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Conspiracy theory

Another week, another TV3 crime documentary, but at least Ireland's Bogus Beggars had a shred of substance to it. Only a PC-crazed idiot would suggest that aggressive begging on the streets of Dublin isn't a problem.

Contributors like Fr Peter McVerry, Big Issue editor Sean Kavanagh and Fine Gael politician Gerry Breen were in agreement on that point -- although Breen, FG's very own would-be Dirty Harry, got off lightly over his call, when Lord Mayor, for all beggars, irrespective of circumstances, be swept off the streets like the previous night's litter.

Alas, whatever initial restraint the film had was quickly vapourised by the increasingly hysterical, and increasingly hysterically funny, antics of reporter Paul Connolly as he desperately chased after a conspiracy that doggedly refused to show up.

He set out to uncover the truth behind claims that the Roma women are simply small cogs in a massive criminal empire that's dipping its hands into the pockets of decent citizens in order to line those of shady East European gangsters, who no doubt drive around in solid gold cars, ostentatiously picking the caviar from between their teeth with a medical card.

Sunday World hack Eamon Dillon spoke darkly of a Europe-wide network of organised begging, presided over by a mysterious Mr Big in Brussels, and there was also a cameo appearance by the World's Nicola Tallant, without whom no TV3 crimedoc would be complete.

Venturing onto the mean streets of the capital, Connolly acted as "bait" for the beggars and then followed a group of Roma women home to some dilapidated Georgian buildings, outside which were parked several vans. Men carrying bags were seen coming and going -- a sure sign that someone was up to no good.

"I had hit the ground running," jabbered Connolly in his best Brass Eye voice. "Footage that should have taken weeks, even months, to collect had fallen into my lap on the very first day."

Unfortunately for Connolly, his overnight stakeout uncovered absolutely nothing. After much faffing about with hidden cameras, he door-stepped the Roma families he'd been spying on earlier, was more or less politely invited in and uncovered the kind of squalor more associated with TV3's series The Tenements.

"I found nothing to suggest these people worked for anyone but themselves and their families," concluded our dejected newshound. I'd be happy to give poor Paul an extra star for perseverance, were it not for the fact that Ireland's Bogus Beggars shamefully gave a platform to far-right racist whack jobs Ted Neville, of the Irish Solidarity Party, and Michael Quinn, of the Democratic Right Movement, both of whom advocate the round-them-up and ship-them-out policy, and not just for the Roma.

The country is in enough trouble as it is without giving a voice on national TV to a couple of rabble-rousing, neo-Nazi goons.

Streets sports have always hovered around the edge of popular culture, usually courtesy of the movies. Back to the Future helped popularise skateboarding. ET tapped into the BMX-biking craze. James Bond movie Casino Royale introduced the astonishing athleticism of free-running, also known as parkour, to a wider audience.

But the real game-changer has been the internet, where viral videos of street sports' top practitioners have been reaching millions of viewers. Mike Christie's remarkable documentary Concrete Circus focused on skateboarder Killian Martin, free runner Paul Joseph (aka 'Blue'), flatland BMX rider Keelan Phillips and stunt cyclist Danny McCaskill as each of them shot short films.

The dedication of these young guys, who have spent years perfecting their art (because art is really what it is), is astounding and their gravity-defying feats eye-popping. We got to see the finished products in full, but Christie saved the best till last when he assembled all four of the participants to perform side by side. Breathtaking stuff, unlike anything I've ever seen.