Rodney Rice: A brilliant broadcaster shed light on politics in Ireland and around the world
RODNEY Rice was only on his second day working for RTÉ when the call was made for someone to report on the nascent civil rights movement in Northern Ireland.
It was 1967 and the north barely featured on the national broadcaster’s news, no matter how much it deserved a specialist correspondent.
Rodney was just one year out of college and was a little reporter on the new TV news show Seven days.
But growing up in Whiteabbey near Belfast, he knew the territory well and raised his hand for the job.
It would be the first of thousands of reports for RTÉ in a long and illustrious career that not only helped ensure authoritative and balanced coverage of the Troubles, but made him one of the most respected political journalists in the world. Irish radio and television.
Former Belfast-born RTÉ chief executive Cathal Goan said at his funeral: “Rodney was someone who was at the center of political coverage in this country for so many years: he brought the nooks and crannies to light. dark side of the political process and at the same time defending the central importance of an open democracy for all of us, all the citizens of this country. ”
Rodney Hugh Rice was born in 1944 to a Presbyterian family and his name was remembered for those war years – Rodney after HMS Rodney, who helped sink the German battleship Bismarck, and Hugh for his mother’s brother, Hugh Bamford , who was killed in action in France while pregnant with him.
His years at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution would be extremely formative. He credited him with giving him a broad and comprehensive education and he returned to school regularly for meetings.
It was also at the Inst, founded by the United Irishman William Drennan, that he left behind his family’s firm but moderate Unionist policies and adopted the left-wing nationalist views he would defend the rest of his life.
Rodney was a talented student and was offered a place at the University of Oxford, but instead chose to study political science at Trinity College Dublin, wanting to learn more about the island he strangely found. absent from its history textbooks.
He quickly integrated into life in Dublin and became interested in journalism, applying in his second year for a job at the Belfast Telegraph.
Advised to first acquire experience in college paper Trinity News, he did so before reapplying after graduation and spending a year learning the trade at telegraph satellite titles.
When RTÉ TV announced staff for a new flagship news show, one of its speakers, future Labor Party TD David Thornley, was on the production team and helped him find a job. .
Rodney would become a familiar face on Seven days over the next seven years, reporting regularly on both sides of the border.
Among his most notable interviews, the last one involving provisional and official IRA leaders Seán Mac Stiofáin and Cathal Goulding, before the imposition of the Article 31 broadcast ban.
Rodney then went on the radio, hosting the mid-morning news show Here and now for a decade.
And in 1984, he began a 25-year career as the presenter of the influential political show of RTÉ Radio 1 Saturday view.
Over the years, he’s dissected Dail’s developments with government ministers and backbench TDs of all political shades.
In 1990, the program also played a central role in the presidential election that year.
When Fianna Fáil’s Pádraig Flynn launched a misguided personal attack on Labor candidate Mary Robinson, referring to a “new interest in her family,” Rodney’s skillful chairmanship of the discussion gave the minister just enough rope to damage irremediably the candidacy of the party. colleague Brian Lenihan SNR and help inaugurate the first female head of state.
However, it is in her work on another radio show during the same period that she perhaps takes the most professional pride.
Worlds apart has been commissioned by the Foreign Office to tell stories from the developing world to Irish homes and over the years Rodney has reported on dozens of countries in Africa, Asia and South America , spending six weeks away from home each summer.
A damning verdict on the apartheid regime in South Africa in 1981 saw him become the first Irish journalist banned from the country.
He continued to report in neighboring states and would derive great satisfaction from hosting television coverage of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and a concert to mark his first visit to Ireland.
A towering figure, 6 ‘3 “tall with broad shoulders and a tuft of white hair, Rodney enjoyed meeting people and was not afraid to express his point of view, his Nordic outspokenness not always being appreciated when of the first encounters.
This was not the case with his Mayo-born wife Margo Collins, who had taught in Newry in the 1960s and had been involved in the civil rights movement before they met in Dublin.
They shared a similar political outlook, although Rodney was always careful to maintain journalistic neutrality.
His family said he was motivated throughout his career by a sense of justice and a faith in politics to achieve the public good, as well as journalism’s role as a watchdog in this process.
Still staunchly opposed to violence, he would be delighted to see the Troubles eventually give way to peace even though he remained frustrated to the end by the lingering problem of a divided society.
After retiring from RTÉ in 2009, Rodney continued to work in developing countries with Trócaire and ActionAid Ireland.
Speaking at his humanist funeral at Mount Jerome in Dublin, Brendan Rogers of the Foreign Office said he “has helped shape our national consciousness on development issues”.
“Rodney’s moral compass was absolutely clear and consistent in all the years I have known him: he has never shied away from speaking out against injustice and inequality.”
Among other tributes after his death, President Michael D Higgins said the news “will have been heard with sadness by all those interested in politics and global justice, but especially by all to whom he introduced a world of struggles for freedom, inequalities, famine and forced migration ”.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin also tweeted that he was a “brilliant political journalist, presenter and producer” who leaves a lasting legacy in international aid.
Rodney Rice passed away at the age of 76 on August 29 and is survived by his wife Margo, children Cian, Caitríona and Eoghan and eight grandchildren.