Reality Sucks: on audience manipulation and exploitation of the working class in reality TV

Smartphone, Face, Man, Old, Baby, Young, Child, Youth
Image: Pixabay

‘Popular factual programming’ or reality television, has rapidly and increasingly occupied a prominent place in modern-day television culture. Reality shows, attempt to manufacture an illusion of transparency by theoretically capturing life as it happens. In their book, Understanding Reality Television, media analysts, Sue Holmes and Deborah Jermyn, argue that reality TV’s ‘generic hybridity’ as well as its positive relationship with origins and style of documentary form make defining the genre almost impossible. A 2001 article in The Guardian tellingly suggested that the difficulty in defining reality TV lies in the fact that the genre has transcended depicting reality, moving on to a form of audience manipulation that greatly banks on the willingness of ‘celebrity wannabes’ in making misguided decisions and facing their consequences on TV. Candid Camera, created for radio as Candid Microphone, is believed to be the first and most enduring reality television programme ever produced, airing from 1948 to 2004 in the US. The show involved manufacturing a vexing situation for an alleged stranger while secretly filming her or his reaction to it. Holmes and Jermyn argue that even if the show’s reality was constructed, the ‘50s inept audience, utterly amazed and engrossed in watching people caught in the otherwise mundane act of being themselves, could not tell. A few decades later and during the cold war, Candid Camera, perpetuated ‘surveillance anxiety’ of the era, fascinating and infuriating those who were nursing a suspicion that their actions were being invariably monitored. Time Magazine described the show as ‘Machiavellian’ at the time, rebuking its attempts to ‘cross the last thresholds of privacy’. Nevertheless, the show generated immutable high ratings by finding novel ways to entertain its viewers at the expense of embarrassing someone on TV, from casting President Harry S. Truman to walk around Manhattan confronting unsuspecting citizens to getting Woody Allen to pose as a struggling, young comic galling people to make an extra dollar. English television producers envied the American reality show’s success and renowned TV personality, Jonathan Routh, finally brought the show to the UK in the 1960s; an Irish version soon ensued. Questions regarding the authenticity of the show’s setups rose to prominence in the ‘80s. In 1987, Journalist John O’Connor insisted in the New York Times that it was impossible for so many people to be as ‘gullible’ as depicted on the show, describing the mere possibility as ‘frightening’ thus concluding the said fear/shock factor as part of the show’s appeal. Reality shows flowered and thrived in the ‘90s, programmes including Crimewatch UK, Survivor, Big Brother and The Osbournes all went into production in the ‘90s or early ‘2000s.

Further, the advent of sophisticated videography tools as well as video-editing programmes, facilitated the distortion of reality to attract more viewers. In a memorable scene in Richard Attenborough’s Charlie Chaplin biopic, Chaplin’s biographer asks the comic how he selected his signature costume. Initially, the comedian relates a dramatised version of the truth, enhanced for the audience by computerised special effects; when the biographer expresses disbelief, Chaplin admits the exaggeration, reasoning that reality is often ‘boring’. That story, greatly exemplifies why producers of reality shows increasingly turn to technology to terrorise truth: the ennui of unedited life. The practice of dishonest editing to bolster entertainment dates back to the early days of Candid Camera on air and participants signed a ‘pre-broadcast’ contract agreeing to it. Under said contract ‘victims’ generously bestowed the rights of editing the recorded footage to TV producers in any way they deemed seemly ‘without obtaining any further consent’ , what Holmes and Jermyn describe as turning ‘helpless victimisation into willing participation’. Those enthused by the idea of appearing on TV signed, a situation eerily akin to our ready agreement to social media sites’ terms and conditions. After all, we too can edit our lives and attract more audiences to our online ‘reality’. As Holmes and Jermyn note, the title Candid Camera, also cleverly avoided negative connotations that could have been derived from a more accurate name, Covert Surveillance, for example. Editing footage to stir controversy for today’s modern-attention audience who turn to their television to evade their own daily lives’ ennui is now a common practice for reality TV producers. Reality shows thrive on manufacturing conflict. Deceitful editing involves cherry picking unflattering moments of a reality show’s participant or portraying their anger or irrationality and cutting out the circumstances that had inspired the wrath, with said power, producers create villains for audiences to despise and protagonists they would defend to a bitter end since reality TV is still storytelling. Note that most people appreciate a well-constructed story. Producers have allegedly gone as far as scripting reality shows to make the narratives more appealing to their audience. In 2016, British viewers were shocked by hearing the words, “Great take, guys” from behind the cameras while watching Big Brother, a production made to convince viewers of the authenticity of reality shows through live streaming. By casting people with opposing views, Big Brother also attempts to quench its audience’s desire for viewing conflict and violence. In 2015, gay, liberal celebrity blogger Perez Hilton and infamous, right-wing media personality Katie Hopkins (two people with clashing values) were stuck together in the Big Brother house and ended up physically attacking each other on camera.

