While RTÉ holes up in a tech firm’s cosy casa, Sher­iff Browne roams the land bring­ing jus­tice and truth

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - PA­TRICK FREYNE

At the Face­book Elec­tion Spe­cial (RTÉ2, Sun­day), the male politi­cians are tie-less. This is to in­di­cate that they are dash­ing men of ac­tion who are down with the kids. It’s a young-look­ing au­di­ence, and if the politi­cians are lis­ten­ing to what they’re say­ing about men­tal health, the cost of education and the need to re­peal the Eighth Amend­ment, they’ll re­alise that th­ese kids are feel­ing very down in­deed.

So ex­tra­or­di­nary mea­sures are called for. Aod­hán Ó Ríordáin is do­ing well with three but­tons open. The Green’s Ea­mon Ryan has at least two but­tons open. As does Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Doo­ley, al­though in his case it looks like dur­ing each ad break an as­sis­tant rushes out to ap­ply a medic­i­nal Wind­sor knot. Leo Varad­kar has his shirt en­tirely open, his shoes off and shav­ing foam on his face. Okay, I made that up. He also has a cou­ple of but­tons open.

It’s a strange pro­gramme. As well as the afore­men­tioned politi­cians, there’s Averil Power, Mary Lou McDon­ald and Adri­enne Wal­lace from Peo­ple Be­fore Profit. Ev­ery­one is a “young” politi­cian (any politi­cian un­der the age of 50 is “young”). But the weird­est thing is the Face­book con­nec­tion. I know we’re only a decade or so away from be­ing of­fi­cially re­named Ire­book: As Brought to You By Face­book or Googleville or Ebay on Sea or, pos­si­bly, Airstrip One, but even so, hav­ing RTÉ broad­cast­ing an elec­tion de­bate from a tech gi­ant’s in­ter­na­tional head­quar­ters feels a lit­tle like they’re try­ing to tell us some­thing.

Spo­rad­i­cally, the cam­era pans to an area where a woman from Face­book ex­plains how the de­bate is be­ing dis­cussed on Face­book and says things like: “Ir­ish vot­ers have tra­di­tion­ally turned to Face­book to share with their friends and fam­i­lies the is­sues that are on their minds.”

This, of course, re­minds me of the Face­book up­dates my great grand­fa­ther wrote dur­ing the war of in­de­pen­dence, the “Lolz” we had at Daniel O’Con­nell’s mon­ster meet­ings and the Face­book “like” that started the 1798 re­bel­lion. I feel in­stantly pa­tri­otic.

It creates an odd dy­namic. When Ea­mon Ryan raises the is­sue of cor­po­ra­tions such as Face­book not pay­ing their fair share of tax in re­turn for our ex­pen­sively ed­u­cated work­force, he feels obliged to add “I don’t mean to be rude”, be­cause he’s well brought-up and he’s in their house (of course they’re also in our house, us­ing our stuff).

In gen­eral, the tone is more re­spect­ful than other elec­tion de­bates I’ve seen. This may be due to pow­er­ful con­tri­bu­tions from re­mark­able au­di­ence mem­bers. Cat O’Broin speaks about the sys­tem’s fail­ures to pro­tect her late, men­tally ill brother and Vanessa O’Sul­li­van speaks about hav­ing to travel for an abor­tion af­ter she was raped. Or it may be due to the se­lec­tion of politi­cians (it’s a thought­ful crop, to be fair). But more likely it’s be­cause Face­book has put a chip in ev­ery­one’s heads in or­der to reg­u­late their moods.

Browne roams the land

Things are very dif­fer­ent on The Peo­ple’s De­bate with

Vin­cent Browne (TV3, Mon­day). Be­fore each episode the au­di­ence mem­bers are starved, shown vi­o­lent film clips and in­jected with mon­key hor­mones – or, al­ter­na­tively, made live in a small ru­ral town dur­ing a re­ces­sion. Episodes of­ten play out like the political de­bate ver­sion of the fight scene in Johnny Cash’s A Boy Named Sue. While in the high-tech Face­book Elec­tion Spe­cial, Keelin Shan­ley em­ploys the mod­er­at­ing pre­ci­sion of Robocop, Vin­cent Browne is more like Lugs Brani­gan, en­forc­ing the rule of law (his law) with baf­fled sighs and whacks from a bro­ken ta­ble leg.

