'Witch with a capital B': Edwina Currie takes aim at Liz Truss on Newstalk

‘Witch with a capital B’: Edwina Currie takes aim at Liz Truss on Newstalk

They may have to work while the rest of the country basks in the sun, but there’s no worry that the stars of Newstalk are missing out on the good weather. So as temperatures soar early this week, Pat Kenny pops into the pub after cycling around Sligo, while Kieran Cuddihy is joined by his co-presenter Andrea Gilligan to sip cocktails on the radio station’s roof. Apart from Sean Moncrieff broadcasting from a park with a bag of cans, it’s hard to imagine the Newstalk team capturing the Irish summer more vividly.

Of course, it’s not like they’re actually on the go. On Tuesday’s edition of The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays), the host is conspicuously abstemious during his visit to the Thomas Connolly pub, commenting on a “nice bottle” of cask whiskey without trying it. Instead, he goes on a characteristically Boffinish aside about how American drinkers switched from Irish whiskey to Scotch during Prohibition: party on, Pat!

Despite all that, Kenny is in a relaxed mood as he presents his show from Sligo town. He enjoys his conversation with Susan O’Keefe about WB Yeats’s connections to the county, and sounds more at ease in the cultural surroundings of the Yeats Building than he does in the booze. But while Kenny gets to show off his clever side – the quintessentially Yeatsian word “gyre” is uttered several times – he also weaves together literary, historical and geographical elements for stimulating effect. He should come out more often.

For all the pejorative reductiveness of the epithet – Liz Truss has plenty of political failings to attack without resorting to such crude comments – it highlights why Edwina Currie is a regular guest on Pat Kenny: dull she ain’t

Not that Kenny leaves his critical side behind. When local Independent TD Marc MacSharry criticizes Micheál Martin’s leadership of Fianna Fáil as a “one-man show” and unfavorably compares the Taoiseach’s style to the famously vindictive Charles Haughey, the presenter lets out a dubious “hmm” before quoting the famous description of Haughey’s rule as ” uno duce, uno voce”. It’s a quiet and effective counter to the flamboyant soundbites of his guest, the scion of a Fianna Fáil dynasty.

That said, MacSharry is in the ha’penny seat to former Conservative MP Edwina Currie, who on Wednesday’s show described Tory leadership candidate Liz Truss as a bit of a “witch with a capital B”. Yes, you read that right. But for all the pejorative reductiveness of the epithet – Truss has plenty of political failings to attack without resorting to such crude comments – it highlights why Currie is a regular guest at Kenny’s: dull she ain’t.

If political fireworks and cultural tourism liven up the proceedings, the most significant segment of the week comes Monday, when Kenny covers the ongoing state of emergency rooms in the nation’s hospitals. It begins as a forensic discussion, with Chris Luke, a consultant, saying that “the Anglo-American model of the emergency department” is failing internationally, but the host pulls the conversation back to a personal level.

Kenny tells how he recently visited the emergency department at St Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin when his daughter was knocked unconscious at a Westlife concert. He praises the paramedics at the scene and in the ambulance but says that at the hospital “we were let down by the system”: Kenny’s daughter spent 14 hours waiting to be treated. “Was she checked regularly? No, she wasn’t,” he says. “Not a word of compassion, not a word of empathy; quite the opposite from everyone there.” It’s an all-too-familiar story, but Kenny admits: “It was an education for me, and the fact that we accept this is what bothers me.”

The host’s experience, along with his exasperation, makes for an empowering listen. In the past he has shared personal anecdotes, talked about anti-social behavior to carp about police work. But in this case, Kenny’s story adds weight to an urgent issue, which ties in with Luke’s verdict on defunct, burnt-out A&Es across Ireland: “As well as being toxic, these conditions are deadly.” It’s hard to feel sunny after that.

Also on The Hard Shoulder, host Kieran Cuddihy is in flying form, sharing his old hurling coach’s hydration tips: “You should never be able to see your pee, lads”

On the other hand, good humor abounds The hard shoulder (Newstalk, weekdays), as Cuddihy gleefully eats whiskey spritzers with Gilligan, who is curious about his shift at Lunchtime Live. A convivial air pervades the show’s “summer special”, with Gilligan likening the rooftop broadcast to being allowed out of the classroom for the day, while Cuddihy more succinctly dubs it “drinking during the day while we’re all at work”.

It’s a strange piece of production, the upbeat vibe of the outdoor studio reflecting the general good mood created by the hot spell. It is true that things might have been different if Ireland had endured the dangerously high temperatures elsewhere. But as it is, Cuddihy’s guests sound like they’re having a good time, whether it’s Simon Tierney exploring the history of the barbecue or Joan Cusack from Met Éireann explaining the (inevitably sinister) science behind the heatwave.

The host is also in fleeting form, giddily sharing his old pitching coach’s hydration tip: “You should never be able to see your piss, guys.” Realizing that this graphic urethral advice is a bit much, Cuddihy apologizes to Gilligan, but otherwise his demeanor is just a notch above his usual lively on-air presence. As Wednesday’s indoor show underlines, he doesn’t need the sun to get fired up.

Addressing AIB’s controversial decision to make 70 branches cashless, Cuddihy doesn’t hold back: “When are we going to say enough of the banks in this country screwing us over?” Describing the move as a “two fingers” to rural Ireland and pensioners, Cuddihy shifts the focus of his anger: “What’s worse, our political leaders won’t do anything about it.” It’s hard to disagree with any of this, but the effort with which the host cranks up the indignation makes his ranting seem stilted, undermining his urgently valid point. His interview with Co Cork photographer Anne Marie Cronin, who will soon have to travel three hours to access cash services, is less flashy but more effective.

As with the weather, brightness on the airwaves is always welcome, but too much warmth and it loses its appeal.

Radio moment of the week

On Tuesdays Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) Joe Duffy discusses the distinctly non-dairy drink that is potato milk with a caller called Derek, who promotes the drink’s benefits despite never having tasted it. The conversation is meandering and suitably frothy, with Duffy sounding at once bored, annoyed and fascinated: “How many potatoes have to die to make a liter of milk?” But it is notable for the unusual promise Duffy makes. He will try to try some tuber milk, and “if it’s drinkable and good, I’ll eat Mr. Potato Head, a raw potato, on Liveline.” Monitor this surface. Duffy may yet regret milking the subject.

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