George Hook and the sanitisation of Irish debate

It will be a bad day for free speech if the outspoken radio host is sacked.

The articulation of unfashionable opinions has once again been demonised in Irish society. This time, it’s Newstalk radio host George Hook who’s in the firing line.

I appreciate the outspoken style of Hook and have enjoyed his show High Noon when I’ve listened in. There is something refreshing in hearing a man bluntly speak his mind. There is no other major radio show in Ireland that offers listeners such an experience. This is the curse of Irish media: there aren’t many places for dissent or lively discussion on controversial topics. No two shows are that different. I swing from Sarah McInerney on Newstalk Drive to The Ray D’Arcy Show on RTÉ Radio 1 to Mary Wilson on Drivetime, and eventually turn the whole thing off. Despite having different styles, they are all simply singing from the same sanitised, politically correct hymn sheet.

High Noon is different. It’s earthy, unrefined, provocative. When you listen to Hook, you know you are listening to a man with opinions. There is more to his life than the fabricated niceties of Dublin media society. Whatever he says, whether one agrees or disagrees, you know it is his genuine opinion. For many of us who live outside The Pale, who drive to work on twisty roads with no overtaking lane, who struggle with inconsistent wifi connections, who eat cheese sandwiches for lunch and bacon and cabbage for dinner, who rarely travel beyond the borders of our home county, Hook is the man on the radio with whom we can identify. And that’s rare.

But last week, he proved too much for the keyboard warriors and the supposedly liberal moralists. He was suspended by Newstalk due to comments he made on his show. The topic was an alleged rape case, and when Hook dared to vocalise what many Irish people believe – by asking the question, ‘Is there no blame now to the person who puts themselves in danger?’ – he was vilified, demonised and suspended.

In the past, such treatment was reserved for people who denied the Holocaust or defended paedophiles. Today, you can be attacked for practising your right to express your convictions and opinions, or, in this case, for voicing what some of us see as common sense. We teach our children to take responsibility for their own safety – we teach them not to put themselves in the way of danger. Hook applied this very practical point to women putting themselves in dangerous situations, and he was hit by a hurricane of criticism. Agree or disagree with him, there’s no justice in that.

If Hook loses his job over this, the future will look very bleak for free speech in Ireland. To demonise outspokenness and dissent from the politically correct norms is to place a society in a vulnerable position. Naomi Wolf, herself a liberal author, once said, ‘It is never smart, even in a strong democracy, to declare some debate off limits’. With the vilification of Hook, a whole stratum of Irish society has also been vilified, and declared off-limits and uneducated. And that is an unhealthy situation to have in any democracy.

I say, bring back debate – and bring back Hook.

Esther Burke is a writer and teacher based in Ireland.

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