Moreover, some critics hypothesised that a psychological phenomenon known as schadenfreude plays a significant role in our obsession with reality shows. Schadenfreude which means, shades of Freud, refers to a crude enjoyment that some people may derive from watching others’ misfortunes. If we deem the hypothesis valid, then a connection between schadenfreude and the success of reality talk shows such as Dr Phil can be readily observed. The show features participants with chronic and often peculiar addiction problems, mental health issues or marital woes. Another programme, Teen Mom, also depicts teenage girls who have fallen pregnant and are facing daunting difficulties as adolescent mothers. In a 2014 article in The New York Times Journalist and editor, Alyssa Rosenberg argued that schadenfreude also contributes to the success of shows such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians or Real Housewives, as the working-class audiences ‘enjoy watching ill-behaved rich’, retitling reality shows as ‘schadenfreude TV’. Richard H. Smyth, a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky suggests that witnessing others’ disordered lives provides a powerful mental relief, making us feel automatically better about ourselves as humans have a stubborn tendency for comparison. Some critics also believe that more conservative viewers enjoy the reinforcements of gender and race stereotypes often depicted in reality shows.

Additionally, reality TV can induce good feelings by bolstering the notion of ‘from rags to reaches’ or overnight celebrity. The idea that most people want to be famous is part of the industry’s credo. Going back to the example of Candid Camera, the lyrics to the show’s jingle read as follows: “When you least expect it, you’re elected, you’re the star today, smile, you’re on Candid Camera”: significantly playing on humans’ unceasing need for attention and stardom. Most participants to reality shows have been influenced by watching their coevals acquire wealth or popularity by volunteering to compete or contribute to said shows. Reality competition shows including American Idol, The Voice, Britain’s Got Talent and Top Chef, all showcase a cohort of alleged ordinary people, often from the working-class, who achieve their goals and potentials by going on a competition show. The audience pertains to those people and feels exhorted to follow the same path; thus, TV producers kill two birds with one stone: generating more participants while boosting viewership. Reality shows rekindle their audience’s faith in fate, making them believe in the notion of meritocracy: if one is talented, clever or merely beautiful, one will become famous and rich by signing up to reality shows. That image is, of course, a mirage that has led to some contestants’ suicides which producers have audaciously exploited to enhance ratings by airing said stories as follow-up episodes: tragedy sells, and we are shamelessly buying.

Reality shows remain popular because observing others’ private moments is ostensibly deemed entertaining. Producers, bank on age-old marketable elements such as sex, violence and controversy thus distort the realism of their shows to, often artificially, include those factors, partly thanks to cutting-edge technology. Audiences’ perverse appetite for viewing other’s misery will also keep them watching, adding on to their own life satisfaction; and the everyman’s dreams of grandeur achieved by a peer on television keeps him hooked on reality TV.



Paper Pooches, Clowns and Tall Ships

This Article by The Logical Radical had originally appeared in the print edition of Cork’s  Evening Echo. 

For Cork’s multihyphenate artist, Tom Campbell, happiness is as simple as a paper-made pooch. The 44-year-old sculptor, who lives in St Luke’s, is trying to make art inclusive by sharing a pack of life-size dogs, made entirely out of dried paper, with children or people with mental disabilities, hoping to make a joyous impression.

“Art is for all, I have done the project twice in Cork, once in Oxford with people with poor mental health, and recently at Carlow Art Festival [with children],” he says.

“I’m hoping to repeat the project in Barcelona next year.”

Tom made the first member of the papier-mâché (composite material consisting of dried paper bound with glue) doggy pack with his friends at Cork’s Triskel Arts Centre, back in 2005. One day, when the artist, in the company of his hand-made pooch, was on his way to Cork city, he became intrigued by people’s reaction to the sculpture.

“They were people waiting for the bus in Skibbereen, it was a group of women who were travelling, they really liked it, and they wanted to hold the dog,” Tom recalls.

Tom Campbell's paper dogs at Crawford Art Gallery, Cork
Tom Campbell’s paper dogs at Crawford Art Gallery, Cork

The pleasant experience prompted the artist to blueprint the single pooch’s impossibly calm expression, 99 more times. A flock of vivacious hand-made dogs, ready to cheer up anyone who is delighted by the appearance of simplicity.

