TheLiberty is a local paper for Dublin's south inner city

February 2001

St Teresa’s anger at Prime Time documentary

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By Dermot Keyes

A RESIDENT of St Teresa's Gardens has condemned a recent Prime Time documentary on the flat complex.

Despite this, the producers of the documentary have defended the content of the programme, entitled "Complex Problems," which was broadcast on RTE on January 25th.

Mr Andrew O'Connell, who works at the Marrowbone Lane Community Centre, said RTE had misrepresented the situation in the flats. "It was all negative," he said. "A lot of people are not criticising the programme in that it showed the reality for some people. But the fact that they didn't balance out what's going on in the flats is the problem."

In response, RTE said a number of residents thanked them for highlighting the situation that exists for many people in the south inner city. "From most of the residents we have spoken to since the programme was aired, we've had a lot of good feedback," said Prime Time reporter Ms Keelin Shanley. "I think that the wider picture is much more important. The issue remains that people are still living in dire poverty in one of the most economically vibrant capital cities in the world."

Ms Shanley made it clear that RTE had not intended to offend members of the local community, and admitted surprise at some of the reactions. "It's unfortunate that people feel like that. The fact is we said at the beginning of the programme that these were some of the more extreme cases. Those we spoke to were not stigmatised. The voice-over, I thought, was respectful and the statistics presented were accurate."

However, Mr O'Connell insisted the programme had done a great disservice to St Teresa's Gardens. "I believe that the media's job is to report the issues fairly and to be honest. The last number of years has seen a growth in sensationalism, shock publicity spin doctoring by the so-called established press."

Programme producer Mr Eddie Doyle said RTE had intended to make a documentary about the flats, but a meeting with the residents committee created a new angle for the story. "We called into the flats and had originally intended to do a different programme altogether about different issues. I had a chat with Brian Kenna [the committee chairman] about our original idea, which he said wouldn't really be of great interest. We came back to him and he thought of the idea about the social context of the flats and it went from there." When Mr Kenna spoke to the Liberty, he refuted such a claim. "That was a decision for RTE," said Mr Kenna. "They done it (the programme) irrespective of the community. We'd no say on what they did."

Mr Andrew O'Connell: "shock spin doctoring"

Mr O'Connell spoke of his revulsion after watching the programme. "What was shown in the programme exceeded the word disturbing," he said. "Anyone not familiar with St Teresa's Gardens or the many other communities residing in flat complexes would have walked away from their TV believing the flats were a complete dump and a place infested with scumbags. However, that is not the case."

Mr Kenna found the documentary "disturbing and shocking", presenting "a grim portrayal of life in the complex." He also highlighted RTE's failure to include the recent outbreak of Hepatitis A in the documentary. "For some who might already be in poor health or pregnant, this is a very serious condition. The outbreak developed as a result of poor sanitary and sewerage in the flats. Dublin Corporation has begun to innoculate their own workers. In my own project we're going to innoculate our workers."

Mr Kenna has contacted the South Western Area Health Board, while residents have hired solicitors to bring Dublin Corporation to court in relation to the sewerage problems. "Residents shouldn't have to do that," he said. "You pay the rent and that's it." If the programme had any benefit for the area, Mr Kenna said, those in authority may have pricked their ears up regarding St Teresa's Gardens.

"I think that the criticism should be aimed at the statutory bodies such as the Health Board and Dublin Corporation."

Since the programme's broadcast, the Health Board has put in both a nurse and a doctor on a monthly basis. The Government has also announced that a programme to improve living standards in deprived urban areas will soon be up and running. The programme is part of the National Development Plan for social inclusion.

What most angered Mr O'Connell was the complete failure by RTE "to cover the number of positive developments happening in St Teresa's Gardens". Among these are the new FÁS project that will open in the complex soon, the recently established integrated service project and the two full-size soccer pitches behind the flats.

Despite the criticisms, which extended to February's meeting of Dublin City Council, where both the City Manager, Mr John Fitzgerald, and Cllr Dermot Lacey (Lab) described the programme as "a disgrace", Ms Shanley does not regret the angle taken by RTE. "I would absolutely stand over everything in the programme," she said.