'EastEnders' gets racism warning as spin-off show to be based in Ireland
Minister hopes BBC drama has learned from previous, controversial Irish episodes
'Eastenders' is famous for its feisty punch-ups, sordid love affairs and bitter rivalries. And now two of the soap's most tumultuous characters will be leaving Albert Square behind to arrive on our shores later this year.
However, soap bosses have been warned to 'keep it real' this time, as their last efforts at basing the show here 18 years ago resulted in a diplomatic row which saw the Irish Ambassador to Britain describe the show's portrayal of Ireland as "worrying" and "prejudiced".
It has been announced that a spin-off six-part series will be filmed here later this year, which will focus on Walford's favourite couple Kat and Alfie Moon. It has not yet been established what part of the country the London show will temporarily relocate to, but actors Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace said they are "absolutely thrilled".
Richie, who plays the loveable Alfie, will liven up our streets with his character's eccentric shirts and brash Cockney accent.
He described the move from London's east-end as an "amazing opportunity".
The soap, which is broadcast in Ireland on RTE One, regularly attracts millions of viewers.
Three episodes were based here in 1997 and resulted in a huge public outcry as it showed drunken revellers and what appeared to be wild animals roaming the streets.
The episodes showed the character of Pauline Fowler travel to Ireland to meet her long-lost half-sister, but ended up angering many Irish fans. The BBC subsequently issued an apology after hundreds of viewers filed complaints.
Junior Tourism Minister Michael Ring yesterday described the announcement as "great news", but said he hopes the country will be depicted in a more positive manner this time around.
"The British market is still our number one market for tourism. And, once it is selling Ireland in a positive manner, I would welcome it.
"I hope they have learned from their mistakes and I hope they will be showing Ireland in a positive light this time," he added.
Dublin Lord Mayor Christy Burke said he will have the kettle on for the cast in the Mansion House.
"If I don't meet them at the airport, they are more than welcome to the Mansion House," he said.
He added: "Of course, we are proud of the donkeys that walk along the road in Connemara, I see them there and I think it is great. But long gone is the day where we depend on donkeys and carts to bring our milk around. I'm sure they have learned by their mistakes, they'll come over the next time and I am sure they will have a different outlook going back."
'EastEnders' executive producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins said the couple will "head to Ireland to search for answers to some very big questions".