Brendan O’Connor brings his contradictory character to a friendly conversation about immigration – The Irish Times

A man who knows his own thoughts in print, Brendan O’Connor (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday and Sunday) is less present as a broadcaster, even more moderate. But he still finds ways to challenge and provoke when the opportunity presents itself, as evidenced during Sunday’s newspaper panel. Discussing the Anglo-Irish row over asylum seekers, broadcaster Wendy Grace says only a minority of the population has a “fear factor” towards immigrants, prompting a retort from O’Connor.

“We may not like it, but from the polls that have been done it seems that a majority of people think there needs to be tighter migration, that there are too many migrants,” he says. “It’s not just about the so-called extreme right.” By pointing out these recent shifts in public opinion as a corrective to his guest’s statement, the host, a former columnist, demonstrates journalistic accuracy and poise. But his use of a questionable caveat in his description of the far right is not so clear: either healthy skepticism or overly permissive, depending on your point of view.

Such moments showcase O’Connor’s contradictory nature, but also highlight his ability to keep the pot bubbling even as he keeps his guests on track. Even when he is the most factual, he cannot resist his mischievous side. Following his commendably in-depth, if legally-heavy, interview on the international protection process with lawyer Sunniva McDonagh, the host quips: “Right, everyone clear now?”

If O’Connor is in puckish shape, perhaps it’s because he thinks his panel’s conversation on immigration, despite the charged topic, is too harmonious.

The mood becomes more anxious as talk turns to overcrowding in the health care system, possibly because it affects everyone directly. One consultant, Dr Mick Molloy, recalls spending four days on a trolley in an emergency department last year, his medical records being useless when it came to getting a hospital bed. “It’s a very efficient form of torture because you can’t sleep,” says Molloy, adding that the solution to the trolley crisis is more beds. It is a remarkable contribution, combining professional expertise with personal experience as a patient.

Saturday’s edition provides the platform for O’Connor’s interview skills as he speaks to Salman Rushdie about the author’s near-fatal stabbing two years ago. Having written a new book about the incident, Rushdie needs little encouragement to read it again: “I could see a huge and growing pool of blood all around me,” he says. ‘I thought very naturally: this is probably it.’

Although Rushdie is naturally talkative, O’Connor’s irreverent observations add to the open atmosphere of the meeting. When his guest says there was no “tunnel of light” as he lay near death, the host notes with a chuckle, “The people on the other side knew you were an atheist.” On the other hand, when Rushdie says the whole experience has made him a kinder character, O’Connor is candid about his own instinctive reaction: “I think I’d be a lot more angry and bitter than you.” It’s all a fascinating item, highlighting that O’Connor, when on form, is perhaps the most accomplished interviewer on Radio 1. Just don’t expect him to hide his feelings.

Anger and bitterness are rarely visible when Sean Moncrieff (Newstalk, weekdays) exists, thanks to his seemingly inexhaustible interest in idiosyncratic subjects from the margins of life. But even by that standard, Tuesday’s conversation with podcaster Susan Bluechild represents the platonic ideal of a Moncrieff item, as his guest recounts how her mother became a dominatrix in recession-hit Dublin in the 1980s.

Bluechild, a teenager at the time, explains that her mother, unable to find a job, turned to sadomasochism out of necessity. “She didn’t have to have sex,” Bluechild says, “just put on a pair of boots and give some guys the backside.” But despite the apparent brutality of the story, Moncrieff – an Irish Times columnist – eschews the nudge-nudge, wink-wink approach and sounds genuinely curious when he asks: “Did she learn it on the job?”

Instead, the segment focuses on the personal circumstances that led to this particular career choice, such as being stuck in a failed marriage. “Desperate people do desperate things,” says Bluechild, who occasionally witnessed submissive clients obligingly doing household chores around the family home. Like Moncrieff’s most effective items, it is funny and unusual, but also offers intriguing insights into lesser-known aspects of the world.

For years, classical music was decidedly less heard on the Irish airwaves, making Lyric FM’s 25th anniversary a milestone worth celebrating. The channel does this with a gala edition of RTÉ Lyric Live (Wednesday), with a menu of orchestral favorites and new works. But while Lyric’s classical credo shines through during the day, much of the most exciting and compelling music can be found on the nighttime edges of the program, from Mystery Train with John Kelly (Sunday-Thursday) and Vespertine with Ellen Cranitch (Friday-Sunday) – which recently featured cult presenter Donal Dineen as a guest presenter – on the self-explanatory Environmental track (Monday midnight). By providing a platform for such horizon-expanding shows, as well as the obligatory full scores and live concerts, Lyric remains an essential asset to the Irish radio scene, albeit an underrated one. That the channel came dangerously close to collapse a few years ago is an indictment of RTÉ’s mismanagement that bears repeating.

There are similar festivities A Taobh Tuathail (RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, weeknights), while Cian Ó Cíobháin’s alternative music show marks a quarter of a century on air. Ó Cíobháin has been tireless in his mission to introduce curious listeners, regardless of their (lack of) Gaeilge fluency, to adventurous sounds from the other side. Fittingly, the presenter’s playlist during this milestone week is packed with new work from innovative musicians from Ireland and beyond, including Welsh indie star Gruff Rhys, a long-time fan of the show. Primetime radio may grab our attention, but the sustainability of Ó Cíobháin’s night time is further evidence that the most rewarding material is often found on the so-called edges.

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