You can picture the meeting over at Morning Ireland HQ. "Right guys – we've been the most popular radio programme in the country for ages and nobody can get near us. It's not fair on our competitors to dominate with such flagrant ease, so we should give them a chance. Let's do something to lower our ratings."
"We could do an in depth report on Cork aquariums, complete with monotone voiceover and some dodgy sound effects."
"We did that last year, but people still kept tuning in. We really need to turn people off."
"Unavailable. They're using him to destroy Marian Finucane's old slot."
"Here's a good one. Let's do a long series of interviews with the public and a few professional windbags on the subject of childcare. Make sure there's no humour, imagination or anything to liven things up at all."
"I like it. Potentially very boring."
"Run it for eight days in a row. Long, rambling interviews with five-year-old children, some whining from tax consulting firms in the midlands, and we could even get that smug bird, Brenda Power from the Sunday Times, to have a moan about how difficult it is to be a successful working super-woman who also has family to raise."
"Genius. This could turn out to be one of the worst pieces of radio broadcasting in Irish history. We're bound to shed listeners quicker than a choir of stuck pigs."
This is the most charitable explanation for the brutally colourless series on childcare that Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, Monday – Friday, 7am) did in the run-up to the budget. Just because childcare is a big issue at the moment doesn't mean it automatically translates into exciting radio. This seems to have escaped RTÉ Radio's leading current affairs programme.
"Now to childcare... Every parent wants and needs something different – whether it's support to stay at home, to be at home more often, or to support or enable them to go out to work," said presenter Cathal MacCoille, a suggestion of embarrassment creeping into his tone. "For the next few mornings, we're going to hear more on the subject, from adults AND children, a sort of slice of life of Ireland, pre budget, in 2005."
Then came the avalanche of balderdash. Ten year old Shane Conway from Co Longford describes a typical day where he attends a Montessori school following his normal school day. Mary Heffernan from Galway discusses her day minding her two year old granddaughter. Deirdre Farrell from Lanesborough in Co Longford tells her story about why she chose to stay at home to mind her twin daughters and son. Thirteen year old Aideen Comerford, a second year student at the Brigidine Secondary School in Mountrath, Co Laois, recalls "living above the shop".
These awful, awful slots punctuated Morning Ireland's already weighty schedule for five days, and highlighted the programme's two main problems: an unweildly format and a huge weakness when it comes to lighter material.
It was difficult to find something less interesting on Irish radio around the same period, but then enter Des Cahill. Cahill sounds like a nice guy, but he has the presence and charisma of a stuffed dog. His Sportscall programme (RTÉ Radio 1, Monday, 7.02pm), which sees members of the public call in to discuss sports-related issues, usually featuring at least one exchange which could be repackaged into a serum and used to sedate elephants on the Veld.
"A caller has just rung in to say, 'Des, stop clicking your pen like that, you've got one of those clicky pens and the mic is picking it up – it's annoying.' Caller, I do have a clicky pen alright, but I don't think that's what's making the noise. I think it could be the mouse button I'm using here. But I'll try to keep it down."
There must be more kicks to be had in the table tennis room of a nursing home.
But Morning Ireland, brazenly, was not to be outdone. You would think that after a week of inflicting aural misery on the public, the programme makers would have the manners to bin the whole childcare thing and issue an apology. No such luck.
"All last week, we brought you the voices of adults and young people on the subject of childcare," said presenter John Murray on Monday, 5 December. "Among those we heard from were a stay-at-home mum, a girl who had enjoyed the experience of au pairs, a boy who was looked after by his granny, and a young father. Well, we're going to continue this series in the run-up to budget day on Wednesday. Today we start with an employer's perspective. Eilish Quinlan is the owner of an accountancy, book-keeping and tax consulting firm in Naas in Co. Kildare..."
No, no, no...