Friday 15 December 2017

We need a debate on where all the people have gone

The People's Debate (TV3) Spin (TG4)

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

The People's Debate is a good name for the monthly gathering of about 200 argumentative souls in the TV3 studio, chaired by Vincent Browne. It is a good name, it is a strong name, it is a fine and noble name. But it is not the right name.

Then again the right name would be something like 'The People Who Make The Usual People On The Vincent Browne Show Look Like Barack Obama', so I can understand that in this competitive media marketplace there might have been voices raised in favour of The People's Debate option.

And so we have this promise of people, actual people, the kind of folk you rarely see on television, and instead you have something else.

You have these aspiring politicians and those who can only aspire to be aspiring, sitting where the 'people' are supposed to be, with no effort to explain why there are no 'people' as advertised.

They can explain that there are no representatives from Fine Gael or Labour, but not a word of explanation as to why there are no representatives of the human race, as it were.

Indeed, some might find it deeply odd that a programme called The People's Debate would be looking for anyone from Fine Gael or Labour in the first place, but again we must think of our old friend, the competitive media marketplace – you have to call it something, and 'The People We Had To Bring In Because We Couldn't Find The Other Kind' might fall short in terms of commercial appeal, and appeal in general.

Even more strangely, you look around that studio and you start to recognise the faces of individuals such as Luke 'Ming' Flanagan and Eamon Ryan, who have operated openly in Leinster House – certainly if I were one of the many election candidates in that studio, I would be looking at Ming and Eamon and thinking that these guys have been living the dream.

There was Paul Murphy of the Socialist Party, living all our dreams as an MEP, talking about the needs of "ordinary" people, as he and his colleagues are wont to do.

I suppose I feel a sense of disappointment here, even of personal betrayal, because I pointed out the absence of people in the first episode of The People's Debate, perhaps expecting in my naivete that my observations would be carefully noted and that measures would be taken.

Instead, I think of that ancient line attributed to Thatcher, one you might well hear quoted in a forum such as this, as if newly minted, that "there is no such thing as society". Now it seems to have gone to another level – in Ireland there is no such thing as people.

* * * * *

By the end of these debates, some of these characters will have done more television than the late and much-loved Chris Twomey did in his entire illustrious career, some of which was recalled by Philip King on Spin.

It was a repeat, but then there is no harm repeating certain things, such as the story of the making of the great 1977 album by Jimmy Crowley and Stoker's Lodge, The Boys of Fair Hill.

I always knew that 'Handsome' Chris Twomey was a fine musician, but looking again at his contribution to this album, I realised that he was even better than that. And I feel that too little has been made of the way that Jimmy Crowley and Stoker's Lodge made The Boys of Fair Hill the national anthem of Cork for people of discernment.

Before that, most of us who were not from Cork had been told that The Banks of my Own Lovely Lee was the official anthem, creating in our minds a vision of the Cork person standing proudly at the grand fireplace of his elegant drawing room, wearing a cravat and singing of how he sported and played 'neath the green leafy shade, in a fruity tenor voice.

What was all that about?

The Boys of Fair Hill took it away from those guys, with their flowery waistcoats, and brought it back to the people – there were people in Ireland then, real people, actual people, call them what you will.

And certain people knew where to find them.

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