Blood on the air

News at one RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays, 1pm
Tonight with Vincent Browne RTÉ Radio 1, Monday-Thursday, 10pm
Today with Pat Kenny RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays, 10am

John Banville's first wife once likened him to "a murderer who's just come back from a particularly bloody killing" after he'd finished writing one evening. I wonder what Mrs O'Rourke says when her husband comes home from presenting the News at One? Sean O'Rourke spends his lunchtimes murdering public figures in a merciless, economical style, which leaves all but the best in tatters.

Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea was one recent victim who took to the waves to defend himself after the unfortunate incident of the automatic handgun and the photographers. O'Rourke's technique is simple and effective. Firstly, a benign question to set the Minister up: how did Willie O'Dea come to be holding the gun?

"I was inspecting the (army) weaponry, and there was a lot of photographers around. They took literally dozens if not hundreds of photographs, and on various occasions the photographers asked me to look up, and hold it up here – you know, what usually happens... and of all the photographs taken, this was the one they used," said O'Dea, stuttering like chicken trapped in a tea chest. He went on,blaming photographers, newspaper editors, Fine Gael for "constructing a political smokescreen" – you name it.

O'Rourke cooly backed him into a corner, bombarding him with questions from different angles. "Did it not cross your mind that it might have been entirely inappropriate to pose for this picture given what was going on on the streets?" or, "It's the most elementary piece of training anybody is ever given, military or otherwise, when they hold a gun in their hand: you never point it at anybody, no matter what the circumstances."

O'Dea was flummoxed.

Apart from a super-sharp intellect, a good voice and a vast reservoir of knowledge, Sean O'Rourke's great strength is his minimal approach to broadcasting. There's never any shouting, no unnecessary digresssions, no flab. He is the most effective current affairs interviewer on Irish radio, and when he's presenting the News at One, it's essential listening.

Another man who often has blood on his hands after work is Vincent Browne, but this week it was the blood of an innocent: the unfortunate RTÉ sports reader Michael Corcoran. Corcoran does the update immediately prior to Browne's late-night talk show, and it must be a nightmare gig.

"Michael," said Browne after the Irish rugby team was defeated by a poor Australian side at Landsdowne Road recently, "the performance against Australia was yet another abject performance by the Irish team after the debacle of the performance against New Zealand, and there doesn't seem to be any sense that there is a crisis in Irish rugby, or that the coach should have some accountability for what's going on."

There was not a crisis in Irish rugby, Corcoran said, pointing to, among other things, two victories over Japan during the summer.

"Wonderful,"said Browne.

Corcoran seemed quite taken aback by the Browne ambush. The debate about the state of Irish rugby went on, but also went nowhere, with neither man really engaging with eath other. After a couple of minutes of two-and-fro, Browne said, "Is there a team in Kenya?" An awkward silence. Corcoran then said that Kenya were stronger in the long distance running department. "You're not a bad distance runner yourself – you'll be running out of the studio now like you always do when there's a little pressure on you," said Browne.

This kind of jarring assault on newsreaders makes for diverting radio, but it is not very illuminating. Pat Kenny and Des Cahill were more effective in teasing out the problems facing Irish rugby a week later. By playing it straight, they managed to get into the details of the Irish rugby crisis much more cogently, with Kenny's unconfrontation, if wooden, style allowing Cahill to outline and expand on problems currently besetting Eddie O'Sullivan and his team. Browne's discussion with Michael Corcoran later that day on the same subject left listeners none the wiser as to the problems of Irish rugby.

"Michael, who is the Irish rugby player of the year?" said Browne.

Momentary silence. "I suppose Andrew Trimble or Denis Leamy. Who's yours?"

"The touch judge or somebody. They're terrible, they're awful. How come you guys are so timid that you're not all howling for Eddie O'Sullivan to go?"


"The question is, how come you're all so timid?"

"Ah, not at all. You wouldn't consider me timid, would you?"


"You do?"

"Yeah, in the face of all this."

"Ah, sure you're just a pussycat yourself."

All very entertaining, but not much use to those who are interested in rugby. Perhaps Sean O'Rourke's less-is-more approach might work better in such situations.