Friday 19 July 2019

O'Rourke loved radio jousts with Haughey

RTE stalwart recalls interviews with former Taoiseach during roller-coaster media career

RTE’s Sean O’Rourke
RTE’s Sean O’Rourke

Mark O'Regan

RTE legend Sean O'Rourke has told of his joust with former Taoiseach Charles Haughey - but says on a personal level it was hard to "dislike" the controversial politician.

The popular broadcaster has presented the mid-morning Today show on Radio 1 for almost four years, since taking over from Pat Kenny.

Recalling his career throughout more than four decades in journalism, he says while Haughey may have lacked "charisma" with a group of people, on a "one-to-one level" he had the ability to "get inside people's heads".

"I did like him; to be truthful. It wasn't flattery… it was a bit of banter.

"He had that aura about him. Part of it was probably a studied thing, he had a capacity to weave a spell with people.

"He could be quite intimidating, certainly if you didn't know him."

Mr O'Rourke's accidental journey to become one of Ireland's best-known and most respected broadcasters started with a year spent working as a "cub reporter" for the Connacht Tribune in Galway.

The 61-year-old told the Paul Williams Podcast, that while he "developed a taste" for current affairs from an early age, he developed his interest in politics during the 1973 general election.

And, while the Laois man spent five years working as a political correspondent with the Irish Press, he insists he was not best suited to the job.

"I was probably too innocent; I got it too young. It was a big opportunity; fellas sold me the odd pup and I wasn't mature enough, or experienced enough. I was thrown into it too early."

In 1989, RTE advertised for the position of head of 'radio news'.

While he didn't get the job, he landed a position as a programme editor at the station.

In 1990, he moved to the This Week programme, where he believes he achieved his "best work".

He recalled an occasion when he was forced to give himself a pep talk before an interview with Haughey.

"I remember thinking I'm not afraid of this guy anymore; I'm just going to do my job.

"I had a sixth sense 'he's going to come for me today' and sure enough, he came through the revolving doors, and he said 'O'Rourke, I'm really going to stick it into you'." Undeterred, he recalled how a joke about the GAA managed to defuse the situation.

"He just laughed and we did the interview. There was always some bit of needle but you just had to get used to that."

Speaking about how politics has changed over the years, he says it has become "more robust" and "more televisual" than in the past.

"There's a sharpness to it now, and maybe people are doing and saying things with an eye to the Six One News, than may have been the case before."

The father-of-six says he's now reached a "stage of maturity" whereby he'll soon be walking one his daughters down the aisle.

"I'm looking ahead to it with a certain sense of trepidation, because I'm afraid I'll choke up, crack up, and make a fool of myself, with the father-of-the-bride speech."

He says, while some of his children have notions about following in his footsteps into the world of journalism, he would advise them to pursue a different career path.

"I think it's there lurking beneath the surface… whether I would advise any of them to go into this business is another story.

"I think it's a lot less secure.

"Time was journalism was comparable to going into the civil service, teaching, the bank… it was a pretty solid career.''

Sunday Independent

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