Sunday 18 March 2018

Television: There was room for more in these homeless diaries

Tough life: Sandra and her family had to leave their rented home when it was repossessed from their landlord.
Tough life: Sandra and her family had to leave their rented home when it was repossessed from their landlord.

John Boland

Last Monday night's RTÉ1 News highlighted the scandal of homeless families who are forced to live for months, and sometimes years, in unsuitable and often inhospitable hotel rooms, and the hour-long documentary that followed used video diaries to convey the plight of three women caught in this trap .

It was impossible not to be moved by their predicament, though My Homeless Family (RTÉ1) was very short of basic information that might have provided some helpful context for viewers.

We learned most about Sandra, who grew up with hearing-impaired parents and was married to Brendan, with whom she had two children - the family were forced out of their rented house when it was repossessed from their landlord, and all of them were cooped up in a cramped, single room.

But we learned little about Erica, beyond the fact that she was living in the hotel room ("a posh prison cell") with her nine-year-old daughter Emily. She drove a car to work, but we weren't told the nature of this work or whether she had parents or siblings with whom she communicated. And we were told even less about single mother Melissa's situation, beyond the fact that her three-year-old had been diagnosed with autism and that her seven-month-old had been treated for a heart murmur.

Perhaps no other information was needed, but the women came across so vividly and articulately (Erica and her lovely daughter were especially striking) that I, for one, wanted to know more about them and what had brought them to this sorry pass. And when I learned that Sandra and Melissa had become pregnant again, I wanted to know what they felt about this complicating development in their respective situations, but the matter wasn't addressed.

By the film's end, Sandra and her family had been provided with a house by Dublin City Council, but Erica and Melissa remained in their hotel limbos - along with more than 700 other families who never got to tell us about their ordeals.

Later, on Claire Byrne Live (RTÉ1), housing minister Paudie Coffey acknowledged that the situation was "unacceptable" but assured his host that 2,000 people had "exited homelessness" in the past year. He should try telling that to Erica and Emily.

At the outset of Rebellion's third episode (RTÉ1), a voiceover warned that it contained scenes "some viewers may find distressing". I'm not sure what scenes were meant, but I was certainly distressed by the drama's increasing lurch into soap opera banalities.

"What do you do, Mrs Hammond?" her hubby's mistress May inquired of the haughty hostess in the latter's Dalkey mansion. "A lady does not do, Miss Lacey", was the withering response. Has scriptwriter Colin Teevan been stealing dialogue from Downton Abbey?

Back at the makeshift field hospital, well-bred Catholic Elizabeth was tending to the wounded alongside nice Belfast Protestant Ingrid and assuring her that "in the new Ireland we won't let all this religious humbug divide us". And meanwhile, though disguised as a man, firebrand Frances had been rumbled as "a lassie", to which she retorted "I'm a lassie and I'm a soldier".

Oh, such high jinks, these revolutions, though not for 10-year-old Peter, who declared "I want to fight for Ireland, too", and who you knew was a goner the second he started wandering around the gun-filled streets.

Ar Son na Poblachta (RTÉ1) aims to tell the stories of lesser-known figures who were involved in the Rising and this week began with Arthur Shields, younger brother of Barry Fitzgerald, who achieved Hollywood fame in Going My Way and The Quiet Man.

Shields was also in the latter and in such other John Ford movies as The Plough and the Stars and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, though he'd hitherto been active in 1916 courtesy of a Protestant socialist background.

The half-hour film was interesting, though not as engrossing as Execution: Damned Englishman (TG4), which chronicled the life of Erskine Childers as he moved from advocate of empire to hardline republican and enemy of the Free Staters.

Jerry O'Callaghan's film was made in 2012 but it was well worth rescreening in this 1916 centenary year.

Winston Churchill applauded the savage civil war fate meted out to this "mischief-making murderous renegade", who also, of course, wrote the 1903 classic, The Riddle of the Sands, one of the best of all spy thrillers. That, ironically, had also been applauded by Churchill.

In The Jihadis Next Door (Channel 4), documentary maker Jamie Roberts interviewed three hate preachers in London, including bouncy castle salesman Abu Rumayah, who subsequently fled to Syria and achieved global infamy as the supposed Jihadi John of beheading videos.

It was all very depressing, and on Prime Time (RTÉ1), Richard Downes reported that Ireland was "not immune" from the poisonous dangers of Islamist extremists. "Are we as alert as we should be?" he asked, though two senior Garda officers were on hand to assure him that our boys in blue have got it covered. I wish I believed them.

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