“People like and enjoy it, it’s a slightly more interactive project because people can move the dogs, and interact with them,” Tom says.

Tom Campbell dogs sculpture
Children playing with Tom’s dogs.

The artist and his friends named the simplistic conceptual art instalment The Dog Project.

Tom thinks the fact that the dogs, although not real, are so generously present and accessible to the audience, makes people, especially children, feel connected to them, making art diverse and inclusive of various groups.

“I think children like them, because they look like real dogs, and there is a group of them, and I suppose because no one is telling them that they are not allowed to touch them; for me an important part of the project was that they’d be made strong enough so that children could play with them.”

A video from this summer’s Carlow Art Festival shows a group of small children boisterously exploring Tom’s pooches, one after the other.

Tom Campbell  Artist
Tom Campbell, artist

“Normally children are not encouraged to touch sculptures, not even encouraged, but they are being told that they can’t,” he says.

The dogs have been showcased in St Finbarr’s hospital as part of Triskel’s artist residency programme, and brought joy to people on the streets of Cork, during carnivals.

The statues, while sharing a similar face and colour, are still markedly different from one another. Some are sitting, some standing on two legs, and some look like as if they’ve been immortalised in a joyous occasion that would prompt any dog to wag its tail briskly.

For Tom, whose brother grapples with severe mental health issues, it was crucial to try to involve people with a psychological disturbance in the project. “I did a similar project in Oxford with dogs, it was funded by a [British] national charity called Mind that works with people with mental health problems,” he says.

“This is a charity that has given my brother, who lives in Oxford, and has very serious mental health problems a place to live.”

Tom says the mental health patients under the support of Mind were allowed to spend time with his dogs “for as much or as little as they wanted”.

Asked if a particular moment from more than a decade of exhibiting the dogs has stayed with him, Tom laments the demise of one dog along with a sea captain to whom he had gifted it.

When the historic tall ship Bounty sank in the Atlantic Ocean after being pummelled by Hurricane Sandy, it was carrying one of Tom’s pooches, a basset hound signed by British singer Bryan Ferry.

“They [the Bounty crew] had come to Cork at one point, and I gave them this basset hound, and I said, ‘look you can have this dog but I want its picture to be taken at different places,’ and I ended up leaving it with the captain,” he says. “Apparently he got really precious about it and kept it in the ship’s cabin, so it wouldn’t get wet.”

Robin Walbridge, the Bounty’s seasoned seaman cruised the oceans with his beloved basset meticulously tied in the cabin.

“The ship sunk during Hurricane Sandy, and the captain and another one on board were killed, it is a very sad story,” Tom says. Although lifeless, paper pooches don’t stand a chance in the water.

However, Tom is always making more. He says he is hoping to showcase thousands of papier-mâché dogs in Barcelona next year.

Also an adept painter, the artist wants his art to continually bring joy to his audience, the kind of pleasure found in small things. He says he has always fancied himself as a clown travelling with a circus, so much that he has learned to ride a unicycle, juggle and walk on his hands.

“Circus is a very exciting art form,” he says.

Tom’s paintings are an amalgamation of his deep-rooted love for people, their appreciation of his art as well as small joys. One, in particular, seems to manifest them all: a serene clown with a rooftop on his head above which a few people stand happy, among them, a sea captain and his basset hound.


Cork City Council spends €200,000 on toilets



Cork City Council spent €200,000 on replacing City Hall’s concert hall bathrooms last year, ignoring significantly cheaper repair options. This is according to the Council’s internal documents obtained by The Logical Radical.

A contractor had initially issued a €23,000 repair quote for concert hall’s male toilet, to address the bathroom’s fundamental issues such as flooring, ventilation, as well as electrical and mechanical problems.

The Council, however, opted for a complete refurbishment of both male and female bathrooms as part of a separate €650,000 City Hall renovation project carried out prior to the UNESCO Conference, which they hosted last September.

According to the project’s documents the Council had to “significantly” scale down roof and windows refurbishment work, given the expenditure incurred on replacing the toilets. Photographs of Cork City Hall revealed that the building’s roof and windows did indeed require a major overhaul.


“The Council has failed to address the building’s fundamental issues such as cracks on the structure, mould growth and roof problems because the main bulk of the fund was pumped into the toilets,” a source from the Council who requested anonymity said.

The source added: “The rest of the building is rotting.”

Cork City Council, through a spokesperson, insisted that the original bathrooms, composed of stainless steel and designed by renowned architect Níall McLaughlin in 2004, were in urgent need of replacement.

