Saturday 18 November 2017

The same issues keep coming around again

Matt Cooper
Matt Cooper

Eilis O'Hanlon

Do they not have calendars at Today FM? With two months still to go, Monday's Last Word was already debating that old chestnut: should pubs be allowed to open on Good Friday?

Freelance radio producer Aingeala Flannery said the alcohol ban was a "religious hangover" (no pun intended); journalist Hugh Linehan agreed, arguing that preventing people from having a drink just because that happened to be the day on which Jesus was meant to have died was "rooted in a fundamentalist Catholicism that has no place in this country".

They were both right, of course, though isn't a debate meant to have two sides? The counter argument was left to a listener, who texted in that "it's a Catholic country, abide by the laws and have respect". It wasn't a particularly compelling case for the defence, but at least he had a go. Behind it all was the more intriguing issue of the death of the Irish pub. Even journalists have abandoned the bars, as Matt Cooper pointed out, to what some might consider the detriment of the press. The Good Friday fatwa against booze remains one of those perennial subjects which can be relied upon on to fill dead airtime. Anguish over the number of hospital patients languishing either on trolleys or on waiting lists is another one which rarely goes away for long; once again it was dominating the news agenda.

Little was added to the sum of knowledge; political solutions are as remote as ever, and we'll be back here debating it again for years to come; but the human stories are heartbreaking. Liveline came into its own, as it tends to do at such times.

The disparaging remarks about the Irish language by Northern Ireland's former First Minister Arlene Foster also reignited a familiar debate on The Pat Kenny Show.

The Newstalk host was a sparky devil's advocate against offering services in a second language to people who are all fluent in English anyway ("isn't that an incredible waste of money?"); Julian de Spainn of Conradh na Gaeilge put up a thorough and good humoured defence, even if he did share the common fault of minority language advocates of overstating how much other people share their passion.

There may be practical difficulties in implementing a wide-ranging Irish Language Act in the North, where even fewer speak it, but they're hardly new.

Making Of A Gaeltacht, the latest in the winter series of documentaries on Newstalk, explored the resettlement of hundreds of Irish speakers from an economically struggling Connemara to Co Meath in the 1930s, when it proved "rather difficult" to find Irish-speaking local officials who could advise and help the newcomers in their "homespun tweeds".

Producer Judy-Meg Ni Chinneide's retelling of this surprisingly little known story was an engrossing piece of radio that entwined history, personal memory, and the not dissimilar factional politics of the time.

Acceptance on the scheme was much more likely if you were a supporter of Fianna Fail, let's put it that way. It's not only debates on radio that never change.

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