After Pat Kenny's meltdown, the meeting on the stairs


TV REVIEW:THE PEOPLE AT TV3 keep sending press releases banging on about the number of times they’ve asked Taoiseach Enda Kenny into studio for a debate about the fiscal treaty.

“We believe such a debate is an essential response to the level of undecided voters,” they said in an email on Tuesday.

If the “boo-hoo, why won’t Enda come out to play?” plea wasn’t getting so much media traction for the station, you’d say they were coming across as a bit needy.

And, anyway, they’ve already had a debate on the fiscal treaty, a couple of weeks ago, and it was about as illuminating and irritating as the first generation of energy-efficient bulbs.

It’s doubtful anyway whether any viewers who value their time and blood pressure would be bothered tuning in for another debate, having seen the shambolic bunfight on The Frontline (RTÉ1, Monday).

Eamon Gilmore and Norah Casey (for the yes side) and Mary Lou McDonald and Declan Ganley (for the no side) were standing behind lecterns, which was about as debate-like as it got, because the four spent a lot of the time talking over each other, making it impossible to hear anything. When they were making themselves clear, they seemed to be doing little more than parroting well-rehearsed soundbites – which isn’t really a debate at all.

And then Pat Kenny had a meltdown. It started when a man in the audience, James, asked a question about the Common Agricultural Policy – and he wasn’t going to stop talking, loudly, about the Cap until he got his full 15 minutes of Frontline fame.

Kenny’s role, if this had been a grown-up debate instead of a noisy mix of Liveline meets spin-doctor fodder, should have been as a cool moderator. Instead he shouted at the unstoppable James, nearly kneeled down to plead with him to stop and finally, in a line I hope has caused him at least one mortified shudder since, said, “Come on, James, get a life.” More Jeremy Kyle than Jeremy Paxman.

Enda has it right. We’re not good at debates. Too shouty, too fond of talking and not listening, too preachy: the plodding performances of Joe Higgins, Micheál Martin, Mary Lou McDonald and Simon Coveney in the TV3 debate would make you once again grateful to Eugene Polley, the inventor of the remote control, who passed away this week.

The Taoiseach’s address to the nation tomorrow night will undoubtedly be deathly dull, and you’ll find your mind wandering off every now and again as you admire his tie or the nice wood panelling or his boyish haircut. But, whether or not you agree with what he says, at least the chances are that it will be a dignified, clear piece of communication.

‘MOST OF THE TIMEI want to go home. I really miss my kids,” said Leonora, sitting in the spartan staff accommodation of the care home she works in, just off the M50 in Dublin. The scene in The New Irish: After the Bust (RTÉ1, Friday) was intercut with shots of her last visit home, to the Philippines, and it took a while to realise that they showed the same woman.

In Dublin, when alone in her room, she looked unsmiling, even blank; but, larking around with her four children in a swimming pool, her smile lit up her face and she was a different woman.

This series, directed by Kim Bartley – it’s really good – gives an insight into what life is like for some of the people who came here from the farthest-flung places during the boom to make better lives, not necessarily for themselves but often, as with Leonora, for their families back home. Her life is all about working hard as a carer and sending money home; she has been here for seven years, having left the Philippines when her youngest was one.

She had three jobs then: a full-time one in a care home and two part-time jobs, as a cleaner and a childminder. She was working every waking hour. Now the part-time jobs are gone, a cleaner being a Celtic Tiger luxury and unemployment reducing the need for childminders.

Back home, she and the many others like her – 20 women from her tiny village alone work abroad – are perceived to be living the good life when, in fact, they send home nearly every penny after paying for food and lodging.

A live-in minder, paid €50 a month, looks after her children. “At the end of the day the minder is their second mother,” she said. The irony that she spends her life looking after elderly people here when she can’t look after her own mother or grandmother is not lost on her.

The camera followed her for a month-long visit home. She hadn’t seen her children in a year, and her goal on this trip was to fund a small extension to her one-room house, so that her 13-year-old son would have his own bedroom. She arrived back in the Philippines with a huge suitcase. She left for Dublin with only a handbag, leaving everything behind.

I STAYED UPto watch The Works: Ireland’s Favourite Painting (RTÉ1, Thursday) not to see who won – because I couldn’t get too excited about the peculiarly unfocused exercise – but to see if Mike Murphy might look even a little sheepish. He caused a stir by writing to this newspaper to agree with this column’s negative review of the project – which, as he presented its expensive-looking documentary, prompted widespread comment in other media. (See Radio Review, below.) Unless RTÉ is on some Zen plane of otherworldly acceptance it must have been hopping mad.

Murphy didn’t get to present the results show. John Kelly did. The programme didn’t shy away from the project’s critics. Kelly interviewed Murphy, the art critic Cristín Leach Hughes and the TV producer Bill Hughes, who said what many were thinking. “I got confused by what the criteria was,” he remarked, wondering how a Caravaggio and, say, a Paul Henry could be in the same competition and if it would not have been better to restrict it to Irish painters, making space for serious omissions, such as Francis Bacon and Tony O’Malley.

Murphy, a large smile on his face, chipped in that he would have picked an entirely different 10 – a smug, undermining thing to say. But it was an affable discussion, with all agreeing that the project was worthwhile if it got people into galleries to see the amazing art we own. Frederic William Burton’s Hellelil and Hildebrand, The Meeting on the Turret Stairs was voted the favourite – but as we didn’t know how many people voted, it was hard to know what that really means. Kelly’s guests agreed that the vote suggests, as Hughes put it, “we really are a romantic lot.”

Get stuck into . . .

Dispatches:The Real Mr and Mrs Assad (Channel 4, Monday). Asma al-Assad, the British-born wife of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, became infamous for her Louboutin heels while the people of their country suffered.

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