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From 'conduct unbecoming' to 'Cowengate': Morning Ireland turns 30 today ... here are some highlights

It’ll be “business as usual” this morning according to RTÉ — but there may be some cake later… Anyway, let’s take a look back at 30 years of early starts and political drama…

MORNING IRELAND TURNS 30 years old today — but there’ll be no on-air party for the team.

According to an RTÉ spokesperson, while there may be some cake on offer for the presenters and the production team later on, it will be “business as usual” as far as the two-hour show is concerned.

Now a staple of breakfast radio, and a ‘must listen’ for news and politics junkies — believe it or not, there was initially some opposition within the national broadcaster to the idea of airing a news programme so early in the day.

Of course, the show held its own after those initial broadcasts back in 1984 — and went on, over the decades, to secure its agenda-setting place in the Radio 1 schedule.

Here’s our brief run-down of some of the most memorable moments from its 30 years in the business…

Conduct unbecoming…

Oddly enough, this is a pretty topical clip, given the recent publication of former PD leader Des O’Malley’s autobiography…

The former Fianna Fáil politician appeared on the programme in February of 1985 to talk about his expulsion from Charlie Haughey’s party for ‘conduct unbecoming’.

Source: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

“Looking around me, I find it difficult to entirely accept that reason, because I think the question of conduct unbecoming the Fianna Fáil organisation is a fairly subjective concept,” O’Malley told host David Hanley, in pretty under-stated terms.

The former minister’s expulsion followed a long and bitter row with Haughey, and O’Malley had become increasingly isolated within the party in the years leading up to his expulsion.

Flouting Section 31…

Until its lifting in the 1990s, Section 31 of the Broadcast Act meant it was illegal for RTÉ to broadcast interviews with members of Sinn Féin, even when they were talking about matters unrelated to The Troubles.

In March 1988, the programme was embroiled in controversy when it breached the rules and allowed a clip of Martin McGuinness to go out on air in a report on the funerals of three IRA members shot in Gibraltar.

Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

The error caused consternation at the time — and the rest of the package was pulled by the broadcaster.

It would be another six years before RTÉ could legally broadcast the voices of McGuinness, Gerry Adams or any other Sinn Féin member.


Source: Morning Ireland/SoundCloud

Sporting triumphs…

Ireland’s win over England in Euro ’88 was a watershed moment in Irish sport.

Do you remember where you were when Ray Houghton scored that famous goal?

Source: ClassicEngland/YouTube

If you’re old enough to have been around at the time, you might also remember the late Vere Wynne Jones summing the mood up perfectly, as he filed his report to Morning Ireland the day after the victory.

“Thousands of hangovers are on their way to Hanover,” it began.

Well-chosen words.

Historic moments…

As the programme celebrated a quarter-century on air five years ago, host Aine Lawlor chose as her favourite moment the Christmas Eve edition broadcast in 1999.

Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were amongst the contributors, and representatives of Northern Ireland’s political parties read excerpts from the book ‘Lost Lives’, which documents the life of every person whose death was directly caused by The Troubles.

Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Political gaffes…

It’s perhaps the most infamous political interview of recent years…

In September 2010, Brian Cowen was forced to deny that he was “either drunk or hungover” after a decidedly lacklustre performance on Morning Ireland.

The Taoiseach had been up late at the bar during the Fianna Fáil think-in, and spoke with an unusually deep voice during his interview with Cathal MacCoille.

Cowen also mistakenly referred to the Croke Park agreement as the Good Friday agreement during the encounter…

Source: nakedtaoiseach/YouTube

As you’ll no doubt recall, the story was picked up by news outlets around the world… Even Jay Leno took a pop at the Fianna Fáil leader on the Tonight Show.

Unexpected moments…

Cast your mind back, if you would, to November 2010…

It was the worst kept secret in Irish politics — but for days senior ministers had been denying that an IMF bailout for the country was being worked on.

That all changed when Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan (below) let the cat out of the bag, and called in to tell host Rachel English that a package worth “tens of billions” was on the way.

Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Gavin Jennings, who would later join the Morning Ireland team as a presenter, told TheJournal.ie the interview was a bolt from the blue at the time.

The journalist was at home feeding his one-year-old when he heard it, and recalls that the “Weetabix was literally suspended on the spoon in mid-air” as Honohan dropped his bombshell.

“It’s those very, very unexpected moments about Morning Ireland that can just shock you,” Jennings said.

Up to date…

Jennings himself was behind the microphone in January of this year, as then-Rehab CEO Angela Kerins sparked off a political controversy by refusing to disclose her salary.

Kerins, under duress, eventually revealed her earnings just over a month later, amid a long-running saga over the pay of staff at the group. Of course, she eventually stepped down from the role.

According to the presenter — he wasn’t expecting the original interview to be a particularly dramatic one.

We had looked for her before. On the day, she was on to talk about something else — she was on a trade trip with Richard Bruton. We had said we’d have a word about her pay, in advance.

“I don’t think I asked her many times — it’s just a good example of how asking the most obvious question can get the best response.”

Read: “Why do you have euros?” The head of the IDA was asked some truly bizarre questions on CNBC today…

Read: Fergus O’Dowd just got Paxman-ed on Morning Ireland

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