Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

3 July 1997 Edition

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Television: Whiners and winners

Mention Derek Davis to most people and they'll say ``Oh yeah, he's that 20-stone Antrim man on RTE who interviews senile people in the afternoon. I saw him once when I was off sick.'' Point out that the station has given him his own prime-time show, and they'll say: ``It's the summer time. RTE will put on just about anything just to stop the screen from going black.''

But they'd be wrong. Davis (RTE 1, Mondays, 10.30 pm) is a rare surprise; a solid current affairs programme with an erudite, amusing and brave host.

At least that's how it started, this week, with Derek Davis remarking that politicians are held in very low esteem by the public, and posing the following question:

``What kind of sensible, well-adjusted, well-qualified person would want to embrace a life without job security, without regular hours, with no respite from the public gaze, and always, the ever-present risk of an ignominious end at the hands of an ungrateful and disgruntled electorate?''

He went straight from there into a spot of Labour baiting, which is always fun.

``No fall was more spectacular that that of Eithne Fitzgerald,'' he said, turning to reveal the woman herself, sitting amongst a group of about 20 politicians. ``Hurt, rejected, Eithne?''

She began mumbling about looking forward to doing night classes and making jam. Davis cut her off.

``Why did the electorate throw you out? What happened?''

Eithne wriggled on the hook, blaming everything from Fianna Fáil to a neighbour who ran against her.

``So it was nothing to do with you? Nothing to do with the Labour Party?'' pressed the host in a perfectly pleasant tone, before turning to another losing Labour minister. ``Joan Burton, have you come to any conclusions about your own demise at the hands of the electorate?''

The electorate was shopping around for change, she explained, and the Labour Party had lost out. She herself had many interests, and began to list them.

``Sure, sure, we know about the interests - but the one thing that you and Eithne have in common is that it is not your fault, in your own perception, that you weren't re-elected,'' said Davis.

He turned to Joe Costello, another Labour loser: ``What was the mistake that the labour Party made that brought about the swing?''

Joe did his best; there had been a phantom election campaign for six months, and this had benefited the two largest parties, the focus had been shifted away from Labour...

It wasn't that you pulled the rug out from under the Reynolds government, asked the host. Joe said that had been a factor.

Like an ostrich whose afternoon snooze has been disturbed, up popped Tomás Mac Giolla, arguing that Labour had a chance in 1992 to form a real left-wing opposition, failed to do this, and was punished.

Derek looked at the three Labour ex-TDs: ``Is the leadership of your party now in question?''

A full second of embarrassed silence passed, none willing to say that it was, reluctant to say it was not. Eventually, Joan Burton said it was time for Labour to reflect and regroup.

Now, Derek turned his attention to Democratic Left, and why it had fared so badly.

The bile rose in poor Pat Rabbitte's belly, and he blamed in turn Tony O'Reilly, the capriciousness of the electorate, the low turnout, the failure of people to talk about economic issues, and the media in general for trivialising the campaign.

In an exquisite understatement, Davis remarked: ``There's a suspicion that some of these people are in denial.''

Eric Byrne started to justify his own failure at the polls, trotting out some glib nonsense about `the left', in which, he implied, the DL played a part.

Davis cut him down, smiling: ``Eric, is there any kind of politician that Democratic Left would not climb into bed with?''

Eric said yes, the Progressive Democrats, and Derek suggested that this was ``a very small field''.

The rest of the programme was taken up with winners, including the two Greens, Deirdre Clune, Monica Barnes, Brendan McGahon and several others.

Of course, none of these people received anything like the massive electoral support of Caoimhghín O Caoiláin, and there was no sign of him. I suppose you can't cram too much fun into one evening.

By Michael Kennedy

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1