The Week In Politics RTÉ One, Sunday, 12pm
The Tonight Show
Virgin Media One, Monday, 10pm
BBC Two, Monday, 10.30pm
Farm To Feast
UTV, Monday, 7.35pm
The Ryan McMullan Story
BBC One, Sunday, 10.30pm
Áine Lawlor’s guests as she discussed the row between the EU and Britain over the Northern Ireland protocol on Sunday’s The Week In Politics were Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath, who represents Cork South Central; Sinn Féin’s Galway West TD Mairéad Farrell; independent Roscommon-Galway TD Denis Naughten; and Paul Murphy of People Before Profit/Solidarity, from Dublin South West.
There were no voices from Northern Ireland at all, and every single guest, no matter their opinion of each other, gave versions of the same answer, which was that there is “no room for manoeuvre” on UK demands for an end to EU legal jurisdiction in the North.
Surely the job of a presenter in this situation is to challenge her guests or at least present the alternative argument so that viewers, armed with the facts, can make up their own minds? Lawlor didn’t do so. It will simply never be possible to understand unionists if we’re not interested in listening to what they say.
The Tonight Show was no better, as presenter Claire Brock presided over another studio discussion of the protocol, free of any voices from Northern Ireland.
Fine Gael’s Richard Bruton of Dublin Bay North mentioned in passing a couple of times what he thought unionists might think; Fianna Fáil’s Mayo TD Dara Calleary said that members of the Government had “spent time in Belfast, [and] listened to people”.
But, as on The Week in Politics, unionists weren’t there to speak for themselves, and there was no attempt whatsoever to explain the issue, or to outline unionist and British concerns about the protocol. It was simply taken as read that their stance was, in the words of Labour’s Dublin Senator Rebecca Moynihan, “insane”.
Moynihan even mentioned food shortages and petrol shortages in England, and wondered why “unionists in Northern Ireland will want to go down the same line and have something very similar for themselves.”
And of course it would be insane if that’s what unionists thought. Clearly they don’t, but any point of view can be made to look foolish if it’s caricatured.
Instead of challenging the caricature, Brock merely went on to state that “the protocol is actually working, it’s good for the people of Northern Ireland”, and to ask what more the Irish government needed to do to show that “the system we have in place is actually good”.
Whatever one’s views on the protocol, this is a classic example of an echo chamber.
The BBC is far from perfect, but on Monday’s Newsnight, a report from political editor Nicholas Watt, in which the Irish and EU position was put forward clearly alongside the British view that the EU is using Northern Ireland as a bargaining chip and has been “overly zealous” in enforcing customs checks, was followed by interviews with a Tory Brexiteer; a lawyer who took part in Brexit negotiations on the UK side and who thinks Britain should stick by the agreements it has already made, even if it’s not a particularly great deal; and Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers, chair of the Oireachtas Brexit Committee.
Newsnight viewers would have been left much better informed on where everyone in this dispute stood than Irish viewers, who merely got one side of it.
“You’ve seen cookery competitions before,” presenter Eamonn Holmes declared at the start of Farm to Feast: Best Menu Wins, “but never one quite like this.”
It’s not entirely clear what he meant by that, because it looks suspiciously like it’s made up of bits of every other cookery show on television, from MasterChef to The Great British Bake Off, as seven amateur cooks from Northern Ireland compete against each other while living in a castle in Co Fermanagh.
The best, if cruellest, part was seeing Eamonn with his little clipboard at the end, watching on as the judges tucked into the dishes. As anyone who’s watched him on This Morning will confirm, Holmes loves his food, often leaving his co-presenting wife Ruth Langsford to get on with interviewing guests during cooking segments as he clears his plate. It must be agony for the poor man.
As on Bake Off, the amateurs are all relatable and funny, and Farm to Feast passes a very enjoyable half hour in the early evening; but it should stop pretending to be different when it isn’t. There’s nothing wrong with familiarity.
Ryan McMullan is a young singer-songwriter from Portaferry on the shores of Strangford Lough in Co Down. The Ryan McMullan Story was, well, his story as he went from being, in his words, “a civil engineer by day, pub singer by night”, to growing success locally and further afield, on the verge of releasing his first album.
Behind the scenes documentaries can be fascinating, but, to be honest, it was puzzling why McMullan had been deemed worthy of a film of his own so early in his career. He had a nice voice, and his songs seemed pleasant enough, but did his story justify a 79-minute running time?
In a way, the most interesting part of the story only came at the end when, standing on a beach in Donegal, McMullan declared that “2020’s going to be the year to watch”, only for Covid to strike and his bid for musical fame and fortune hit the buffers. He wasn’t able to perform live, and his album has still not appeared.
How has he coped with that horrendous blow for nearly two years? The film didn’t have time left to tell us, but that was by far the more interesting question.