“The original stainless steel elements of the bathrooms were fundamentally unsuitable for public use due to health and safety concerns, and the cubicles were unsafe and had warranted on occasion calling the fire brigade to remove locked in members of the public,” the Council’s spokesperson said in a statement.

The statement added: “There was no proper ventilation, the electrics were inadequate, and the floor and ceiling were at end of life use.  The corridors urgently needed refurbishment. When using a building for commercial hire and as a public and civic location, toilet facilities need to be of a certain standard.”


The Council has replaced the stainless steel components of the original bathrooms with vinyl, documents show. Vinyl, a synthetic plastic, is made of dioxin and chloride and customarily contains lead, mercury and various hormone disruptors. Stainless steel, however, is used in multiple commercial facilities, including operating rooms, as a “clean” material. Vinyl’s disposal is also harmful to the environment as plastic’s lifecycle ends in landfills, while steel, is widely recycled.


The source said: “They ripped out these materials that would last for years to put in plastic toilets of the lowest, most basic quality.”

Local independent Councillor and historian Kieran McCarthy expressed concern over City Hall’s current state and said that he would be “disappointed” if the Council had failed to properly refurbish the building due to the heavy expenses of replacing the toilets.

“Vast parts of Cork City Hall are in poor condition,” Cllr McCarthy said.

Only seven windows were refurbished, and roof renovation was also reduced to patch repairs by the end of the project, documents reveal.

“It is a disgrace, and I think it shows the reversal of priorities in Cork City Council’s financial management,” Cllr Ted Tynan of the Workers’ Party said.

Similar incidents have happened before, where they spent resources on replacing things that were in need of repair,” Cllr Tynan claimed. “I will call for an investigation of all the expenditure on the concert hall bathrooms.”

Cork City Hall was built in 1936 replacing the city’s original municipal building, which was destroyed during the War of Independence.



A Polyphony of Spinning Hearts: How a Literary Style Summarised Ireland’s Post-Recession Identity Crisis


The present essay aims to analyse the polyphonic style and narrative choice of Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart for reporting the story of Irish recession and its influence on rural Ireland. The analysis will use excerpts from the primary text to elaborate on the impact of Ryan’s narrative choice on his readers and in studying rural Ireland’s culture and post-recession identity crisis.

The Spinning Heart is an amalgamation of 21 monologues delivered by the inhabitants of an unnamed small town in Ireland who happen to be the victims of the country’s financial collapse. In his book, Problems of Dostoevsky Poetics, Russian philosopher and literary critic, Mikhail Bakhtin defines polyphony as ‘the plurality of independent and unmerged voices’. Bakhtin praises the style due to its portrayal of an ‘objective world’ in which characters share ‘equal consciousness’. Donal Ryan creates such world in The Spinning Heart while garnering those ‘independent and unmerged voices’ under the umbrella of a collective trauma (economic downturn). The polyphonic discourse allows the expression of entirely different intentions and thoughts. For example, readers observe the impact of the economic crash on Vasya, an undocumented immigrant from Russia who represents a group whose life under the recession was not widely covered. Bakhtin insisted that each person’s experience is ‘unique and irreplaceable’. In Ryan’s novel, each perspective bears a certain amount of weight and validity. Another function of polyphony is turning characters and types into personalities by granting them freedom and independence from others’ perspectives and their environment. In The Spinning Heart, Ryan rescues Bobby Mahon’s father from becoming a stereotyped villain by granting him an independent voice even if it is after his demise. Ryan’s ‘personalities’ speak their truth and contradict each other’s narratives to reflect the inconsistent, bewildered state of rural Ireland after the recession. Bakhtin believed Dostoevsky used polyphony to depict the ‘contradictory multileveledness of his time’.

Further, the absence of dialogue reveals the sense of isolation that the town’s inhabitants feel, or what Maeve Mulrennan describes as ‘the powerlessness of a community’: the disillusionment that realising the disappearance of the glorious Celtic Tiger years brought about. In 2012, many young Irish men and women left the country for Australia and London as the financial crash destroyed the sense of loyalty to land (an important element in Irish culture) and formed a national identity crisis. In Ryan’s book, the imminent immigration of young people is highlighted in Brian’s monologue. While still in Ireland Brian fantasises about work, money and beautiful women waiting for him in Australia. As Mulrennan notes, after Ryan’s book a series of ‘institutional crises’ regarding the Catholic Church traumatised Irish identity even further. In The Spinning Heart, the recession is like an erupted volcano that has brought to head the internalised complexes, confusions and frustrations of rural people. As Chris O’Rourke writes, “The recession informs so much of his [Ryan] fractured tale that it’s questionable if it could survive with the same intensity without it.” Bobby feels even more useless now that his boss and local developer Pokey Burke, has fled the country and left him to take care of his broke and helpless employees. Pokey’s father Josie feels extremely ashamed of Bobby and others; he finds the new trauma hard to manage as he is already overwhelmed by internalised feelings of guilt regarding his children. Brian uses the financial downturn as an excuse to flee a town in which he grew up watching Bobby with envy. The recession is also taking a toll on Réaltín’s comparatively healthy relationship with her father. The essay now moves on to discuss the impact of Ryan’s choice of narration on examining rural Irish culture.

