Turbridy, is a Lightweight; Questioning McDonald, He is like a Mouse, Going to a Cats Convention. Vincent Browne Come Back?

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The tough questions Ryan Tubridy should have asked Mary Lou McDonald as Late Late Show interview descended into party political broadcast

3rd December 2022

Unlike her last performance on The Late Late Show, there was no sparkly silver jacket.

Perhaps that’s a metaphor for Mary Lou McDonald’s lacklustre performances lately – the shine has gone off the current Sinn Féin President over recent weeks.

She looks and sounds tired these days. No wonder, given that recently she has to navigate tricky questions regarding her party and its alleged links to shadowy figures.

First, the IRA. Lately, gangland figures (denied).

What’s a woman to do except avoid the plinth and those pesky press conferences, and appear on Ireland’s premier light entertainment show on a Friday night where she doesn’t have to worry about anything remotely close to tricky questioning.

Last week, on their respective shows, the BBC’s Mark Carruthers and UTV’s Paul Clark gave Ms McDonald a grilling, which resulted in her waffling around whether or not PIRA violence was justified, and comparing the “Ooh ah up the ‘Ra” chant to “Alice, Alice, who the bleep is Alice”. Yes, really.

Ryan Turbridy didn’t ask McDonald about these most recent utterances which caused outrage for some only this week on this subject. Instead, Ms McDonald was asked about what type of United Ireland she wanted, the possibility of Ireland’s first female Taoiseach, Shane Ross’ biography of her (Mary Lou, A Republican Riddle), and housing.

At the top of the interview came the elephant in the room of certain tapes played involving conversations between Gerry Hutch and former Sinn Féin councillor Jonathan Dowdall during recent court proceedings.

Had you landed into the country from Mars yesterday you may not have had a clue what Ryan Turbridy and Mary Lou McDonald were discussing, because bizarrely, even though the issue of the tapes was reported all week, including on the news just before the Late Late Show, and even though no jury sits in the Special Criminal Court – neither Turbridy or McDonald used Dowdall or Hutch’s names, or mentioned the word “tapes”.

Instead, this question from Turbridy: “Do you accept…that some of the evidence is of considerable concern to people?”

She did, and had already robustly denied Dowdall’s assertion to Hutch in the tapes in live interviews during the week.

Incredibly, the Late Late danced around the subject that every other major programme and newspaper covered extensively.

McDonald doesn’t like the term “gangland” because “it gives it a facade almost of bravado or even glamour”.

There are a few IRA victims who have pointed out the same difficulty when Sinn Féin uses the words “heroes” or “Chieftain” about former IRA members. This irony wasnt pointed out to her.

Speaking in an abstract way, Mc Donald continued : “The people who are before the courts…are people whose criminal thuggery have literally devastated decent hardworking communities and the job of work through the Special Criminal Court, through An Garda Siochana is to get these people behind bars as quickly as possible.”

At this point, a broadcaster would possibly think to ask Ms McDonald why her party as recently as June 2022, abstained on a Dáil motion to renew a law to keep the Special Criminal Court going. It wasn’t raised by Ryan Turbridy.

Here’s what Turbridy could have asked her but didn’t:

Have you ever met Gerry Hutch?

Why in your opinion, Mary Lou, would Jonathan Dowdall say to Gerry Hutch (in what he believed to be a private conversation but was secretly recorded) the following words: “But yous were good enough Gerard to use for votes, yous were good enough to use for money…”

Last week on television, you were asked about IRA violence – do you believe IRA violence is a crime?

Has Gerry Hutch or any other alleged gangland figure ever contributed money to Sinn Féin?

Has Gerry Hutch been canvassed by anyone in Sinn Féin for votes in the past?

All of these questions are in the public interest and presumably would be denied. Is it too much to expect that a public service broadcaster would ask them?

Then came housing, the achilles heel of the Government.

Sinn Féin has promised to build 100,000 homes in five years.

Sinn Féin’s Deirdre Hargey was the minister responsible for housing in the NI Executive. In April, her former department confirmed that 4,877 new build social homes were started during 2019 – 2021. Of these, 2944 were completed.

Far from building 100,000 homes in five years in NI, Minister Deirdre Hargey announced a consultation on plans to deliver over 15 years.

This information would have been easily available to the RTE team, had they looked for it, in order to have a proper conversation with McDonald about the difference between north and south.

Instead, I half expected her to promise a house for everyone in the audience.

Asked how she would pay for housing, she replied : “The issue isn’t resources, the issue isn’t money, the issue is how you use the money…”

The viewer is still none the wiser about how Sinn Féin would pay for them, because Turbridy didn’t push her on a figure.

Perhaps none of this mattered within the studio, whose audience gave her an enthusiastic round of applause.

Admittedly, I wouldn’t be her biggest fan – for good reason – but I felt that after watching Turbridy lose control of the interview as McDonald talked down the clock, that all that was missing was RTE putting up a subtitle at the end saying: ‘This was a party political broadcast by Sinn Féin’.

To be fair to McDonald, despite being a little flat she did nothing wrong and executed a successful performance.

All of the standard Sinn Féin script was used, utilising buzzwords like “change” and “cost of living”, and “bread and butter issues”. Populism, how are ye?

She thinks a border poll will happen “in this decade” would “relish the opportunity to demonstrate how a woman would be Taoiseach”, and was “furious” over Shane Ross’ recent biography, largely because he included well-researched facts about her childhood family life.

Her family members are not “up for grabs”. There are many who will agree with her, and even I felt some sympathy when reading the book, particularly when Ross described anecdotes about her father.

Mc Donald had the following to say: “In the book, there is (sic) things written about my childhood, written about a time in our lives that was hugely traumatic for our family, em, and I think to write that, to find the sore spot in someone’s life, particularly trauma when you are a child, and you’ve no influence over it…”

Again, Turbridy could have pointed out that McDonald could well have influenced her biography had she cooperated with it, or answered queries sent to her by the author. He didn’t.

In amongst all the bluster, there was one question I particularly wanted the host of the Late Late to ask McDonald, but, alas, it didn’t arise.

Is she still suing RTE regarding a segment on Morning Ireland last February? This ex-viewer would like to know.

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