Daniel McConnell: O'Rourke's retirement marks the departure of a true giant in Irish broadcasting

The decision of Sean O'Rourke to retire on Friday May 8th to coincide with his 65th birthday is not entirely unexpected but does however mark the departure of a true giant in Irish broadcasting and journalism.
Daniel McConnell: O'Rourke's retirement marks the departure of a true giant in Irish broadcasting

The decision of Sean O'Rourke

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I say not unexpected given how RTÉ has handled similar high profile departures in recent times.

It has been understood that O'Rourke had wanted to remain on in his €308,000 a year job but it was not to be.

Since he filled the void left by the departure of Pat Kenny to Newstalk, O'Rourke has commanded that 10am-12pm slot on the most listened to radio station in the country.

His 'Today with Sean O'Rourke' show since its inception seven years ago has more often than not help set the political agenda in this country.

It would be tempting to put his success down to the fact of the inert conservatism among Irish radio listeners and their reluctance to 'move the dial' but this does a grave injustice to the mastery of O'Rourke's journalistic skill. A daily listenership of 350,000 speaks for itself.

His interview with the former Fine Gael TD Maria Bailey is just one example of how he excelled in what he did. He managed to give the former TD enough rope to hang herself over the space of the 20-plus minute interview, which ended her career.

While perhaps not as comfortable with the lighter and softer content in the early days, he has certainly settled more into a much more rounded presenter.

But undoubtedly, he is a news and political anorak and he was clearly in his comfort zone when probing political matters. His show during the height of the Brexit crisis was required listening.

Before his current role, his stewardship of the News At One was equally commanding, most typified by his seminal interview with the late Brian Lenihan in early January 2010 about his cancer diagnosis.

Lenihan had his pick of interviewees to speak about his terminal diagnosis but it was a testament to O'Rourke's standing that he was top of the list.

His background in print journalism certainly stood to him on radio and on TV as host of 'The Week In Politics' and O'Rourke's morning routine before going on air would involve a deep study of all of the morning's papers.

On a personal note, as someone who has appeared regularly on his show, it was always a daunting challenge to face him in studio as he demanded much from his journalistic colleagues as he would from any politician.

But to survive either a one on one interview or the Friday 'Gathering' was always an achievement but you always felt the need to bring your best.

Dee Forbes, Director General of RTE said of him today: “Sean O'Rourke's contribution to Irish journalism, and to RTÉ, is hugely significant. From his start at the Connacht Tribune in 1973 to his latest years at the helm of our key morning current affairs radio programme, Sean has navigated and dissected the stories of the day with a rigour, tenacity, clarity and drive that is unmatched.. His love for radio and for news, his passion for sport and reading, meant that he was an enormously well-rounded presenter too; informed, interested, and interesting."

I wish Sean well in his retirement and it is fair to say he has done the State some service.

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