven't got remotely close to the reckoning of what it will all cost. North of €20bn deficits are unsustainable. And we will do at least two years of that. There is a whole other phase still to come and it will only come when people are no longer afraid.
"At that point, you will see a pivot when people will say, 'What do I have to pay for this?' 'Why am I losing my job over this?' There are some people out there who will never work again."
On the casualties after Golfgate, he says: "My feelings about what happened to Sean O'Rourke, Phil Hogan, Dara Calleary and all of them is that it was a total overreaction. And I think Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin behaved absolutely outrageously. Incredibly unfairly.
"It was a matter for the EU and they made it impossible for the EU to keep Phil Hogan on. It was a spineless lack of authority the night they issued the statement demanding that he should go."
He says he'll bring the same swagger and assertiveness to his new gig. "Even if you're not into sport, you'll get a laugh out of this. A lot of programmes have started to treat sport like it's current affairs, they're moralistic and righteous. For me, it's pure recreation. I'm a fan and a punter."
The 30-minute slot will feature a top sporting guest and skits from impressionist comedian Conor Murphy, as well as lively chats around the week's events. Is he setting himself up as the next Eamon Dunphy?
"I've interviewed Dunphy many times," he says, dodging the question, "and you can press button 'A' and the waterworks will start. He's the most brilliant communicator and he'd always say to me, 'Ivan… it's ratings, baby'.
"My attitude is this: if you [his producers] want me to stand up, sit down, smile, cry or get angry - just say it in my ear. My whole approach to broadcasting has been 'OBE' - other buggers' efforts. Let everyone else do the work and I'll take all the credit."
'The Green Room with Ivan Yates' airs this Wednesday, December 23, at 10pm on Virgin Media One