Saturday 24 March 2018

John Boland: A terrible negative Equity is born. . .

Property Crash: Where to Now? RTÉ One The Frontline RTÉ One Abhainn RTÉ One Mayday at the Fastnet Rock RTÉ One Fighting on the Front Line Channel 4

John Boland

A few years back, Richard Curran was among a small band of media sceptics warning the nation that the property bubble was in immediate danger of bursting. He did this in the RTÉ One Future Shock documentary, which was broadcast in 2007 and which outlined both his fears and his reasons for them.

Along with Morgan Kelly, George Lee and David McWilliams, he was scoffed at by the Taoiseach of the time, who wondered why, if things were so bad, such scaremongering doomsayers didn't go off and kill themselves. The rest, as they say, is history, not least for Bertie Ahern's Fianna Fáil, but Curran was back on our screens this week to provide an update on the property debacle.

There was nothing in Property Crash: Where to Now? (RTÉ One) that we didn't already know, but Curran assembled the dismal facts efficiently and director Janet Traynor presented them with admirable clarity. Also admirable was Curran's refusal to go in for any I-told-you-so showboating, instead letting the information speak for itself, and this it did with bleak eloquence -- especially in the interludes featuring two young couples trapped in a negative equity nightmare from which they seem unlikely to escape in any foreseeable future.

The presenter, though, tempered the prevailing gloomy tone with cautious optimism about gradual recovery, and hopelessness was similarly kept at bay during The Frontline programme that immediately followed on the same channel and that ran with some of the themes raised in Curran's film.

This was The Frontline at its fieriest, with Pat Kenny so engaged by the mortgage horror stories he was hearing from the studio audience that he looked ready to erupt with righteous indignation. Indeed, the viewer almost felt pity for Labour's Ciaran Lynch, who had plainly drawn the short straw when the Government was asked to provide a spokesperson for the discussion.

But he handled his unenviable task well, his obvious decency serving to defuse some of the anger directed at his Government's failure to address a negative-equity catastrophe that's growing by the week.

And some possible solutions put forward by young barrister Ross Maguire helped to lift the show out of the slough of despond in which everyone had been wallowing.

Meanwhile, RTÉ's general programming is content to wallow in lazy repetitiveness. Thus a new Sunday night series on Ireland's waterways is followed the next evening by a different series on the same subject, while a programme about rescue missions off our coastline is screened less than two hours before the transmission of another programme on the same subject. Are there no scheduling meetings out in Montrose to ensure such idiotic doubling-up doesn't occur?

Of these shows, Waterways: The Royal Canal is by far the best, largely because it's fronted by the commendably quirky Dick Warner, but the following night's Abhainn, which traces the courses of selected Irish rivers, has no such distinguishing presence and no style of its own, either.

Certainly, this week's first instalment, which was set on the Suir, was a mess, relying on the tedious anecdotes of local historians to carry the narrative and featuring a musical soundtrack that had no relevance whatsoever to what was being shown -- Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker as the camera arrived in Thurles and Orff's Carmina Burana as Cahir Castle was glimpsed. Would somebody please explain? Oh, don't bother.

Rescue 115 set out to find two people who went missing from a beach in west Cork, while 75 minutes later Mayday at the Fastnet Rock concerned an $18m (€13m) yacht that capsized last August in the same waters.

With regard to the latter film, I find it a little difficult to care about the hazards encountered by people who can afford to own a boat costing so much that it would buy a house for everyone in The Frontline audience and who indulge their privileged whims by choosing to take part in races through choppy seas.

The fact that they came a cropper might have made for a tolerable, possibly even interesting, 20-minute film. At 50 minutes, however, it was unbearable and seemingly interminable. Bryan Dobson narrated the story as if it mattered to anyone but himself and his pampered subjects. A dull lot they were, too.

Channel 4's Fighting on the Front Line, which concerns British troops in Afghanistan, has been a remarkable series, not least for the degree of access granted to its makers.

This week's instalment focused on a platoon of Scottish foot soldiers who, as the narration pointed out, "are never more than 500 metres from the enemy".

"We're bullet catchers," one of them observed, "we're going to get shot at before anyone else." They're terrified, of course, but also exhilarated. "This is better than sex," one said of possibly lethal skirmishes into the unknown, and everyone else agreed.

"It's quite good fun shooting people," another remarked.

Then they wondered about which body part they'd least mind losing. "Legs are overrated," one said, "you can always get new ones." As for Afghanistan, "it's a bit of a hole really, a waste of space, nothing here".

There's nothing like travel to broaden the mind.

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