A new Channel 4 comedy series which depicts London’s Irish population as binge-drinking, English-haters suffering from a permanent hangover has been accused of “racism” by members of the community.
Due to air in September, London Irish is about “a hard-drinking, hard-living ex-pat community of Northern Irish twenty-somethings who live in London”.
The synopsis says: “For these four friends it’s not easy navigating their way through London life, particularly when they’re too drunk to know where they’re going, or remember where they’ve been.”
“They have sh*t jobs, no money, and are surrounded by English people. In fact there's only one thing worse than living in London with the English. And that’s living in Ireland with the Irish.”
A clip, released by Channel 4 this week, has already attracted controversy. It showed a woman in bed with a child aged three.
The woman asks “We didn’t, did we?” as the child hands her a lighter for her cigarette after she finds him under the duvet.
The series, starring Sinead Keenan (Being Human) and Kerr Logan (Game of Thrones), was created by Lisa McGee, a stage and screen-writer from Derry, Northern Ireland. She said: “Ultimately, it’s a show about young people, who value having the craic above everything else.”
A Channel 4 spokesman said: “London Irish is written by Derry born Lisa McGee and is loosely based on her and her friends experiences of being Irish living in London, with a pinch of comedic exaggeration. It is a highly authored piece and not a generalisation of all Irish living in London.”
However members of London’s Irish community have already rounded on the show. Pádraic Graham tweeted: “Sounds like something Alan Partridge dreamed up. Are they going to include us planting bombs & Tarmacing driveways too?”
Kate Bones wrote: “I’m shocked the writer is Irish. We need to move on from old cliches & stereotypes. This is backwards. Tell a real story!”
Keith M. O' Brien wrote: “I and my housemates, and the hundreds of Alumni I work with, are nothing like this stereotype. Too busy working & slaving.”
Meghan Rice tweeted that Channel 4 “would NEVER get away w/such blatant #RACISM if was about black or Asian people!”
Others wrote that they drunk less since moving to London and far from refusing to assimilate, had plenty of English friends.
However the programme’s depiction of hard-drinking young Irish people was described as “fair enough” by other tweeters.
Gary Dunne, Artistic Director of the London Irish Centre in Camden, said: “I’ll be watching the show with interest but from the publicity material they sent out the description of London Irish people doesn’t resemble the huge majority of young people I know.”
“The majority of Twitter responses the Centre has received have questioned the negative stereotyping. The question of racism has been raised.”
Mr Dunne said Channel 4 had contacted him to discuss the possibility of the writer and commissioning team holding a discussion at the Centre about the show.
Ms McGee, who moved to London three years ago, explained: “The characters are children of the peace process, living in one of the greatest cities in the world and they want to have a good time.
“Yeah they’re screwed up, they drink too much, they swear too much...but I really hope people watch the show and think, ‘I don't half want a night out with that lot’ and love watching these four characters as much as I love writing for them.”
The London Irish Premiership rugby union club said it would be seeking to ensure that none if its logos or branding would be used in the show.
Recent research from the London Irish Centre found that the majority of new emigrants to the city are aged between 25 and 30. The survey found that 18 per cent of respondents came to London to pursue educational opportunities, while 13 per cent have found themselves unemployed.
Ireland has proved a fertile source for sitcoms since the huge success of Channel 4’s Father Ted. Mrs Brown’s Boys, created by the writer and performer Brendan O'Carroll, has become a mainstream hit on BBC1.