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25 September 1997 Edition

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Television: How others see us

By Sean O'Donaile

It's not easy putting pen to paper after a three month hiatus - similar to my journalistic colleague Eamon Dunphy I went to ground to avoid some Proinsias De Rossa type taking offence at my articles and landing An Phoblacht with a million pound court bill.

There's some great scandals doing the rounds at the moment but I'll just have to disregard some of my `sources' and stick to something safe like politics.

The long awaited (by David Trimble), Provos (BBC 1, Tuesday 10.00pm), opened like a B-rate gangster movie with two ``senior IRA commanders'' purchasing missiles from a shady character in an American dockside warehouse, accompanied by uileann pipe music and images of Holy Mary statues.

The origins of the war were dealt with in the usual flippant manner with Sir Oliver Wright saying ``thank God we got Ireland off our backs'' and presenter Peter Taylor informing us that partition was ``caused by the IRA'' and falling into the old inaccurate perception of ``the honest British broker'' who partitioned Ireland to prevent Loyalist revolt while missing the vital point of Britain's own economic interest in the North.

In fairness Taylor outlined some of the corruption of the Northern state up to `69 and the interviews with Martin Meehan, ``Darkie'' Hughes et al were interesting. We did hear Republicans telling things from their point of view: the growth of the IRA out of the need to protect Catholics against loyalist pogroms although we're told (by Taylor) these pogroms stemmed not from bigotry but from ``fear of an IRA insurrection'', even though Taylor told us that the ``Marxist IRA was hopelessly inadequate and a spent force''.

Taylor fells the need not to be seen as being nice to the IRA and as a result uses loaded language, ``the IRA made the Army get tough...the IRA had a new appetite and savagery'', while the British Army ``came under attack and ``the Government was forced to bring in Internment''. Tune in next week if only to listen to Martin Meehan agus a chairde.

Speaking of British inaccuracies about Ireland, Eastenders (BBC-Tuesday) has got Bord Failte's back up for stereotyping us Irish as ignorant muck savages. According to the wonderful scriptwriters in the Beeb, we all live in ramshackle houses in the back of beyonds where you'd expect to find someone hiding a hostage; we're all called Gerry McGrow and Bridie O'Grady; we don't have roads, washing machines or brakes on our bikes; we drink porter at 10 o'clock in the morning; have husbands who treat us like dishcloths, have sons who rob boats, sleep in other people's cars; and grunt at each other. We go out with 15 year-old girls behind our wives' backs; fall over potholes; don't have watches or clocks and talk about the banshee's wail. We also say ``there's no way I'm going to lend you my boat Conor O'Flaherty and you barely out of nappies''... and ``your cheek will be the death of you girl!'' All we were missing was John Wayne and his ``Arrah Begorrah'' and the pot of gold.

The San Patricio Battalion (RTE Wednesday), could have played a role in the early seventies if they weren't too busy fighting for Mexico 150 years ago. At the time thousands of Irish were fleeing from the ravages of famine, only to find themselves used as cannon fodder in the front line of an American Army who were busy ``extending their slave territories and sphere of influence''. The US invasion of Mexico was unjust but many American soldiers with Rambo-style morals decided to enlist ``...but it's country right or wrong''. Many others fought for economic reasons, among them the Irish who soon saw that this was not a ``war of liberty'' but a war of conquest instigated by colonialists who described the Mexicans as lazy and inferior ``...reptiles in the path of democracy who should crawl or be crushed...''

Many Irish oldiers became alienated and the bould John Reilly we were told went to Mass and never came home, crossing the Rio Grande to be followed by many more, where the delighted General Santana established the San Patricio battalion.

The programme brought us through the many battles of John Reilly and his merry men, including the battle of Veracruz where the Yanks began tactics later perfected by Ronald Reagan of destroying hospitals, schools etc.

The Irish were captured at the Battle of Churobusco, where after they were either hanged or branded with the letter `D', and John Reilly sailed off into the sunset. 150 years on it's now safe to commemorate these unique Will Geese, but the Yanks still shit on Latin America.

Likewise with many of Dublin's drug pushers whose demise was cheerfully described in the excellent City of Hope (RTE Sunday), detailing the turnabout in the inner city community of Hardwicke Street. The programme was left in the hands of those affected - parents and children who recounted the by now cliched but still horrifying tales of needles and vomit in stairwells and children being afraid to venture outdoors.

A radical priest told us of the winter of `96 when after 1,000 or so souls came together and became aware of their power, pushers were named, marched on and all night vigils began. Needless to say women were to the forefront and the continued vigilance and action of these areas had resulted in ``a year of freedom'' which is now being built on. Reporter Iseult O'Doherty didn't lumber us with academic hype of Superintendents with lots of stripes taking the credit and this added to the programme.

Keep your eyes peeled for Dustin and the Presidential race. I wonder when the scandal about Dana is going to break!


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