In an interview with the University of Limerick’s Regional Writing Centre, Ryan described himself as a ‘labour inspector’ rather than a writer and The Spinning Heart shows his careful examination of his compatriots’ behaviours. In monologues delivered by the male characters of the book, readers recognise Irish men as insecure and nervous of others’ judgements. Bobby is full of self-doubt despite the fact that others consider him to be the community’s golden boy. Bobby’s insecurity stems from growing up with a father who managed to convince him of his unworthiness; thus he envisions the old man’s murder – a bold initiative he doubts would win him his approval. “He’d still be telling me I’m only a useless prick.” His father’s ghost later opens up about his childhood and a father who mercilessly beat him revealing how both men were victims of a culture in which sons inherit their fathers’ demons. Bobby is very cautious of talking about his feelings as the dominant rural culture deems it a feminine quality. He is not only petrified of discussing his sentiments with his wife but avoids anything that questions his manhood. “Imagine if being found out that you went out to see a play, on your own! With a woman, you have an excuse for every kind of soft thing.” That is partially due to the homophobic culture of small Irish towns where boys must play GAA and abstain from displaying their emotions to flaunt their heterosexuality. In her study, A Matter of Life and Death: Men, Masculinities and Staying ‘Behind’ in Rural Ireland, Caitríona Ní Laoire suggests struggles for power and masculine identity play a key role in the growing rate of suicide among rural Irish men. In The Spinning Heart, Josie is so ashamed of his daughter’s homosexuality that does not even acknowledge the fact. There is no hint of his daughter’s sexual inclination in his monologue. Similarly, Brian’s father decides to disregard the fact that his son is spending his last days in Ireland. In Brian Friel’s Faith Healer (an Irish polyphonic play) Frank Hardy never discusses his wife’s miscarriages or the birth of his stillborn child. Irish men ignore the harsh truth and block painful memories instead of coming to terms with them. Identity crisis is also sensed in almost everyone’s speech. Josie’s daughter Mags copes with his father’s denial of her identity (sexuality) by blaming the religious, homophobic rural culture: “People’s thoughts, when their upbringing is mired in dogma, aren’t their own.” Rural culture of ostracising minority groups is highlighted in Lily and Vasya’s monologues. In Lily’s chapter, it is revealed to readers that besides Bobby (and his late mother) nobody goes near the former sex worker including her children. She is labelled and stigmatised as the local ‘wanton’. Vasya is treated with the similar prejudice as he is an outsider in a small Irish-majority community in which migration is still a unique phenomenon. He is nameless to town’s people, putting him in the midst of an identity crisis he endeavours to dismiss as normal. “I’m called the Russian here as almost everyone is from other countries.” The Spinning Heart depicts many more examples of cultural anomalies including sexism, racism and lack of education around mental illness (Trevor) highlighted in various monologues. The monologues, in the end, unite to form a clear image of Ryan’s unnamed small village and its residents’ characteristics and struggles under the economic downturn.

Donal Ryan utilised polyphonic storytelling to allow his readers to critically analyse rural Irish culture by studying various perspectives on life including those of a foreigner, a child and a mentally ill individual. The Spinning Heart employs recession to demonstrate how cultural poverty combined with a national disaster further complicated the lives of people in small Irish towns whose spinning hearts were already too wounded to handle an external crisis.


Bakhtin, M. (1984), Problems of Dostoevsky Poetics, p.6, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 April 2018].

Cleary, L. (2015), ‘Donal Ryan: How I Write’ [interview], University of Limerick Regional Writing Centre, p.7, [online] Available at:  [Accessed 25 April 2018].

Friel, B. (1980), Faith Healer, London: Faber and Faber.

Mulrennan, M. (2016), ‘Post-Celtic Tiger rural Ireland, internal exile and male identity in the fiction of Colin Barrett and Donal Ryan’, The Honest Ulsterman, [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 April 2018].

