There are a couple of things about modern Ireland that I just don't get. One of them is the Eamon Dunphy phenomenon. What has he done to deserve his reputation as the Doberman of the airwaves? Draw a couple of angry squiggles on a replay screen a decade or two ago? Describe Dick Spring as something nasty in the Sindo years and years ago? Lose the head on his Today FM radio show once or twice?
I listened to Dunphy interviewing Michael O'Leary this morning with a growing sense of incredulity (follow this link for the show). Okay, his new Saturday morning show is our version of Desert Island Discs or a remodelling of a similar programme Carrie Crowley (remember her?) did some years back. It's not intended to be a grilling or interrogation a la Richard Crowley, Cathal Mac Coille, or John Humphreys...
At the very least, it should be inquiring, probing and occasionally uncomfortable. However, in spite of his completely undeserved reputation as a contrarian, Dunphy's modus operandi is this: he cosies himself up to his interviewee to an embarrassing degree and presents himself as their best buddy; a kindred spirit; a fellow intellectual and traveller; who has slaved away every hour of his life to help that person achieve the better Ireland that both have been striving for.
The most telling example of that was when he interviewed Martin McGuinness on his ill-fated TV show a few years ago. He started asking a tough question of McGuinness but visibly lost confidence half way through and ended up reversing ferret and making a mildly congratulatory statement to which an embarrassed McGuinness (no stranger to barbed questions) could only agree. It was cringey.
It was the same with Michael O'Leary this morning. The interview was soft, marshmallow soft. The goo that passed for questions included a slap on the back for O'Leary for thinking outside the box (when he put in an order for Boeings immediately after 9-11). O'Leary's answer had a dose of the Jo Moore's about it (she was the British Labour party official who sent around a memo on 9-11 telling people to put out bad news stories). But there was no follow-up or supplementals. What O'Leary said was left hanging there unquestioned and unchallenged...
Other incisive questions included one about the findings of a recent survey that said a majority of people would like O'Leary to run the health service; as well as the following statement. "You love your country. You palpably love your country."
What has made successful Dunply programmes in the past have been the quality of guest and, whatever you think of O'Leary, he always delivers bang for his buck. Fine, we know Dunphy is an O'Leary fan. But you thought that O'Leary might have been bracing himself for a bit of turbulence this morning. Instead he got one of the smoothest flights of his life. Unjustifiably so.
It seems to me that for all his reputation (and the huge fees he commands) Dunphy has mellowed into a bland interviewer with little interesting or stimulating to say or to ask. He also bottles out of asking people hard questions. He has become the thing he railed against years ago, the fan with the typewriter (or microphone), one of the country's busiest purveyors of decentskinmanship (the wonderful phrase he himself coined when he was still very good).