It wasn’t as momentous as some made out but the departure of the host from Tonight With Vincent Browne (TV3) after ten years is certainly worth marking.
His period on the show has been marked by outrage at social injustice, incisive political analysis, savaging of politicians, affirming of journalists (except from the Irish Independent), relatively fair abortion debates and a heady mix of respect and rudeness.
On Wednedsay night it was something of a coup to land an interview with new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Previous Taoisigh were notoriously and understandably reluctant to go on the show, so fireworks might have been expected. In the end it was a rather dull affair.
Varadkar seemed relaxed, and Browne seemed reluctant to go for the jugular. There was too much haggling over what time people got up in the morning and what that signified, and too much on wondering about who was middle class, or middle Ireland.
Browne may even have been a tad deferential, letting his guest away with one striking vagueness – challenged on some figures he gave, Varadkar said: “It’s a standard statistic if you ask people.”
On more specific financial stats he was, however, as much on the ball as Browne. He paid gracious tribute to his host, but there was a slight sting in the tail: “You’ve been fair; and even when you haven’t been fair...”
The show came to a cheerful end with guests including Mario Rosenstock, who had provided some memorable impersonations of prominent politicians and of Browne himself over the years.
The final show, on Thursday night, started well, with Browne himself gracious in his gratitude to the TV3 staff and management that had worked with him over the years. He paid a touching tribute to the late Peter Matthews, former TD, and to the members of the public he had met on his travels, except “the woman from Dun Laoighaire” – I didn’t get that, but I presume she knows who she is.
Browne’s guests were all female (diversity deficit) but he got the show proper going by playing a clip from ‘Live From the George’, his results show after the marriage referendum of 2015.
He described it as the “highlight” of his time with the programme, but I thought it was among his worst efforts, unworthy of a serious current affairs journalist and cringeworthy in the extreme – a mess of self-congratulation and self-importance, unlike the more balanced audience debate on the issue a few months previously.
The interview with Bosco (a popular children’s puppet, for those who mightn’t remember) was particularly embarrassing, and the whole puppet motif was highly ironic, considering the role some media played in that referendum – campaigning before and celebrating afterwards. Bosco’s line was “everybody should be equal”, but strangely I haven’t heard him (or any of the equality gurus) campaigning to defend equality for unborn children.
And wouldn’t you know it, all four of Browne’s guests on the night were singing from the same hymn sheet – Sinéad O’Carroll of The Journal thought the referendum result was “magical” (ah yes, I remember the tricks), journalist Dearbhail McDonald thought it was “wonderful”, Mary Lou McDonald TD thought Bosco was “moving” (!), Catherine Connolly TD thought it was a “transformative moment” - all further evidence of what is wrong with large sections of the Irish media – “groupthink”or “filter bubble” as Dearbhail McDonald called it, showing no awareness that she was in one!
The departure of Browne was discussed on a few current affairs shows. On Today With Sean O’Rourke on Wednesday, the host declared (tongue-in-cheek, I presume) that Browne had the “effrontery” not to appear on his show, but I can well understand why he wouldn’t. With all the tributes one texter reminded us that he wasn’t dead yet, and guest Maurice Manning said that if Browne was listening he might think the case was being made for his beatification.
Much less fuss was made of another significant departure – without any fanfare, Cathal Mac Coille said his final farewell to Morning Ireland (RTE Radio 1) last Friday after 16 years of excellent service. He thanked his “wonderful colleagues” and co-presenter Rachel English paid a fitting tribute to his “professionalism, determination, diligence, good humour…decency and kindness”.
The media landscape will be poorer without them –good luck with future projects to both journalists.
Pick of the week
BBC Radio Ulster, Sunday, 8.30am
Weekly coverage of religious and ethical issues.
MY COUNTRY, MY FAITH: IRELAND
EWTN, Wednesday, 7pm
Fr Bernard McGuckian tells us the stories of those Irish martyrs who paid the ultimate price, especially for the sake of the Eucharist.
TG4, Thursday, 10.30pm
Documentary about child labour in Bolivia.