Ní Laoire, C. (2008), ‘A Matter of Life and Death: Men, Masculinities and Staying ‘Behind’ in Rural Ireland’, Journal of the European Society for Rural Sociology, [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 April 2018].

O’Rourke, C. (2017), ‘The Spinning Heart’ [play review], The Arts Review, [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 April 2018].

Rajan, B. (2009), ‘Milan Kundera’s novels as polyphony’, Calicut: University of Calicut Press, [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 April 2018].

Rajan, B. (2009), ‘Milan Kundera’s novels as polyphony’, p.11, Calicut: University of Calicut Press, [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 April 2018].

Robinson, A. (2011), ‘Bakhtin: Dialogism, Polyphony and Heteroglossia’, Cease Fire Magazine, [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 April 2018].

Ryan, D. (2012), The Spinning Heart, p.130. Dublin: Doubleday Ireland.

Ryan, D. (2012), The Spinning Heart, p.16. Dublin: Doubleday Ireland.

Ryan, D. (2012), The Spinning Heart, p.20. Dublin: Doubleday Ireland.

Ryan, D. (2012), The Spinning Heart, p.36. Dublin

Cork Woman’s Heartache as Sister Remains Missing in India


Ilze Skromane’s voice breaks talking about her sister’s love for animals, nature and people. “My sister is wonderful, she is very friendly, warm and trustworthy,” she says.

The Cork woman hasn’t seen her sister Liga since the early hours of March 14 when she went missing while on a “healing vacation” in Kerala, India. She was last seen on Kerala’s Kovalam beach.

ilze skromane liga skromane missing india cork
Liga (right) and Ilze (left)

Ilze, owner of a beauty salon in Cork, says that she noticed her sister was suffering from “post-traumatic depression” since last August. As Liga was not responding well to mainstream treatment, the Skromane sisters decided to try an alternative medicine: Ayurveda healing.

“Liga always wanted to visit India, and I offered her to come with me and start Ayurveda Programme,” she says. Ayurveda treatment is an ancient Hindu method of healing. The programme usually consists of daily yoga and meditation routines.

On February 21, the sisters arrived at Dharma Ayurveda Healing Centre – an Ayurveda yoga retreat in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala in Southwest India – where Liga was supposed to undergo a six-week treatment programme.

ilze skromane liga skromane missing india cork
Liga (right) and Ilze (left)

On the morning of her disappearance, Liga had complained about a “slight headache” and asked her sister to attend their morning yoga class by herself.

“I asked would she like me to ask for some headache medicine from the doctor, but she said it would go away if I just lie down,” Ilze says.

“I put a cold, wet towel on her forehead, gave her a kiss and a cuddle and said I’ll see her soon,” she recalls.

An hour later, Ilze returned to their room and found her sister missing.

”When I didn’t find her in the room I thought she had gone for a walk,” she says. After a few hours, Ilze started to get anxious. Finally, the centre’s staff informed her that an auto-rickshaw (a motorised three-wheeler for hire in India) driver is confident that he has given Liga a lift to the beach that morning.

“When the driver said that he gave her a lift to the beach I felt a ray of hope and thought oh maybe she just decided to go for a walk on the beach,” Ilze says.

The driver claims that Liga had paid him to take her to the “closest beach” to the area, and had asked him to “keep the change”.  Ilze says her sister has taken “2000 Indian Rupees (€25) at the most” with herself.

“I went to the beach and started searching and very quickly realised that she was not there and then panic started to set in,” Ilze recalls.

Liga has left her passport and belongings in their room. The 33-year-old woman holds a Latvian passport and a permanent Irish residency. Liga has been living away from her sister, as she’d moved to Swords, Dublin to live with her partner Andrew Jordan since a few years ago. The Dublin man arrived in Kerala on an emergency visa on March 17.

Ilze says distance never hurt their strong sisterly bond. “We’re the closest sisters. We would rarely fight even though I was in Cork managing my business and she had to go to Dublin, but we still had a very good relationship,” she says.

Liga and Ilze’s parents in Latvia are especially worried and distance is making them more anxious. “My parents wanted to come over, but I told them not to because it would only distress them more,” Ilze says.Not knowing what has happened to Liga is what troubles Ilze the most. “It is very hard when you don’t know anything, and there is no comfort, and you keep wondering is she okay?”

ilze skromane liga skromane missing india cork
Top right Liga their brother Erwin and wife bottom right Ilze mum Vesma dad Janis and Family cat Minkans

The Cork woman fears that her sister might be held hostage. “It could be that she’s being held against her will for some reason,” she says.

