Saturday 16 December 2017

Radio review: Is there intelligent life on Planet Gerry?

Broadcaster Aine Lawlor. Photo: Frank McGrath
Broadcaster Aine Lawlor. Photo: Frank McGrath

Eilis O'Hanlon

Monday's Morning Ireland asked: "Is there life outside the solar system?" Possibly, came back the unsurprising answer.

Michael Gillon, research associate of the Belgian Funds for Scientific Research, spoke of three Earth-like planets orbiting a dwarf star 39 light years away with the potential to harbour life; but as to what it might look like out there, he couldn't say.

The attempt by Sinn Fein to defend Gerry Adams's use of the toxic N word on Twitter last week brought to mind a different line from Monty Python's Galaxy Song: "Pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space, because there's bugger all down here on Earth."

Not that Morning Ireland listeners that day heard much about the controversy. Fiona Kelly mentioned it briefly on It Says In The Papers, but there were no reports or interviews on the subject, and there was similar radio silence on Monday's Today With Sean O'Rourke.

That morning, there were the usual mainstays - historian Diarmaid Ferriter made his by now obligatory appearance to explain the differences between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael; Eamon Dunphy came in to talk about the weekend sport; there was even an 18-minute slot on how to get your child to sleep - but Adams's use of the word "n*****" went unremarked.

If any other politician had used the N word - Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, say - who doubts that RTE would have swooped on it like a hawk on a mouse?

The issue was finally broached in Adams's interview with Aine Lawlor on News At One, during which she carefully corrected him on his dodgy historical parallels between the Irish experience and African Americans' treatment under slavery, asking: "What possessed you?"

He continued to insist that, whilst he had been wrong to use that specific word, the differences between being an Irish nationalist and being a slave were only "in proportionality" rather than in kind, adding that he had "many friends who are people of colour".

At which point presumably his colleagues in SF could be found doing a collective face palm…

Adams returned for Wednesday's Ryan Tubridy Show, but that merely highlighted the odd way in which RTE dealt with this story. Tubridy's technique cleverly drew out the Louth TD's unnerving, childish whimsicality as he mused on teddy bears, rubber ducks and dreams; but it was still being seen by the media as the equivalent of a funny story at the end of the news. Who else would get away with it?

It's all the more unfortunate that the latest series of Callan's Kicks has now come to an end, because RTE's sole (intentional) comedy show would definitely have had fun with this gaffe. No one wriggles off Oliver Callan's hook.

Summer holidays, be damned. Make him come back. Callan's never been more needed, and his Leo Varadkar is a thing of beauty. Why is Fine Gael in such a mess? "It was like that when I got here."

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