Wednesday 20 February 2019

John Boland: 'If you want the lowdown on Brexit, don't ask Claire Byrne'

 

Perky promise: Claire Byrne's show left us none the wiser on Brexit
Perky promise: Claire Byrne's show left us none the wiser on Brexit

John Boland

With a mere 67 days to Brexit, the host of Claire Byrne Live (RTÉ1) promised us that last Monday night's show would provide "everything you need to know, from car insurance to food costs, medical expenses, flights and border controls".

Oh goody, I thought, finally a current affairs programme that will explain Brexit to a thicko like me and that will tell me what to expect when it comes to the humdrum business of getting on with life as a neighbouring islander to Theresa May.

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But in the event, I learned nothing - either from the host herself, her panellists or the various experts in the audience. Helen McEntee, who's the Minister of State for European Affairs, waffled on in government-speak about hard borders and backstops, while none of the experts were able to enlighten me about the probable costs in 67 days' time of a loaf of bread, a packet of painkillers or a flight to Malaga.

That's because they haven't a clue about what will actually happen, just as Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney haven't a clue, either. At this stage it's all conjecture, which made Claire's perky promise to deliver "everything you need to know" somewhat hollow.

A similar misplaced optimism led me to expect more than I got from the following night's Prime Time (RTÉ1), which concerned young people in Ireland who are seeking to change their gender.

When I was an adolescent, people were mostly male or female and either straight or gay. There were girls who were considered tomboys but they generally "grew out of it". Occasionally you'd hear about someone who had a sex-change operation, but that was so radical as to be deemed freakish.

All has changed, of course, and mostly for the better in a society that had seen people's lives maimed by church and state attitudes towards gender and sexuality. But the legacy of those grim times is that people of my generation, no matter how liberal, can feel puzzled and confused by such matters as transgender and gender fluidity.

Gwen Doyle felt this confusion about her 14-year-old son Will, who had been born a girl. "Please could you not just be gay?" she had wondered, as many parents might also have inquired, but Will himself wasn't interviewed and so the question remained unanswered in a programme that tiptoed around its subject.

Father Ted creator Graham Linehan worried about the "predatory men out there who are taking advantage of this situation" - by declaring themselves female and thus getting intimate access to girls and young women in changing rooms and toilets.

This seemed unduly alarmist and psychotherapist Stella O'Malley was more persuasive in worrying that proposed changes in the law might allow 12-year-olds to undergo medical treatments that would irreversibly alter their adult lives. At that age, she had felt herself to be a boy but now, as an adult, was comfortable in her female identity.

All of this was interesting, yet when the programme ended, I felt I knew as little about gender fluidity as when it started.

One Day: Showing Ireland Off (RTÉ1) was more interesting than the previous One Day films about the personal beautification and rubbish collecting industries, but it suffered from similar defects: in all three films we encountered lots of people involved in their various occupations, but it was all so fleeting that we didn't really get to know anything about them and so our engagement with them was minimal.

This week's film focused on some of the quarter-of-a-million people who work in tourism, including the driver of a tour bus, the owner of a Ring of Kerry B&B, a ferry captain in Doolin, a Ballyfin butler and a Bunratty performer. Along the way, the voiceover provided lots of statistics, but it all amounted to very little.

In episode three of Resistance (RTÉ1), horrid banker Harry told wife Constance that "this is not the time for your Republican nonsense". Then he went off to his floozy's flat, where he was lying in bed when he got a surprise visit from US senator Shea. "I don't get you," Shea told him, "beautiful wife at home, business going up in smoke, and you're here screwing a two-bit whore."

Meanwhile, reluctant spy Ursula was blindfolded by the IRA and taken to see her son, who'd been kidnapped until she did their bidding. The toddler looked about eight. Shurely some mistake. Then it was back to Dublin Castle, where she was beginning to come under suspicion, so she'd better watch out or it'll be curtains for her.

It was curtains for lots of others this week, and I can't wait for the vile General Winters and the even more loathsome Captain McCloud to get their comeuppance. Am I taking this seriously? Not really.

In A Year of British Murder (Channel 4), we were told that 768 people in Britain died of murder or manslaughter in 2017. Forty-seven per cent of female victims were killed by partners or ex-partners, including Tina from Birmingham, who was stabbed to death after numerous beatings.

We met her two grown-up sons, who were inconsolable, as was the father of Shaun, attacked outside an Edinburgh pub, for which his killer received a sentence of just four years.

It all made for grim viewing, and by the end I wondered what point it was meant to be making.

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