Numerous missing person posters of Ilze have been distributed in Kerala and nearby areas. Ilze had since briefed the media in a press conference and is reaching out to Indian, Latvian and Irish authorities for help.

“We’re trying to ask the parliament and embassies [Latvian and Irish] to pressure them [Indian authorities] to put more men on the ground and look for Liga,” Ilze says. “It would be much appreciated if the Irish Embassy could help us.”

Andrew Jordan had claimed that the Department of Foreign Affairs is reluctant to offer aid as Liga is not an Irish citizen. The Department of Foreign Affairs’s press office says “the department does not comment on individual cases” and did not respond to queries regarding their general policy toward similar situations.

The Latvian embassy in India, however, says they are working closely with Irish authorities to find Liga.

“The Embassy of Latvia highly appreciates constructive and professional cooperation with the Embassy and the Honorary Consul of Ireland in Chennai, who have offered their assistance. The search for the missing woman is a high priority for both Embassies in India,” reads the Latvian Embassy’s statement. According to the Latvian Embassy in India, Sweden has also announced its willingness to assist with search efforts.

Ilze is full of gratitude for her fellow Corkonians’ support during this challenging time.

“First of all I just want to say thank you so much to people in Cork who have sent me so many messages and please just keep sharing Liga’s story,” she says.

Ilze has also set up a Facebook page called “Missing in Kerala” to facilitate contact for people with any useful information about her sister.

Liga is 5’6, skinny with dark hair and blue eyes. Indian police are offering a reward of 2 lakh (nearly €1,240) to those who can lead them to her.

P.S: Liga was later found dead, and her case remains open in India. 





Abtran’s Employee Conflict Drags On

Ireland’s massive outsourcing group Abtran continues to be the target of a growing online campaign organised by disgruntled employees.

The campaign initially organised by a few current and former employees gained momentum overnight when it took the form of a Facebook page called “Scabtran.”

Scabtran Abtran Controversy Workers Rights
Scabtran Logo Made by Abtran’s Dissatisfied Employees

Launched about a week ago the page has now gained over a thousand followers. Page’s organisers encourage former and current Abtran employees to share their experience of working at one of the largest customer service providers in the country.

A large number of Abtran’s employees claimed that the company is not allowing them sufficient toilet breaks.

“The company doesn’t treat us like human beings, human beings have a right to use the bathroom,” one current employee said.

“If your desk is at the very end of the floor, one employee said, it may take you a minute or a minute half to actually get to the toilet, given that you must make this journey twice that could take up all your seven minutes other times you have to hold it in. Because if you go over this time, your manager documents it and you can be written up for a disciplinary hearing.”

Abtran Workers Exploitation Cork City Employees
Banner put by Abtran’s disgruntled employees on Lapps Quay

“ The  only time team leaders make an effort to talk to us, one Abtran employee said, is when we do something wrong, they do not care about the instances when you do a good job, only when you failed.”

Several other employees accused Abtran of “providing a poor working environment and ignoring complaints.”

Responding to the allegations Tim Kinsella of MKC Communication whose firm represents Abtran said that his client is “an entirely reputable company and a caring and responsible employer in every respect.”

In an Email sent to all employees, Pat Ryan Chief Executive Officer of Abtran asked workers to “not let the campaign affect their morale.”

“I also personally am intent on ensuring that Abtran listens and reacts appropriately to employees,” vowed Mr Ryan in the now leaked Email.

According to Mr Ryan, the campaign is “entirely malicious” and is “trying to damage Abtran’s reputation.”

“As this campaign has also now made threatening remarks,” Mr Ryan added, “I am working closely with our legal team who are liaising with the relevant authorities to ensure this is dealt with appropriately.”

“There haven’t been any threatening remarks besides constant union pushing,” said Alex Homits, a spokesperson for the campaign.

“Ryan’s Email to employees,” Homits said, “has gained us hundreds of followers overnight.”

The so-called Scabtran posters are visible in bus stops around Cork city centre as well.

Abtran remains one of Ireland’s largest and most successful outsourcing groups. In 2016, Sky awarded a contract to Abtran which created 130 new jobs at Abtran Cork. In 2010, Abtran reported more than 75% surge in profits. Abtran has branches in Dublin and Cork.


A Town that is Still Red: Reviewing Lorelei Harris’s Letters to Ann

Words are powerful, they evoke all kinds of emotions in us, and we can shed them on paper instead of tears. In fact, Lorelei Harris might have never thought of making Letters to Ann if words weren’t so powerful.

