Television: The brilliant and the brutal

  • 22 November 2006
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The latest instalment of RTÉ's Would You Believe series was raw, brilliant television, unlike the drivel that passed for entertainment on the station's One to One series of interviews

The story of Eilish Enright, a Kildare woman wrongly convicted and imprisoned for the sexual abuse of her children, was told on Sunday night in a riveting and moving programme, The Stolen Years as part of the Would You Believe series.

When living with her second husband in Wales (her first husband had died) there was a knock on her door one evening. Police had arrived to arrest her new husband on a charge of sexually abusing two of her children from her first marriage. All of her five children, aged between three and 13, were then taken from her. Some time later, there was a knock at her door again and this time the police had arrived to arrest her, also for the sexual abuse of her children. She was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for six years. She believed she would never again see her children again.

On leaving prison she returned to Ireland and, after some years had passed, two of her children contacted her and eventually all of them. The two who gave evidence against her told how they had been pressurised by the police and social workers. She was adamant on proving her innocence. She returned to Wales, went to prison again and finally was vindicated.

The story was told simply and quietly. The most moving part was one of her sons telling of the grief the family experienced and then the joy at the reunion.

This was raw, brilliant television. Quite the best RTÉ has done in a long time. Deserving redemption (almost) for the drivel that passes for entertainment and/or infotainment for much of the time.

Regrettably, part of the drivel that has been added is One to One, a series where someone notable is interviewed by one of the RTÉ newsroom notables. The last such interview was with Michael Colgan of the Gate theatre. It took place on the stage of the Gate, he open shirted, displayed a deep cleavage. The interviewer was Áine Lawlor, of Morning Ireland fame.

Colgan talked interminably about meeting Samuel Beckett and how awe-struck he was. Aine Lawlor referred with embarrassing familiarity to "Barry", Barry McGovern. It was all so twee and ingratiating.

George Lee's interview with Michael Smurfit some weeks previously was also embarrassingly ingratiating. Every question layered with an assumption of the interviewee's greatness.

Just because Michael Smurfit was/is a hugely successful business person does not make him wicked, but neither does the opposite apply. He spoke at the end of the interview of how he wanted to give something back, engage in charitable work on behalf of those less fortunate. It might have been an occasion for George Lee to ask him why, if that was now his concern, he did not take up tax residence in Ireland again and pay his fair share. That would be a start in giving something back.

I wasn't around or politically conscious at the time when the controversy arose 15 years ago over the Telecom site but someone who was politically aware then tells me that that controversy was far more interesting that the interview let on. Once Michael Smurfit, as the then chairman of Telecom, expressed an interest in what was then the Johnson, Mooney and O Brien site (currently the site of the Herbert Park Hotel and the adjoining apartments) the site was sold not to Telecom in the first instance, but to a middle-man company, comprised of a golden circle, and then sold on to Telecom at a profit of £5m. Michael Smurfit happened to have been part of that middle-man golden circle, although it is clear he did not know what was going on and did not in any way behaved improperly. But wouldn't it have been interesting to have explored that with him.

Arguably, George Lee is RTÉ's best broadcaster, certainly the best news broadcaster. What a pity to compromise him in a soft interview series.