Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland
On Air

'Sean, Sean, Sean...': From Maria Bailey to Trump - Sean O'Rourke's most memorable moments on air

The popular broadcaster will present his final Today With Sean O’Rourke show on RTÉ Radio One today.

LONGTIME RTÉ BROADCASTER Sean O’Rourke is set to retire today – 31 years after he first began working at the station.

Over the past seven years, in his 10am RTÉ Radio One slot he has established a reputation as a fearless presenter and interviewer, not afraid to speak truth to power or to push politicians when they needed it.

When his retirement was announced, Tom McGuire, head of RTÉ Radio One, said: “Sean O’Rourke has been at the core of the Radio 1 schedule throughout his broadcasting career. A peerless journalist, particularly in current affairs and news.” 

And O’Rourke himself said:

“I’ve had an absolute ball – daily interviews, debates, elections, referendums, a memorable encounter with the Donald in Doonbeg… some great music and song, and the odd bit of hand-to-hand studio combat.”

Indeed, throughout the years of presenting his own show, Today With Sean O’Rourke (which he took over from Pat Kenny in 2013), he has had many different standout moments. Never aggressive, but always able to push people on things, his gently persistent interview style often had the nation talking.

Here are the highlights.

Maria Bailey 

Fine Gael politician Maria Bailey was mired in ‘Swing-gate’ when she took the decision to explain what had happened to Sean O’Rourke, live on air.

For those who don’t remember, a newspaper report had emerged that showed Bailey had taken a personal injury claim against a Dublin venue after she fell off a swing. She later withdrew the claim, but many column inches were dedicated to the story, given her political standing and the situation around personal injury claims in Ireland.

When she spoke to O’Rourke, his probing questions led to an unforgettable slice of radio. While Bailey spoke about the “distressing and abusive” week she and her family had had in the wake of the initial article, the tone of the interview ended up shifting the coverage up a notch rather than quietening down the furore. 

“I am a strong female politician and some people don’t like that,” she said to O’Rourke during the interview. So strong was her tone – at odds to what some expected – that Bailey’s hope that things would have a line drawn under them was well and truly shattered.

Instead, the interview only ramped attention on Bailey further.  

RTÉ Radio 1 / SoundCloud

Mary McAleese

Former President Mary McAleese was on the Today With Sean O’Rourke show when she spoke about a difficult period for her family. It was one of those moments when radio feels extremely intimate – and showed how comfortable and safe McAleese felt in O’Rourke’s presence.

In an unexpected disclosure, she spoke about how her younger brother was abused. McAleese, who is known for her strong Catholic faith, was on the show to speak about a number of issues – including comments she had made about the Catholic church.

While speaking about abuse within the church, McAleese claimed that her brother had been abused by a priest, and that due to a culture of silence he had not been able to speak about it. 

It takes skill and empathy to deal with such sensitive topics, both things O’Rourke has shown time and again he has in spades.

90220319_90220319 Alina Baciu / Photocall Ireland Alina Baciu / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

Donald Trump 

Remember when the arrival of Donald Trump on these shores provided little more than an amusing distraction during the quiet summer months? Arriving in Shannon in 2014, the businessman vowed to bring jobs and investment to the West of Ireland after snapping up the Doonbeg hotel and resort for the knockdown price of €15 million. 

Ireland knew comparatively little about Trump’s personality back then. O’Rourke, no doubt, had done his research. But – like any sane human – probably thought a little light teasing about Trump’s intriguing hairdo would have gone down reasonably okay with his VIP guest as the pair sat down for a 2o minute interview.

Not so much. 

“Do all these jokes people make about your hair, do they bother you?” the host asked as his last question (sensible interview structuring, in hindsight). 

The exchange spiralled from there

In an interview with the Sunday Independent months later, Trump labelled O’Rourke “That a**hole from the radio show”. 

Once he retires from RTÉ, that’s Sean’s Twitter bio sorted. In fact, he enjoyed the quote so much that he put the Sunday Independent magazine cover on his business card. / YouTube

 Majella Moynihan 

After former garda Majella Moynihan featured in a documentary on RTÉ, she was invited on Today With Sean O’Rourke to tell Ireland more about her story.

Moynihan had faced disciplinary action after becoming pregnant in the 1980s, and in a powerful interview told Sean that garda superiors used her treatment as a warning to others. 

RTÉ Radio 1 / SoundCloud

“I felt was that I was the guinea pig, they put me up there and they said to me ‘we’ll show other women if you get pregnant this is what you’re going to be let into’. This is what’s going to be done to you’,” she said. 

Both Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan issued apologies to Moynihan over her treatment.

Once more we saw the show serving to draw attention to an important story – one that was broken by the documentary – and Moynihan’s story dominated newspapers for a number of days.

Gavin Duffy

Once the final list of candidates for the 2018 Áras race was drawn up, you may recall, we were left in the bizarre situation of having three former panellists from Dragon’s Den on the ballot. 

Alongside Sean Gallagher and Peter Casey, communications consultant Gavin Duffy threw his hat in the ring and had been running an enthusiastic campaign until the revelation came to light that he had been involved in a crash that seriously injured a motorcyclist and saw him convicted for driving without insurance.

Appearing on O’Rourke’s show days after those facts had come to light, Duffy didn’t exactly cover himself in glory.

“You really were a slow learner,” the host noted of Duffy’s past driving skills.

Later, the candidate claimed to O’Rourke, “I know RTÉ is a fan club for the president.” 

A (very) tense exchange followed as the presenter told him to “hold it right there” and pressed him to back up his claim. 

(You can listen back to the interview here - the exchange about Michael D Higgins begins at 22 minutes). 


Additional reporting by Daragh Brophy 

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