Why Tub’s soft campaign for redemption is failing

If Sinead O’Connor’s death last week marked the passing of an era in Ireland, as most of the media coverage seemed desperate to assure us, then it should be noted that there was a valiant effort to use the moment to bring about the end of another era as well. Ryan Tubridy’s time of trouble was also slated to end, as he – or his advisors – used the big occasion for a soft relaunch of the nation’s favourite beanpole with a heavily promoted piece in the Irish Times in which he compared and contrasted himself to the late O’Connor. “She was rock ‘n roll”, he wrote. “I was the opposite”.

But what is “the opposite”? If she was at the centre of our national life to cause necessary disruption, and provoke uncomfortable debate, and inspire us (in the posthumous telling, at least) with a vision of what things might be, then what precisely is the opposite of that? It would, I’d venture, be a fair description of Tubridy: A person that exists to minimise disruption; suppress and soothe uncomfortable instincts towards debate; and inspire us with a vision of how grand things currently are. Give Tubs one thing – he doesn’t lack self-awareness. If she was the national shot of caffeine, he was, and remains, the national hot water bottle.

In any case, a cynic might think that if the purpose of his tribute to O’Connor was not to get some favourable press coverage for himself out of the big story, then it was, at minimum, a helpfully foreseen side effect. What are funerals, after all, if not a time to set aside our differences and come together, once more, as family, to forgive recent, unimportant squabbles and embrace each other once more?

The problem with all of this – the forgive Ryan narrative, for want of a better word, is that it doesn’t much seem to be working:

New figures from the Department of Media show TV licence sales for the fourth week in July were 10,661, with 1,173 first-time licences and 9,488 renewals.

During the same period in 2022, a total of 14,151 licences were sold, 1,796 which were first-time licences and 12,355 renewals.

This represents a drop of 3,490, or equivalent to €558,400 in revenue.

Renewals on the same period are down 23pc while 35pc less first time licences were sold.

Some €99,680 was lost on first time licences alone and a further €458,720 was lost on renewals during the last week in July alone.

These are not insignificant figures. TV licences, you must remember, are assigned to households, not to individuals. Extrapolating those figures to a full calendar year gets you some 150,000 households who’ve said “enough, now”, and stopped paying. What’s more, remember that the current law awards free TV licences to the elderly, so whatever proportion of the grey vote that has had enough of RTE is not included in these figures.

There is palpable hunger, in the media, for Tubridy to get his “second chance”. That is, to some extent, entirely unsurprising. His position atop the media food chain, both on television and on radio over the years, has given him almost unparalleled levels of patronage to dispense. There are a good many “media personalities” in Ireland who owe to Ryan Tubridy’s booking decisions their own careers and prominence – just like Gay Byrne before him. If you’re somebody who was on personal good terms with Tubs when he reigned the mountain from it’s peak, you’ve got a vested interest in returning him to, if not the summit, then somewhere close to the cloud line.

Twenty years ago, this would probably have worked without much public protest or cynicism. That was an era before the public cottoned on, in large part, to the Terry Prone inspired rules for managing a crisis: Be humble, apologise, say you’ve learned your lesson, blame institutional failures, and make people feel good about giving you a second chance. The first five or six dozen times that playbook is used, people do what it is intended to make them do – act generously and forgive. But by now, the public know that they are being played just as the players know that they are playing the public. And a great many people are sick and tired of it.

It’s notable, in the case of RTE, that nobody has really yet paid for the scandal. Sure, Dee Forbes is gone, but she was slated to go anyway. Some relatively faceless RTE management types departed, but I challenge you, without googling, to remember their names – even though they were in the headlines just three weeks ago. Even the slowest of us can presumably see that business as usual is well on track for a return.

And that, I think, is Tubs big problem: The public wants somebody to pay for this mess, and that person must be someone they can identify with. He’s the only candidate.

Which is why, if all us licence fee criminals keep it up, we’ve likely seen the last of him on the national broadcaster.


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