Television: Fast, furious and farcical

  • 15 November 2006
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The second part of In Search of the Pope's Children, which looked at the property boom in Ireland, descended into sweeping generalisations, far-fetched propositions and cliché

In Search of the Pope's Children: RTÉ One, Monday, 9.30pm

David McWilliams seemed far less convincing in the second instalment of his three-part series, In Search of the Pope's Children. The sweeping generalisations seemed far-fetched; the breathless, slick presentation, second time around, now almost clichéd.

He said, "The new Ireland begins and ends with the property explosion." Not that the new Ireland has something or even a lot to do with the property explosion – it "begins and ends" with the property explosion. If he is capable of saying something that is so fantastically extravagant, then what credibility can we attach to anything else he says? Perhaps unfair, but he invites such dismissiveness.

While wandering around a ruin somewhere – probably in Meath – he said we had to learn from the lessons of the Norman era. Back then, a property boom which led to the proliferation of Normal castles ended, as surely as the current properly boom will end. But he left it there, just a glib and intellectually-pretentious historical reference with no follow-up, no substance.

He said the banks were now lashing out 800 mortgages a day. That is 284,800 a year. Barmy. It is nowhere near that. I looked up the data on the Central Statistics Office website – the total number of new private houses was 80,629 in 2005. So how could there have been 284,000 mortgages issued? For what?

He said there was a "huge amount" of "trophy" buying – that is, people buying homes as trophies – and he tried to get verification for this from a property agent. But, if you listened carefully, she disagreed.

He said, "People of all ages and classes are taking their chances with mortgages." Bullshit. The "drug of choice" was property. He referred to the property pages in the Irish Times as "pornographic". Interiors was the new sex.

The lands on which British garrisons formerly stood are now Woodies DIY stores. Name one, David. Galway is the fastest-growing city in Europe. Navan is our future. You can detect something profoundly significant by watching people shop at Woodies. Decking is the obsession of the new Ireland.

It's entertaining, it's fast, it's furious. But is it true? Is he saying anything of substance, anything to which we should be paying attention? The feeling after the second programme of the series is one of suspicion on all these counts.

Sure Ireland is changing. Sure there have been extraordinary transformations. I see it around where I live in Greystones, which has grown exponentially in the last few years. Formerly sleepy, delightful villages such as Delgany and Killincarrig are now bursting suburbs. No doubt in Meath and Kildare it is even more spectacular. But shouldn't we have a credible analysis of what is happening and what is changing? And if we fill our minds with Decklanders and HiCos, are we going to understand what is really going on?

And, by the way, it is not true that we have all joined the middle classes. What does David McWilliams think is going on in Moyross in Limerick, and in Coolock and Darndale in Dublin? Some of these ghettoes have far more people living in them than there are Declanders in Kildare.

On coming home on Saturday – as it happens from a trip to a DIY centre near Kilmacanogue! – rugby was on the television and the Señor de la Casa was enthroned with his beer-swilling buddies. Ireland was playing Australia or New Zealand or some such when onto the screen came one Tom McGurk, of whom I had been writing in my radio column (until I was usurped!) – he of the loud, laugh-at-his-own-jokes fame, and the former flame of my aunt in Skibereen.

I was fascinated because the day previously I had heard McGurk on the radio interviewing André Previn, who obviously had no idea of the distinction enjoyed by his interviewer and who came close to calling him (McGurk that is) a cretin. McGurk had asked the question, was opera serious? Poor McGurk didn't realise he was speaking to a star of Opera buffa. The aunt in Skibereen is mortified.