Monday 20 November 2017

Slurry with fringe benefits on top

John Boland

Duncan Stewart has the answer not just to our environmental ills but to our economic woes as well, and the new government would be well advised to heed his recommendations.

"Part of the solution," as he revealed to us this week on Eco Eye (RTE1), "is cowshit, and Ireland is full of it." Well, the past few weeks have certainly been replete with the bull's variety, but apparently our salvation lies in its female equivalent -- a salvation that's sorely required because, as Duncan pointed out, "with our economy in such a mess we're looking for a way to make Ireland great again".

This chimed nicely with Taoiseach-to-be Enda Kenny's pre-election pledge to turn Ireland into "the best little country in the world", and Duncan's just the man to make this a reality.

The Greens, of course, could have done the same if they'd been given half a chance, but now that they've been exterminated it's left to Duncan to carry the emerald flag.

On Eco Eye he did this in his usual tone of beseeching earnestness, and with a familiar note of bewilderment, too, at the unwillingness of government to take on board his urgent message, which is actually translatable into an easily understood sentence: if we don't get our environmental act together we're screwed, and if we do follow Duncan's advice we'll not alone be healthy but wealthy, too, with jobs for almost everyone in the country.

Actually, the figures he produced were pretty impressive. Apparently we import 90pc of the fuel we require, at a loss to the Exchequer of €6bn a year, and if we harnessed our electricity properly we could sell the surplus abroad for €50bn a year.

Add those together and that's our bank bailout problem just about solved.

And that's not even to reckon with the methane advantages to be accrued from the cultivation of cowshit, which Duncan excitedly offered as the panacea to many of our energy, financial and employment ailments -- the slurry, if you like, with the fringe benefits on top.

And seemingly we're in an ideal position to capitalise on this because, according to one of Duncan's expert interviewees, "Ireland has the third highest level of bovinity in the world" -- which doesn't mean that we behave like cattle (though we're usually treated as such by our rulers) but merely that we've a very high ratio of cows to people.

Duncan's polemic was full of such fascinating facts, while (the foregoing joshing aside) his arguments mostly were very persuasive.

So, if even if the Greens allowed themselves to become discredited, maybe Enda and his minions will pay serious heed to Duncan, who is often dismissed as unduly aspirational but who, in this programme, had a lot to say that was seemed both sensible and eminently practical.

Certainly his suggestions were more encouraging than the advice offered to fledgling entrepreneurs on Dragon's Den, a new series of which has begun on RTE1. Here, despite the presence of a woman on the panel, the atmosphere is that of a patronising, old boys' club, with an undertow of sniggering sexism never far from the surface.

This manifested itself at the outset of Sunday night's show, with budding chocolatier Isabelle being smirkingly told by businessman Sean Gallagher: "You bring together my two greatest passions and loves in life -- one is chocolate and the other is Cork women."

This wasn't made any less cringe-inducing by Gallagher's confession that he'd "recently married one" and certainly not by his final announcement that "I'm not going to invest in another Cork woman". Ah, the league of gentlemen.

Former snooker champion Alex Higgins, who was never described as a gentleman, was the subject of this week's Cloch le Carn (RTE1), a series that offers tribute to the recently deceased. Last week's programme was about army boss and gaelic footballer Dermot Earley, an exemplary man who contracted a distressing terminal illness and about whom no one had a bad word to say, but Higgins's troubled career and personal demons elicited a fair number of disapproving comments.

Not, though, from veteran journalist Nell McCafferty, who recalled that when Higgins was involved in a big match, the rioting in her native Derry stopped for the duration.

"It was lovely," she said, "and then we resumed our rioting", as if it was an innocent little game being played by two opposing groups of children.

"Three geniuses we had in the North. Van Morrison, George Best, Alex Higgins -- all of them from East Belfast, working-class and Protestant. And who have we offered? Dana and Phil Coulter." I could see her point, tribal though it was.

I'm afraid I didn't last the pace with Channel 4's Dispatches: Secret NHS Diaries, in which three people agreed to have the last weeks of their lives filmed. I gather the film had little good to say about the treatment of dying people by Britain's health service, but I was at a low ebb and I found the programme too upsetting to stay with.

Nor did I stay with the 83rd Annual Academy Awards (Sky Movies, with edited highlights on RTE2). "Two hours of entertainment in a show that lasts four hours," is how David Letterman once deemed the Oscars, but he was being generous. Indeed, even in those years when Billy Crystal brought some fun to the presentation, it was still essentially a snooze.

This year, though, someone had the dreadful notion that getting Anne Hathaway and James Franco to host the show would appeal to a young demographic. The result was car-crash viewing, with zilch rapport between the two and with Hathaway screechingly inept. I lasted all of 15 minutes.

Prime Time (RTE1) ended its Tuesday edition with a short visual essay on the previous weekend's general election. It featured a brief snippet of former Fianna Fail minister Pat Carey, bereft in defeat and plaintively telling an interviewer: "Of course it's a backlash -- what group in Irish society have we not alienated over the last15 years?"

I found his honesty very moving, especially when I considered that over the last year or so, in countless radio and television interviews, he had taken on the unenviable burden of trying to defend the indefensible. Well, he won't have to do that any more.

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