Normally I’d be very pleased to find a programme where the Rosary figured prominently but on the main channels this doesn’t happen very often.
However, it was a mixed blessing on The 8th (RTÉ One, Wednesday) that much-hyped documentary on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. It’s often said that the victor writes the history, and this film was almost entirely from the pro-repeal perspective. Lead campaigner Ailbhe Smyth even claimed they had “re-written history”. The Church has often been criticised for being triumphalist, but this film came across as a self-congratulatory celebration of that pro-choice victory.
In the early sequences especially, the pro-life side was characterised as made up of rosary bead swinging old people with some graphic aborted foetus pictures thrown in for good measure. Mind you it wasn’t a great image for the pro-repeal side either, with a lot of shrieking young women in black. We’re all too familiar with the ugly repeal jumpers, but I hadn’t seen before the version with ‘Repeal’ written on bananas. Bananas indeed – I wonder if the PR people suggested that wasn’t a good look.
Ailbhe Smyth was rightly proud of her daughter and grandchildren, campaigning for a better future for them, she thought, even as she sought to have the right to be born of all children done away with. She didn’t seem conscious of the irony. The precious few contributions from pro-life speakers were impressive and the filmmakers, for all their lack of balance, showed these advocates making calm, reasoned and compelling arguments. Wendy Grace gave a young woman’s feminist pro-life perspective. Maria Steen was incisive – ‘Do you believe it’s right to kill an innocent child?’ Cora Sherlock and John McGuirk made useful contributions about the campaign. Lawyer William Binchy gave an impassioned plea for the human rights of unborn children at an Oireachtas committee, as did Senator Rónán Mullen on an inclusive society. I believe all these will be seen as prophetic when the penny finally drops about the horrors of abortion.
The worst part of the film was the scene, on referendum results day, of the cheering people at Dublin Castle – very likely including people whose lives were saved by the Eighth Amendment. Wouldn’t you think a documentary on the Eighth would have acknowledged or explored the number of lives it had saved? The celebrations were saddening and sickening, mostly when you think of the approximately 14,000 babies whose lives were terminated in the first two years of this ‘compassionate’ regime – about half of them dead directly because of repeal.
There are urgent media accountability issues – one could easily make the case that RTÉ’s broadcast of such a biased and propagandist production, when the three year review of the abortion legislation is a topic of current public debate, is in blatant contravention of the station’s obligation to be fair and impartial. And yet it wasn’t surprising, as RTÉ’s current affairs output over the years, and currently, has been consistently supportive of the pro-choice perspective.
Other worrying concerns about life and death were the subject of The Salisbury Poisonings (RTÉ One, Tuesdays), a four part BBC-made drama series about the true story of the poisoning, by nerve agent novichok, of Sergei and Yulia Skripal allegedly by Russian agents. Even though we knew the broad outlines of the case (from 2018) the drama was absorbing. The characters, even the minor ones, were well-drawn, credible human beings caught up in a potentially drastic incident. The absence of a central villain was actually a bonus – the authorities had enough of an adversary in the poison itself. The human perpetrators were peripheral as the focus was on the investigators and the victims.
The family members of one infected policeman were not affected at all, though he had shared a home and physical contact with them. One investigator said he was a scientist but that one word for this was ‘miracle’. Also, there was mention of a woman lighting candles in church with her daughter and the religious funeral ceremony was very moving. So, though grim, it was uplifting at several levels – not a bad achievement.
Finally, in a week marked by dismal antics from our political leaders, it was refreshing to see the courage and skills, the modesty and dignity of our Olympians, whether in victory or defeat, though I’d question the wisdom of interviewing anyone immediately after a crushing defeat.
Pick of the week
Mass For The Feast Of The Assumption
RTÉ One Sunday August 15 10.00 am
Mass from the Basilica of Our Lady Queen of Ireland, Knock with Celebrant Fr Richard Gibbons, Parish Priest and Rector of the Shrine. Music is provided by the Schola Cantorum Basilicae, directed by Úna Nolan. The Mass will be shared across Europe via Eurovision.
Fern Britton Meets…
BBC One Sunday August 15, 10.15 am
Fern Britton meets boxing champion Nigel Benn, discussing how his conversion to Christianity ten years ago changed his life completely.
Documentary on One: Troubles Shared
RTE Radio One Sunday Aug 15, 6.00 pm
Journalists Peter Taylor and Fergal Keane are back in Northern Ireland to share their personal experiences of reporting on the troubles and ask what it all means now.