Television: Keeping up with Kerry’s Kardashians, and Sinn Féin’s supermarket sweep

Documentaries on the Healy Rae dynasty and the Sinn Féin leadership shed scant light on either subject

If the flat cap fits:  Michael Healy Rae, who featured in At Home with the Healy Raes. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

If the flat cap fits: Michael Healy Rae, who featured in At Home with the Healy Raes. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Sat, Nov 30, 2013, 01:00

Two programmes featuring the Healy-Raes in as many months? There must be a notion that the south Kerry political family, or Brand Healy-Rae as they’re known locally, are good copy. Send a camera down and sure it’ll be like Father Ted with flat caps. They could say anything. It’ll be great gas. Well, not really.

When it comes to a carefully crafted image, Kilgarvan’s most famous family (they really do seem to own half the village) could write the book. In At Home with the Healy Raes (TV3, Monday) producer and reporter Ciara Doherty spent two weeks trying to get to know Jackie, Michael, Johnny and Danny, but at the end of this watchable documentary she had to admit difficulty in separating the public from the private. One hectic day with Michael included meeting constituents and going to a wedding, a funeral, and a formal dinner, with a stop-off to feed his cattle. It was a programme about politicians without any talk of political convictions and where national politics seemed to happen in a far away place called Dublin.

Upset by negative press coverage of his last TV outing (RTÉ’s Looking After Number One, in which he was seen driving while taking notes and talking on the phone), he said he didn’t have time to be “schmoozing up in Dublin or rubbing shoulders with journalists”, which would, he implied, result in better media coverage. However, when handed to him on a plate – as here – there was a sense that while he was up for such japes as trying on hats and taking the reporter shooting, he was only tolerating the amiably inquisitive Doherty. This was just another thing he had to do to get re-elected.

Jackie was chattier, gamely reflecting on his past glories as a TD. He recalled his price, in late 2010, for propping up the government. “I went to Lenihan and he said ‘Jackie, we’ll sort out our side of it today. What will it have to be?’ I said: ‘It’ll have to be a million.’ Lenihan gave me a million [for road upgrades in Kerry]. There was no problem.” Things are changing, though. “Michael can’t promise anyone anything,” said Jackie.

Trumpeting the high viewing figures for At Home . . . , TV3 said it was “in discussions with the Healy Raes about creating a full series. The one programme just wasn’t enough.” They may be the Kilgarvan Kardashians, but we’ve seen enough, until there’s something new to say.

Elsewhere, TV3 is to be congratulated for upping its homemade content and moving into making strong, interesting documentaries and not just the sensationalist true-crime tripe it has previously churned out. In the first of a two-part series, Sinn Féin: Who Are They? (TV3, Monday), the station’s political editor Ursula Halligan focused on Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Mary Lou McDonald. The first two were put in historical context, their baggage from the Troubles firmly placed on their backs. McGuinness refused to talk about the IRA, opaquely saying it might jeopardise the peace process: “There is any amount of negative elements out there that would use anything that I say in this interview against the process.”

There was the inevitable question and denial of IRA membership from Adams, with a range of contributors, from former IRA men to politicians, suggesting Adams was lying through his pearly white teeth. However, starting with a lengthy segment on Adams and his history nearly killed this otherwise fine documentary; the territory is too well worn, his contribution too familiar.

Both McGuinness and Adams chose to be filmed outdoors, projecting an idyllic image of free men of Ireland’s green land while talking about their roles in the peace process. It was hard not to feel a little sorry for Halligan perched on a rock asking her questions. McDonald opted to be interviewed in a supermarket. a location loaded with many meanings, ranging from suburban mammy to “hey look at my baggage, it’s a trolley full of normality” to “don’t be frightened, this is what a shinner looks like”.

The location led to a surreal discussion about the “stereotypical shinner”. “I’m looking for Cheerios,” said McDonald. “The people who buy Cheerios don’t want a united Ireland,” said Halligan, in an enjoyable but bizarre non sequitur. “You don’t know that,” said McDonald.

Jackie Healy Rae, in an hilarious misjudgment of character, called Bertie Ahern “as straight as a barrel of a gun. There was no tricks or blackguarding.” But here, that description could have been applied to McDonald, who also gave a refreshingly straight answer in the affirmative about her ambitions for party leadership.

In a strange switch of roles, while TV3 was showing its two political-themed documentaries, RTÉ had a cheap and cheerless observational documentary about a tacky event, The Irish Child Pageant Storm (RTÉ One, Monday). The organiser, upbeat, thick-skinned Texan Annette Hill, planned to hold the beauty contest for children in a Dublin hotel, but, as the negative publicity grew, she ended up holding the shoddy-looking, poorly attended event in a pub in Castleblayney. There was no mention of money in all of it, and no sharp look at who the organisers are, either professionally or personally. No one came out of this looking good, from the shambolic organisation to the deluded parents and especially the children in their grown-up costumes and full make-up.

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