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15 May 2017

Brainwashing seems to be an issue with young Irish speakers judging by TV's The Top Table

Nolanís new youth discussion show was both depressing and eye-opening, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

Protesters in Newry call for an Irish Language Act. The issue continues to be controversial

Last week, by the skilful use of emotional blackmail, Stephen Nolan got me to watch a lengthy TV programme I would normally dodge. On Wednesday morning I was on his Radio Ulster show arguing that 16 and 17 year-olds shouldn’t have the vote because they’re insufficiently mature.

Towards the end Stephen got excited about The Top Table, his new political discussion show featuring a panel of politically-aware under-21s challenging elected politicians.

“Will you watch it?” he asked.

I lacked the courage to say I wouldn’t or the hypocrisy to lie, so having said I would, I did.

I love politics far more than I should, but on the whole I avoid discussion programmes because — as the satirical website The Ulster Fry pointed out last week — they can have a very bad effect on one’s health.

The old stalwarts on the panel were Jeffrey Donaldson, Dolores Kelly, Naomi Long and Mairtin O Muilleoir.

If they hadn’t been joined by the UUP’s little-known John Stewart, who turned out to be thoughtful and not always predictable, I’d have been able to write the entire script for one side of the table.   

As it was, I had to practise some deep breathing a few times to stop myself shouting at the screen.

As The Ulster Fry said unkindly: “We have several cases of human spontaneous combustion which we can directly relate to the appearance of Jeffrey Donaldson’s smug face on a TV screen, and at least four people have exploded after accidentally being exposed to Mairtin O Muilleoir’s contrived reasonableness.”

To expose the old to the scrutiny of the young is a good idea, and the young participants were impressively articulate and fearless in challenging their elders.

My favourite was Thomas Copeland, who asked penetrating questions about how much various initiatives would cost and towards the end resembled a worn-out dad unable to convince his children that rent and food mattered more than toys.     

Make that young man a Spad!

The one I was most sorry for was Katie-Rose Mead, the most confident of them all.  

While she looked and sounded more qualified to lead Sinn Fein than does Michelle O’Neill, it was saddening to hear a clever, talented 17-year-old with so closed and old-fashioned a mindset.  

She gave us among other contributions from the Sinn Fein playbook, “the Six Counties”, “the North”, “special status for Northern Ireland”, the Irish language as a “human right”, “discrimination” against Irish speakers, an obvious contempt for any worries about fiscal prudence, and dealt with criticism that the Irish language was divisive by simply insisting condescendingly that it was “a way of uniting people” since everyone would come to love it.  

And when in a conversation about legacy issues, young Calvin Reid — in a noble effort to explain why these were issues of law-and-order rather than orange and green — tried to explain why an apology from paramilitaries for events like Kingsmill would help, she was straight in there with “the Loughgall massacre”.  

Her English is superb, but she assured us that Irish was her first language and was supremely uninterested in addressing the point that since this was true of only 0.24% of the population of Northern Ireland, giving Irish equality in public institutions was financially crazy.  

If Ms Mead depressed me, Stephen Nolan’s visit to a Gaelscoil gave me the creeps. Earlier in the programme he had talked to young musicians in Kilkeel who — like Calvin — felt their Protestant and unionist identity was under threat.

There were no such worries evident among the young Irish speakers, who all demanded an Irish Language Act. 

As on-message as Ms Reid, they went on about their “rights” and were convinced that Arlene Foster had called Irish speakers crocodiles.

A 12-year-old ticked off Stephen when he mentioned Northern Ireland by saying “it’s the North of Ireland”. “You’re angry, aren’t you?” he asked one of them gently.

“Who isn’t?” replied the kid. 

Is this education or brainwashing?

The State pays for Gaelscoilleana.

As a taxpayer, I’d like reassurance they’re being properly inspected to ensure they’re not political recruiting grounds.  

I can’t say I enjoyed The Top Table, but I learned from it.

If you care about the future, the series is well worth watching.


Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic, was published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.

The paperback of Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic will be published on April 23.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards