Canonisation? A waste of Peter McVerry’s money

TV review: ‘A View from the Basement’ shows how the Newry priest left privilege to work among Dublin’s poor

Hands-on approach: Peter McVerry in his inner-city Dublin office with Paddy Fay, centre, and Keith McAnaspie.

Hands-on approach: Peter McVerry in his inner-city Dublin office with Paddy Fay, centre, and Keith McAnaspie.

 

In a week when, controversially, Mother Teresa has been canonised, RTÉ turns its cameras on a man who works with homeless people in Dublin’s inner city. [CF413]Peter McVerry: A View from the Basement[/CF413] (Tuesday, RTÉ One) tells the story of the Jesuit priest from Newry who has devoted his life to helping disadvantaged people in the poorest parts of the capital. Is he a saint? Perhaps not, but he’s certainly someone who’s found his calling.

McVerry grew up in Newry, and had a privileged life, attending Clongowes Wood College, where he played for the cricket team and excelled in maths and chemistry. We learn he was a conformist, never questioning authority, never challenging the status quo, never shaking the tree. That all changed when he was sent to teach in Dublin’s inner city as part of his Jesuit training. He was posted to Belvedere, the fee-paying school in the heart of Dublin’s north inner city, but when he saw the utter poverty that lay on the other side of the school walls, he and two other priests volunteered to move into a tenement in Summerhill.

He hoped to change the disaffected young people he met there, but as he admits, “The only person who had changed was me.”

This is also the story of the systematic destruction of Dublin’s inner city, first by wrong-headed planners, then by a heroin epidemic, and now by the escalating, violent feuds between rival drug gangs. The Summerhill tenements were demolished to make way for office buildings – making many families homeless. The Ballymun towers were built without regard for the basic needs of people who would end up rotting away there. McVerry set up a hostel in one of the tower flats. In one poignant scene, some of the survivors look over old photos of life in the cramped flat.

When the Matt Talbot bridge was opened in 1978, McVerry was angry that the government had spent a million quid to help middle-class people shave three minutes off their journey back to the leafy suburbs. From then on he became more of an activist, badgering politicians and going to court to force the government to abide by child protection laws. Eventually the workload became so great, it necessitated the setting up of the Peter McVerry trust.

The programme ends with the pertinent question of who will take up the baton for the homeless and marginalised in Dublin after McVerry dies. Perhaps McVerry is a saint, but he certainly wouldn’t want anyone wasting money on a canonisation ceremony while there’s poverty to be fought.

Operation Transformation, after several years helping Irish people fight the flab, finally gets its own celebrity spin-off. The only question here is why it took so long for the celebs to muscle in on this successful format.[CF413] Celebrity Operation Transformation [/CF413](Wednesday, RTÉ One) features comedians Katherine Lynch and Karl Spain, broadcasters Elaine Crowley and Brenda Donohue, and solicitor Gerald Kean, all on a mission to change their unhealthy lifestyles. What makes them any different from ordinary overweight people? Nothing much, except that maybe Kean has more money to spend on foie gras and Cuban cigars, and Spain and Lynch can see the funny side of their weight problems.

Beneath the public personas, we find they struggle with the same bad lifestyle habits as many others. Lynch thirsts for red wine; Donohue has a Pavlovian response to the smell of fast food; and Kean needs that big cigar like a baby needs its soother. It’s also scary to find that the two men in the group have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes – that should give any of us fellas carrying a bit around the waist pause for thought.

These five celebs are tasked with leading viewers on a health regime over the next few weeks. The show works on the premise that there’s strength in numbers, and if you get friends, family and the wider community involved, everyone will be more motivated to stick with it. And with all the happy-clappy, let’s-do-it, we’re-all-in-this-together stuff going on here – not to mention the blindingly obvious soundtrack choices – you’ll need something to keep you from running screaming to the nearest doughnut shop. You can approach the programme as either a trite orgy of body-shaming or a fun weight-loss game-show that you can enjoy while munching a TV dinner, but when we’re hit with the statistic that Ireland is on the fast-track to becoming Europe’s most obese nation, you start to think that maybe this show is providing a vital public service and perhaps you should get up off that couch and join the fun. Maybe after just one more biscuit.

Ones to Watch: ‘Red Rock’ and a hard place

– “Who killed Brian?” doesn’t have the same ring as “Who shot JR?” but Red Rock (Monday, TV3), back in its new prime-time slot, will tell us the answer in an explosive opening episode.

– Hooten & the Lady (Friday, Sky1) sounds like a mix of Indiana Jones and Antiques Roadshow. It follows an adventurer (left) and a museum curator as they search for lost treasures.

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