For some time he has been roam­ing the land, go­ing from con­stituency to con­stituency, seek­ing a life of quiet con­tem­pla­tion but con­stantly be­com­ing em­broiled in in­ternecine feuds and hav­ing to cut up rough. He gazes at politi­cians with thinly veiled dis­dain. Oh, the things those eyes have seen.

Browne has now been to all 40 con­stituen­cies. The quest con­cluded this week with Castle­bar, in the home con­stituency of Enda Kenny, who chose not to come to the de­bate, but to watch it in­stead from the safety of his re­ju­ve­na­tion sar­coph­a­gus. Browne is in­censed by this and there are dark ref­er­ences to Kenny’s com­ment about his con­stituents be­ing whingers.

While the con­cerns of the youth­ful au­di­ence mem­bers on the for­mer pro­gramme are na­tional, those of the Peo­ple’s

De­bate are, for good rea­son, lo­cal. Au­di­ence mem­bers are con­cerned with the clo­sure of post-of­fices and Garda sta­tions and the gen­eral de­ple­tion of lo­cal ser­vices. They ram­ble. They pon­tif­i­cate. They go off point. They make sense. They make no sense. They shout con­tri­bu­tions when no mi­cro­phone is on them. And the politi­cians do like­wise. They make Browne say “I have no idea what you’re talk­ing about” more than once. But for all its messi­ness, the Peo­ple’s De­bates have been a great achieve­ment, putting faces on re­gional and na­tional prob­lems to a sound­track of sigh­ing from the high priest of dis­gruntle­ment.

On Des Bishop’s Elec­tion (RTÉ2, Mon­day), Bishop does a good job of chan­nelling his own warm-hearted com­edy into a US com­edy-news-style anal­y­sis of what he feels are the core is­sues of the elec­tion (cli­mate change, men­tal health, fair tax­a­tion). We could do with more of this sort of thing to off­set the (ad­mit­tedly hi­lar­i­ous) ni­hilism found else­where in Ir­ish satire. The best bit was Blindboy Boat­club’s recre­ation of a dream he had in­volv­ing Gerry Adams ap­pear­ing as a small dog to ex­plain how Ir­ish men­tal-health prob­lems de­rive from Catholi­cism. It made more sense than any­thing else I’ve seen all week.

Roy­alr um­bles

Some­times, I think we chose the wrong political sys­tem al­to­gether. On The Roy­als (E!, Wed­nes­day) the queen of Eng­land (El­iz­a­beth Hur­ley), dis­tracted by her heart­bro­ken, drug-ad­dicted and Aus­tralian-ac­cented chil­dren, re­alises there’s a new bitch in town, the glam­orous soon-to-be prime min­is­ter, Rani.

Rani is hav­ing none of the queen’s plans to change the rules of suc­ces­sion and even re­fuses her gift of new Jimmy Choos. “It’s a pair of shoes, not North­ern Ire­land,” cries queen El­iz­a­beth Hur­ley. This is the first time The

Roy­als has ex­plic­itly dealt with Ir­ish pol­i­tics and the anal­y­sis is com­pelling. In­deed, they go on to en­gage in some ex­cel­lent trashtalk­ing that Ir­ish politi­cians could learn from. “Don’t get too com­fort­able,” says quee­nie to prime min­is­terie. “Th­ese are shark-in­fested wa­ters and those fake tits won’t keep you afloat for long.” I feel like our na­tional de­bate is im­pov­er­ished slightly be­cause I can’t imag­ine Michael D say­ing this to Enda Kenny.

Ac­tu­ally, maybe I can.

We’re only a decade away from be­ing of­fi­cially re­named Ire­book, Googleville, Ebay on Sea or Airstrip One

Des Bishop’s Elec­tion has a Rubber soul

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