Gene Kerrigan: 'The inalienable right to be small-minded'
Are we really debating the state of the country, writes Gene Kerrigan, or are we increasingly just enjoying the argument?
You go away for a while, these days, and when you come back there's the inevitable question: "Did ye see yer man on the telly the other night?"
No, I didn't, and I don't want to. That's one of the joys of going away - relief from the incessant media-led arguments.
But last week it was unavoidable, the thing about the guy that politicians listen to and take seriously - Conor Skehan - announcing that current levels of homelessness are "normal".
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And in no time at all there was another question.
"Did ye see yer wan last night?"
Don't tell me, she was on the telly, yeah?
"No, she was streaming, online. She's going on about refugees, now."
Aw, please, give me a break.
It gets very intense these days, doesn't it? He said this and she said that, and someone else says something annoying and - like hounds catching a new scent - we wheel off in another direction, barking, yapping.
Yer man and yer wan - Conor Skehan and Gemma O'Doherty - are prominent in the never-ending debates about how we live now.
Dr Conor Skehan, former head of the Housing Agency, is a well-connected academic. Politicians take what he says seriously. So, what he says can have an influence on how a lot of people live. Skehan is a significant indicator of how the governing class is thinking.
Gemma O'Doherty has for a long time been prominent in online dissent. She's a significant indicator of what's currently on the agenda within the ranks of the unorganised dissenters (as opposed to the politically organised left).
So, wearily, I looked up the two yappers.
Skehan was on Claire Byrne Live, on RTE. He complained that politicians are "goaded by people involved in advocacy" on homelessness. They press emotional buttons, forcing the politicians to react as though something out of the ordinary is happening, requiring urgent action.
Having 10,000 homeless people is "normal", Skehan said. "It's normal in the sense that human beings go through many different issues and emotional upheavals in their lives." Just one of those things, really.
When Claire Byrne mentioned 10,000 homeless, Skehan was in like a shot: "As opposed to 35,000 in Denmark".
And he said "Aw!" and let his jaw drop. I think he was imitating the shock of people less knowledgeable than he, as he confronts them with reality.
Homelessness, he told us, is a terrible human tragedy, but it's normal. It follows that it would be abnormal to take any urgent action. Calm down, you "advocacy" types.
The media got a council official to disagree that homelessness is normal, and - having achieved "balance" - moved on.
The Claire Byrne Live show has high ratings. And to many watching it would seem impressive that we have only 10,000 homeless. After all, Denmark - with a population of only one million more - has 35,000.
Trouble is, go online and you'll find the Danish figure is 6,635. Countries use different ways of measuring homelessness and direct comparisons are dodgy. Lord knows where Dr Skehan got his 35,000 figure.
All reasoning counts for nothing in the face of Skehan's hammer-blow assertion that Denmark has 350pc more homelessness than we have.
Even in the bad old days of the Fifties we didn't have thousands of people homeless, families living in a single B&B room, kids doing homework, adults doing housework, all eating and sleeping in the same small room.
It wasn't normal then and it's not normal now.
Never did we impose this on families for months and years on end. Never did we jack up prices and rents to ensure that not even those with jobs that are reasonably paid could be sure of a roof over their heads.
But, Skehan reflects the thinking of those who govern. Only the "goading" of those using emotional "advocacy" forces the elite to intervene in this "normal" course of events.
It's normal, it seems, to have 10,000 people living in extreme conditions. It's normal to see kids have their childhood stolen by a ferocious free market. It's normal that the financial welfare of landlords, investors, land hoarders, builders, shareholders and vultures should come before the welfare of the people.
The online media is supposed to offer a fresh, corporate-free alternative. For years, Gemma O'Doherty was the poster girl for the new media. I found her Mary Boyle documentary unconvincing, but thousands say otherwise.
I know the Fr Niall Molloy case, which she's "investigated". I reported on the original trial of Richard Flynn in June 1986, and the coroner's inquest six weeks later. And I've followed events since.
The trial was a disgrace, the judge was factually wrong in his assessment of evidence. The inquest, on the other hand, was impeccably conducted by Coroner Brian Mahon.
O'Doherty's theory that there was a conspiracy between police and Fianna Fail seems to me to be nonsense. This is about real people, grieving families coping with a failure of the State, trying to meet their obligations to a dead man they loved. It's not a game of Cluedo.
Having failed to become president, O'Doherty seems to have left her "investigations" behind, along with her corruption campaign, to warn us that "globalists" are set on destroying Ireland.
She warns of jihadists, and says "we're going to make Ireland Irish again", and, she says - oh, Christ, the usual oul s**te.
Fact: top migrants here? The Poles; they do good work. Want to kick them out? Leave the EU.
Next largest, the Brits; they're good neighbours. Want to kick them out? Want them to kick out the Irish?
I watched O'Doherty and others get upset online about how Ireland is unrecognisable. "It's not Ireland anymore," all the "migrants from Africa and the Third World".
Two percent Asian; 1.4pc black.
Some people, God love them, they can't take such overwhelming change.
Fact: we live in a world dreadfully disrupted by war, global warming and economic devastation. A dozen years ago there were 8m refugees; a decade later that had doubled.
Now, some 60m refugees seek to escape death or gross exploitation. Two-thirds are internally displaced, about 21m spill out across nearby countries - some try to get to Europe, a relative handful make it to Ireland, and we welcome them.
We are not the 19th Century Brits, who shrugged at the famines, while the Irish ate grass. If our compassion and solidarity stops at the shores of Ireland, we are nothing more than Farage in a leprechaun hat.
In the online world, people have an inalienable right to be small-minded prats. In the mainstream media, not so much.
Before an election, there's a 24-hour broadcast moratorium, to prevent uncheckable last-minute claims.
In these times, when the logic of an argument can be killed by hammer-blow statistics, and it has become normal for politicians to use hammer-blow "facts", we need less live broadcasting. And "balance" - a corrective report at some other time - is not enough.
Record live shows two hours early, "as live"; fact-check them before broadcast; and inform viewers accordingly at the end of each show.
It would be more useful; and everyone would watch to the end. Mind you, sometimes it seems like the debate - both media and online - goes on as though detached from the reality it's supposed to be about. As though winning the argument is all that matters.