Saturday 16 December 2017

Television review: Our Republicans were 'post-truth' before the Americans

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams. Photo: Tom Burke
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams. Photo: Tom Burke
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

I have been developing this theory for some time now - well, since last Monday - that programmes made in the Irish language tend to be visually stronger than they might be if they were made in the mother-tongue of the majority. That, either consciously or subconsciously, the makers are aware that the spoken-word aspect of the show is going to be compromised anyway by the need to have people talking in a language in which some of them are not fluent, or perhaps not as fluent as they'd like to be. And that about, say, 40pc of all conversations in Irish anyway, have this sub-text that remains unspoken: isn't it great that we're talking to one another like this?

So the first episode of Harry Magee's series Polaitiocht: Power on the Box, had plenty of fine pictures in black and white and colour, both still and moving, to liven up a programme which in English might have relied more on the old routine of the talking head. And in that area the simple device of having Eoghan Harris as a contributor ensured that the energy level would actually rise sharply in the parts where it would usually drop to near zero.

This was particularly clear as he addressed the great theme of Section 31, how the banning of the IRA from the airwaves was essentially a moral not a political act, that its aim was to prevent the excellent spokesmen for the Provos from recruiting young men, and that we will never know how many lives it saved - though you wouldn't need actuarial assistance to guess that the answer might be "a lot".

And if you thought this was just a bit of history, along came Gerry Adams to make it thrillingly modern. With a splendid sense of dramatic contrast, the next thing we see is Adams saying that "one of the reasons that the war went on for so long, is because of Section 31".

Harry Magee then puts it to him thus, to avoid any confusion: "According to you, that delayed the peace process?" And Adams responds like a man uttering the one thing in life that he believes above all others: "Without a doubt. Without a shadow of a doubt."

He then explains that the peace process came about through talking and listening. So it must follow that having top Provos talking on television and the people of Ireland listening, while "the war" was still going on, would have wrapped it all up quite nicely "without a doubt, without a shadow of a doubt". Pausing only to note the ingenious use of "the war" as this thing that was going on in a kind of a passive sense, as if, say, Gerry Adams had no means of intervening other than by talking to RTE interviewers, we suddenly realised that this man has been educating us for years, and we didn't know it.

The post-truth politics? There are some commentators who are getting all agitated about this, who seem to think that this post-truth age started around the time that Donald Trump started to do well in the Republican primaries, whereas of course we in Ireland know that our Republican movement has been post-truth for a very long time, that that is where they live.

They have been pre-truth too, if the occasion requires, without ever showing much desire to encounter it directly, and to share it with the general public.

For 30 years we have been watching Gerry "Without A Doubt" Adams talking about various matters pertaining to the Republican movement, and suddenly we think that Donald Trump with his incessant crapola is doing something new?

We see Trump constantly saying things which are at variance with universally accepted facts, with all that is known and all that is demonstrably true, and we're thinking, that's strange, nobody ever thought of that before.

Well they did, but for a while at least they weren't allowed on Irish television. Trump was greatly helped by television, though it was never suggested that he might be kept off it until he stopped telling such massive, massive lies.

Controversial I know, but with the slight upside that it might have saved the world.

Polaitiocht: Power on the Box (RTE1)

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