Thursday, 17 January 2013
Stephen Nolan: a show of two halves
"While shivering in my shoes
I strike a careless pose
And whistle a happy tune
And no one ever knows,
Nobody on the Nolan Show last night sang those lines from The King and I, but they matched with what was going on for much of the TV programme. It didn't look like the unionists in the audience were afraid - quite the reverse in fact. They finger-wagged, they condemned Gerry Kelly as a gunman, they condemned the naming of a children's play park "after an IRA terrorist", they said Alliance had made the biggest mistake of its life and would pay dearly for it, they said they were mad as hell and weren't going to take it any more, they shouted down anyone - particularly Gerry Kelly, when he tried to answer the questions they had asked him. Jeffrey Donaldson did his best to deflect the wrath of the crowd (not, as Gerry Kelly remarked, a marvelously balanced crowd for a BBC programme) and was largely effective in steering their wrath towards the Alliance Party. Well, to the Alliance Party, and the cost of the Saville Inquiry, and the lack of inquiries for unionists, and Gerry Kelly, and...The targets were so many, what we were left with resembled a great deal of sound and fury, signifying...no, not nothing. It signified a great deal.
It signified that a portion of the unionist people are bewildered, even scared. It signified that they have been misled by their politicians. While nationalists and republicans have been persuaded to abandon the notion that Ireland's governance should be determined, not by the Irish people but by the people of the northern state, while they have been persuaded that recognition of their fellow-countrymen's British identity is required - while these immense hurdles have been faced and overcome by nationalists/republicans, unionists have been encouraged to think that nothing central has changed or will change. This is poor leadership to the point of near-insanity. All that bluster and shouting last night made for riveting television, but we're still left with a people who, even when it's pointed out that Belfast City Hall and Belfast itself is chock-a-block with British symbolism, shout their contempt for the speaker and still remain convinced that their Britishness has been ripped from them. Instead of encouraging them to see that this is not so, the DUP and the UUP are encouraging them in this siege mentality.
That was the first half - a testament to willful blindness. The second half featured ex-GAA star Joe Brolly and the man to whom he donated a kidney. As it happens, the new kidney was a failure, but that if anything added to Brolly's unassuming charm and sacrifice. The fact is, he did what 90% of us would be hesitant about doing, even for a close relative. The praise that flowed in on the texts and tweets showed that the audience at home know true courage and virtue when they see it.
What a programme! Stephen Nolan must already be scratching his head and wondering how he's going to follow that: the worst of our society followed closely by the best. Thank you, Stephen and production team. You may produce stinkers that are embarrassing in their maudlin tone but there was none of that last night. It was public service broadcasting that truly enlightened those still in need of enlightenment. (And we'll pass lightly over the matter of audience balance.)