Sunday 22 September 2019

7 things we learned from David McWilliams' 'Ireland: Why Are We So Broke?'

3 stars

David McWilliams
David McWilliams

Ed Power

David McWilliams was back on television – and with a trendy new format. A tad TOO trendy, actually: a grumpy rock band chugged in the corner while some dead-on-arrival comedy allegedly spruced-up proceedings (proceedings were not spruced up).

Still, there was enough meat to the second instalment of David McWilliams’ Ireland to (just about) justify its 60 minute air-time. With the subtitle Why Are We So Broke? the episode delved into the eye-watering cost of everything in this country – and sought to tease out who was profiting from all the gouging.

No clear answers were forthcoming – but then so intractable a problem was unlikely to be solved on a random Thursday on TV3. McWilliams, meanwhile, was typically breezy – and adept at putting manners on a restive studio audience.

Were this RTE, a shouting match would have probably erupted. So a big Brylcreem bonus to McWilliams for keeping the debate on course. Here is the rest of what we learned.

1: We’re being ripped off…for everything

Cars, pharmaceuticals, alcohol – you name it, Irish people are paying through the nose. Remarkably this was true even when – as in the case of pharmaceuticals – the products are actually manufactured here. It was the ultimate Irish question : how can the cost of goods diminish as they are sent abroad?


2: Stop blaming pharmacists – said the man married to a pharmacist

One of the many experts on hand asserted that pharmacist mark-ups in Ireland were significantly higher than in most other EU countries. Quick at a flash, a chap in the audience rushed in to defend the profession. “Are you a pharmacist?” ask the host. “My wife is,” came the answer and you edited out whatever else he had to say.

3: Please - no more ‘wacky’ bits in current affairs shows

Eric Lalor and Oliver Callan are popular comics – but their contributions here simply didn’t work. Lalor’s stand-up sucked the momentum out of the debate. And if Callan’s Leo Varadkar impersonation located the streak of South Dublin condescension running through the Taoiseach, he didn’t know what to do with it.


4: The studio needs a makeover

It’s TV3 not HBO, so wobbly sets are inevitable. Still, while McWilliams was effusive and knowledgeable, the rickety studio didn’t help him get his point across. Having everyone seated randomly at tables was a confusing choice – was this a select gathering of experts or a bunch of randomers rounded up at the last moment?


5: The tax system is a mess

Unlike saner countries, in Ireland the cost of running the state comes overwhelmingly from income tax – that is, a levy on work, rather than capital. A quick show of hands indicated the studio audience believed the imbalance needed to be addressed – but this is out of kilter with voting patterns. Were the punters unrepresentative of national opinion or had their heads been turned by the experts? (and would they turn the back the moment they left the studio?)


6: The guests needed a better build up

The ubiquitous Anton Savage chimed in with his thoughts on the scandalous price of cars. But what made him such an expert? A little context would have helped. Ditto the token socialist who wanted free jam for everyone and imaginative new taxes on the wealthy / bourgeoisie / kulaks. What was his political background – why was he even here in the first place?


7: The debate skated along the surface

Inefficiencies in healthcare were identified as fuelling the outrageous cost of doctors, medicines etc in Ireland. But because of the slick format – and all that “comedy” – there was no opportunity to delve deeper and identify what those inefficiencies might be.

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