Big music and major debates

Televised debates dominated ahead of the Seanad Referendum, writes Brendan O’Regan

Well, what to make of the Seanad referendum…debate or débacle? Much of the campaign, such as it was, played out in the media, where, I think, referendums are mostly now decided. Overall I felt that debate in the media was lacklustre, repetitious and largely uninspiring.

There were two major TV events on the issue last week. On Tuesday Prime Time(RTÉ 1) had its big debate, when the elephant wasn’t in the room. Like many of the debates I thought it was overly dominated by party people, whose agendas included political point-scoring. The better debates over the last few weeks were between spokespersons for the ‘Democracy Matters’ and ‘One House’ groups.  Actually, that night the best contributions came from the audience.

There was no audience to improve it when Tonight With Vincent Browne (TV3 Wednesday) had a go, with Micheál Martin and Richard Bruton reprising their Prime Time performance with the addition of Mary Lou McDonald and Michael McDowell, and of course the sometimes irascible and sometimes insightful interventions of the host. There was lots of Micheál/Michael confusion, and the biggest Bunreacht I’ve ever seen produced as a visual aid by McDowell.

One thing that struck me was how much mind-changing was referred to – McDowell used to be for abolition, but was now against. Gerry Adams was for retention was now Sinn Féin was against. Fianna Fáil was for abolition, but was now against. Enda Kenny was for reform, but changed his mind and was now for abolition. Confused?

When the shock verdict, the ‘wallop’, was delivered by the people last Saturday Enda Kenny looked subdued on the Nine News, but made much of keeping his promise to deliver a referendum. Pity he didn’t deliver on certain other commitments. I think Micheál Martin was right when he said that Kenny’s refusal to debate his own proposal had a significant impact.

The God Slot (RTÉ Radio 1) got off to a fine start for its new season last Friday with a programme to tie in with RTÉ’s Big Music Week. There were no shortfalls on the diversity front as various religious music traditions were explored. Melanie Brown was very informative about music in the Jewish tradition – “It’s inconceivable to have prayer without music in the Orthodox tradition,” she said. It seems that the Orthodox Jews put more emphasis on song in the synagogue, where only men can be cantors. The reformed tradition is more relaxed about that. Blanaid Murphy, director of the Palestrina Choir was enlightening with a potted history of music in the Catholic Church. She suggested that the post Vatican II use of the vernacular cased some confusion and uncertainty about the appropriate direction for liturgical music. She thought it was important to have youngsters learning the liturgical music early. Jacqueline Mullen spoke of the tradition of hymnody in the Anglican tradition, while Florence Mutesasira of Christian Aid reflected on the popularity of gospel music and the upsurge in the number of gospel choirs, pointing out that these tended to be broadly Christian rather than denominational. We heard samples of all the kinds of music discussed, finishing with an up tempo performance of the familiar Here I Am Lord by the Dublin Gospel Choir. I like gospel music and I like the DGC, but I prefer the more meditative version of that song!

Channel 4’s Unreported World also returned for a new season last Friday night, with a disturbing report on the treatment of women in Afghanistan. The focus was particularly on how young girls were forced into arranged marriages at a young age and often abused either by their new families or even by their own if they didn’t agree to these marriages or didn’t measure up in some other way. Horrific stories were told on camera by young girls who had escaped from abusive situations and were hiding in shelters, still under threat. One woman had actually been an MP, but because of the brutality of her husband was now in one of these shelters.

There had been new laws against violence to women but enforcement seemed to be patchy, though there were instances where the police had brought the girls to the shelters. The girls were now taking courageous stands, one declaring: “I am a woman with dignity, self-respect and honour.”


Pick of the Week


The Meaning of Life With Gay Byrne

RTÉ 1 Sun Oct 13, 10.35pm

The new European Ombudsman, Emily OíReilly reveals a complex and thoughtful attitude to career, family, morality and faith.



FILM: Senna

UTV Sun Oct 13, 10.20pm

(2010) Bafta-winning documentary about the life and career of the late Brazilian Formula One champion Ayrton Senna, who was inspired by his Catholic faith.


Beauty Coming Alive

EWTN Tues (night) Oct 15, 2.30 am

Why itís important to be open to the beauty of the natural world, explaining that it leads one to a realisation of the Creator.