Saturday 16 December 2017

Radio: Grudge, sludge and the TV detector van

Matt Cooper (left) in the Today FM studio.
Matt Cooper (left) in the Today FM studio.

Damian Corless

Ex-Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte was on Matt Cooper The Last Word on Tuesday (Today FM) and he was grudgeful and grumpy. It seems that the 'New Politics' regime that rules our lives these days has decreed the scrapping of Pat's plans for a catch-all Sound & Vision tax to replace the TV licence, in favour of actually enforcing the existing law against evasion. (For a full definition of 'New Politics' simply google 'Windscale/Sellafield').

Perhaps the time has come around again to paint the words TV Detector Van on a few idle An Post vehicles and send them out prowling the streets to scare small children and gullible adults. (A 2013 UK report suggested that, from the outset, TV detector vans were a con-job perpetrated on the public.)

Anyway, Pat was deeply unhappy that his beloved brainchild is being thrown out on the streets. He railed against the "anti-bloody-everything brigade" and, for good measure, fired off a broadside at RTÉ for under-representing the case that water charges are a good thing.

Pat's position was that the State broadcaster, largely funded by the licence fee, had been remiss in providing balance by failing to pitch the Government's viewpoint with enough vigour. The average listener, who hasn't tried to force through unpopular legislation, might take the view that the opposite imbalance is too often the case.

Ivan Yates doesn't do balance. For that, the co-anchor of Newstalk Breakfast (Mon-Fri) has the well-matched Chris Donoghue. The former Agriculture Minister is to take a gap year soon for a spot of globetrotting, and he will be missed. The chemistry between the right-wing panto villain Yates and his right-on foil Donoghue makes for a reliably cheery wake-up call, wiping the floor with the rival Morning Ireland (RTE Radio 1), which gets through a similar daily current affairs workload with nothing like the same sparkle. Discussing the latest GAA foul-up which means Antrim and Meath must replay the Christy Ring Cup Final, Chris jibed his convivial co-host: "You do know that the GAA does sport as well as hospitality, Ivan?"

Monday's Drivetime (Radio 1) ran an extended report on the closure of four north Dublin beaches due to a nasty discharge of sewage and various unmentionables as a result of malfunctioning pumps at a treatment plant. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the report was that there were a lot of people in swimming, unaware that the beaches were 'closed'.

By sheer coincidence, just a few minutes earlier, Newstalk ran a fascinating whistle-stop documentary tour of Dublin Bay entitled Bay Stories which explored the history of the place from Granuaile to Captain Bligh (rehabilitated after the Mutiny on the Bounty he reshaped Dublin Bay) to the rugby exploits of Blackrock College.

The coincidence came in a segment covering the fact that, until some 16 years ago, sewage was routinely dumped in the bay, originally just off "the nose of Howth" and later some miles further out. Tony Sheehan, the captain of the last sludge ship, recalled how the waste was manually transferred onto the vessel: "The men were up to their waists in sewage. One entitlement was a bar of Lifebuoy red carbolic soap to put a different smell on them" before they caught "the No2 bus" back home.

The fact that the Howth has been served by the 31A bus since time immemorial and not the No 2 wasn't allowed stand in the way of the inevitable joke.

The captain elaborated that, in latter years, "the men would always say 'we didn't get our soap this week'. Even though they never went near the stuff they still claimed it."

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