Drivetime encounters are often bruising. This week they turn particularly fractious – The Irish Times

In the two years since Sarah McInerney and Cormac Ó hEadhra took over the reins of Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), the pair have hosted their share of bruising interviews, with many a guest suspected of being waffle roasted to a crisp. But even by those pugnacious standards, Wednesday’s interview with the psychologist Dr. Mary O’Kane ends on a fractious note. “We’ll leave it before you sue me,” says Ó hEadhra, sounding atypically repentant.

The presenter’s retreat, it should be said, is as jokey as it is theatrical, although his tongue-in-cheek characterization of O’Kane as “the Jacob Rees-Mogg of Irish psychology” might be regarded as grounds for libel by some. The spirited brouhaha occurs during a discussion of new findings that, contrary to received wisdom, people grow more conservative not as they get older but, rather, when they become parents. Ever the sceptic, Ó hEadhra sounds dubious, opining that parenthood makes people more compassionate. McInerney is more open to the idea: having had children, she says, she now shudders when she reflects on the high jinks of her youth.

As for their guest, she laughs at Ó hEadhra’s query about whether she has grown more conservative but understands why parents become less carefree. “It does make you become more scared,” O’Kane says, “The world does feel like a more dangerous place.” Whatever the accuracy of the study – neither parenthood nor the march of time has made the hosts noticeably more staid – it’s hard to deny the veracity of that last statement.

Much of Drivetime’s output chips away at the rosy economic picture fostered by bumper corporation-tax takes. John Cooke’s report on Co Galway schools fretting about rising energy bills is a quiet indictment of education funding

For confirmation, one only has to listen to the illuminating analysis given to McInerney by the historian Sergey Radchenko on Ukraine’s recent battlefield victories, in which he weighs up the possibility of Vladimir Putin using nuclear weapons to reverse his armies’ setbacks.

Perhaps because of the scale of what’s at stake in Ukraine, the discussion is sober in tone. When the hosts turn their attention to matters closer to home, however, the mood is more charged. On Tuesday Ó hEadhra jousts with Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, pressing his guest for a “very simple figure”: how many of the 4,100 affordable rental homes the Government promised for 2022 are in place? After offering several qualifications, the Minister feebly answers that it’s a “sizeable proportion”. “I’m not trying to evade your question in any shape or form,” he adds, not entirely convincingly.

Likewise, a tetchy tone runs through Ó hEadhra’s discussion with the Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond and the People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett on moves to alleviate rising energy costs. The debate splits on expected lines, with Boyd Barrett arguing for a price cap and nationalization of energy companies as Richmond cautions on the cost of sweeping measures while talking up the strength of the economy. The latter argument cuts no ice with the host, however. “Who is it serving?” he asks sharply, noting that many young people are looking to “get out of Dodge”, leaving Ireland because of high living costs.

As it is, much of Drivetime’s output chips away at the rosy economic picture fostered by bumper corporation-tax takes. John Cooke’s report on Co Galway schools fretting about rising energy bills is a quiet indictment of education funding, as is the passing observation about most primary schools’ reliance on voluntary contributions from parents to make up revenue.

Similarly, during her discussion of the calamitous crunch in student accommodation, McInerney hears Orla tell how she may have to defer her medical studies in Galway due to the lack of lodgings, while UCC student-welfare officer Alannah O’Connor shares shocking tales of international students sleeping rough and multiple people sharing exorbitantly priced rooms. Gathering key facts and personal testimony, Drivetime’s ground-level snapshots paint a disturbing portrait of everyday life. After that, talk of a thrumming economy seems almost defamatory.

Still, it could be worse. On Tuesday, Ó hEadhra talks to Symon Hill, who was arrested for shouting “Who elected him?” during a proclamation of King Charles III in Oxford. Hill recounts being bundled away by security guards before being detained by the police, although the arresting officers were unsure what they were charging him with. Although Hill sounds more bemused than angry, it’s an alarming tale: given his propensity for contentious questions, Ó hEadhra should avoid royal encounters in the UK.

Sean Moncrieff’s interview with the airline pilot Leland ‘Chip’ Shanle about the deliberate crashing of a Boeing 727 into a Mexican desert lands firmly in his program’s sweet spot between the informative and the entertainingly pointless

A more uplifting ambience prevails as Sean Moncrieff (Newstalk, weekdays) dissects a diverse range of topics, from airliner crashes to the inevitability of death. At first glance, this isn’t the chirpiest bill of fare, but Moncrieff has made a career out of his ability to turn unlikely subjects into diverting radio.

The host’s interview with the airline pilot Leland “Chip” Shanle about the deliberate crashing of a (thankfully empty) Boeing 727 into a Mexican desert lands firmly in his program’s sweet spot between the informative and the entertainingly pointless. Shanle recalls the challenges of the 2012 experiment, with scientists wanting the plane to break on impact, not burn: “There was a bit of luck involved.” The resulting data showed that front passengers are most in danger – “If you’re in first class, you’re first to the accident” – while those seated over the wings are safer, assuming there’s no fire. “Some tips for people to bear in mind,” Moncrieff drily comments, mindful that the main lesson is that it’s better to avoid crashing planes altogether.

Oddly, the host’s conversation with Prof. Peter Doig about the history of death is more hopeful. His guest recounts the changing way people have died down the centuries, from hunter-gatherer accidents through infectious diseases to, these days, cancer and heart failure. Fun stuff, but Doig also notes that the average lifespan has almost tripled in the process. “It’s perhaps the greatest achievement we’ve ever had,” he says. When discussions on mortality provide feel-good moments, it’s maybe time to be scared.

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