TV review: Turns out its better to be homeless under the Tories

A rally was held last week at Jubilee Park in Belfast to highlight the plight of the homeless after the removal of benches by the City Council. Picture Mal McCann.

The Big Picture: Homelessness, RTE 1, Tuesday at 9.35pm

The Tories may be heartless, austerity lovers but it seems their government is much more effective at finding houses for the needy.

The homeless problem in Ireland is striking by the disparity in the two major cities on either side of the border.

A survey conducted by government agencies and charities on November 30 found 184 homeless people sleeping rough in Dublin compared to just five in Belfast.

Fair enough, Dublin is perhaps three times the size of Belfast, but its homeless problem is almost 37 times greater.

Perhaps the count in Belfast was unusually low for some unknown reason, but a 12 week audit two years ago found there were on average six rough sleepers on the streets of Belfast on any given night.

So what has gone wrong in Dublin, a city of greater prosperity, innovation and economic activity than its northern neighbour?

The Big Picture, presented by Miriam O'Callaghan and David McCullagh, set out to address this question but failed.

The first hour of the 90-minute programme was a film telling the story of homelessness from the viewpoints of the victims.

This included the long-term homeless addicts, people with mental health problems and the newest development, families living in hotels.

The latest figures are stark. As of the end of November 8,857 people were classified as homeless in the Republic, including 3,337 children.

Of course not all of these people were on the streets, but many included school children living long-term in hotels and trying to study with whole families sharing one room.

The film was a powerful look at the struggles of these children and families as they sought to cope with the devastating consequences of homelessness.

We also visited long-term homeless men with addiction problems who had migrated to living in tents away from the bustle of the city centre.

The film worked emotionally but didn't give any indication as to why homelessness was increasing.

Irish people - perhaps because of our history - have a particular distaste for homelessness and it is now a major political issue in the Republic with the government under significant pressure to find a solution.

But the reaction is on an emotional level and the studio discussion didn't vary from this perspective.

The minister responsible for housing, Eoghan Murphy, was grilled by McCullagh. He was chastised for citing figures and felt he had to apologise to the individual homeless people in the audience.

Surprisingly, neither O'Callaghan, who has northern connections, nor McCullagh cited the striking disparity with Belfast.

If the national broadcaster is going to spend 90-minutes tackling an issue as serious as homelessness at a time as emotional for the subject as Christmas it must do better than this.

It has a responsibility to address the problem intellectually as well as grasp for the easy emotional levers.


The Real Marigold On Tour, BBC 1, Wednesday at 9pm

Our golden oldies travelled to Iceland this week in the penultimate episode of the excellent Real Marigold Hotel.

It's based on the notion, health and wealth allowing, that pensioners can choose anywhere in the world to retire.

This week's team - which included our own Dennis Taylor, a former snooker world champion - tried a retirement town on the north coast of Iceland and the capital Reykjavik.

Iceland seemed like a paradise for the elderly, with a super healthy diet, government sponsored exercise and the second longest life expectancy in the world.

There were two distinct problems though. Iceland has the prices of Selfridges for goods you'll find in its namesake store and the weather is shocking.

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