Harris who is South African by blood and Irish by soul, has produced several award-winning radio documentaries for RTÉ’s Radio 1. She served as the station’s editor of Arts, Factual and Drama from 2013 to 2017, and just recently retired. Letters to Ann will always remain an excellent work in her decades-long career.

Harris was working as a producer on Radio 1’s The Gay Byrne Show when she came across “the words.” Those were letters sent by Irish women who were sharing their experience of adolescent pregnancies and murdered innocence. They were responding to the death of Ann Lovett, a 15-year-old schoolgirl from Granard, Co. Longford. Ann who had managed to hide her pregnancy from town’s people gave birth in a grotto on top of the town, as a statue of the Virgin Mary watched on. But her frail body gave in under the arduous task. So, Ann’s soul flew away and took her baby boy with her.

Gay Byrne, the pioneer of Irish confessional radio shows, read Irish women’s letters to Ann on his show, word by word. But they managed to haunt Harris long after that. Twelve years later, she decides to revisit Granard; the result is a cold-heartedly beautiful radio doc called Letters to Ann.

Letters to Ann begins with a haunting music accompanied by the sounds of footsteps on leaves: portraying a gloomy autumn.  There is a certain coldness in that intro that almost makes the listener shiver.

The narrator jumps in shortly after, giving us a historical world tour of 1984 while the footsteps keep stepping on the leaves and move forward – that is Harris’s way of letting us know that someone is walking into the past.

That someone is Harris herself, the footsteps suddenly stop. “Here it is,” she says. She has reached her destination.

From there, the narrator’s voice takes on a Vincent Price tone, painting a picture of Harris at a cemetery in the twilight of Granard.

Harris reads from Ann’s gravestone. Then we hear church bells, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

The next character is journalist Emily O’Reilly who was working as a reporter for The Sunday Tribune at the time of Ann’s death. She recalls how they – at the paper-  found out about the incident. O’Reilly’s pain from remembering the events show in her long sighs.

Then the words bombard us. Actress Ann-Marie Horan reads to us the tears of Irish women, shed on paper for “the poor little lamb Ann Lovette and her baby.”

From there, Harris’s journey in town begins. We listen to her as she stubbornly tries to reignite the memory of Ann in the minds of Granard’s people. “I want to forget all about it,” one man says to her. We – along with Harris- find the Granard of 1996, a town whose people want to wash Ann’s name from like a dark stain.

A local man who speaks silently says that no one knew about Ann’s pregnancy even her lover. As the man goes to see if he can find another interviewee for Harris, the narrator tells us about “the words,” the kinds we want to run from.

Journalist Kevin O’Connor is the man who delivers those words. The ones of Ann Lovette’s pain when she tried to cut her umbilical cord with a pair of rusty scissors and how she bled to death, just to be born again as some sort of a saint for all the Gaelic teenage pregnant girls, of whom nobody wants to speak.

Kevin O’Connor remembers a drunken man who told them to leave Granard to leave them alone so that they could carry on with their normal life as Michael Collins’s portrait watched on.

O’Connor tells us how Collins had courted Kitty Kiernan in the hotel where the drunken man was speaking. And how Kitty Kiernan was supposed to be a role model for all Gaelic women. O’Connor, calls Ann Lovette, or rather the dread that made her run to the top of the town to cut her umbilical cord with a pair of scissors, Collins’s legacy.

Harris wants us to think about Kitty Kiernan and Ann Lovette: which one represents the real Gaelic woman? Would Michael Collins take up for her if he was alive or he would wash his hands off her like the rest of the town?

As we’re thinking about Collins, Kiernan and Ann Lovette, the words rain on us again. Another letter, from someone from another small town to Ann. The narration is accompanied by the sounds of children of Granard laughing and playing.

Anton Timoney, the sound supervisor of Letters to Ann who has worked on other award-winning Radio 1 productions such as Yola-Lost for words and Shame on the Titanic, does a great job of capturing the perfect audio.

Harris talks to a local man who complains about the “bad publicity” their town has gotten since Ann Lovette. He doesn’t want to talk about Ann.

Right after that interview we hear Emily O’Reilly flashbacking to 1984 and how she used to stop the people of Granard on the streets and how they didn’t want to talk to her. The choice of putting O’Reilly and the local man’s audio next together is apt as it highlights the fact that Harris is getting the same treatment as O’Reilly’s –  twelve years after Ann Lovette’s death.

The theme of religion is ever-present in Harris’s piece as it is easy to understand that religion is what makes Ann Lovette a taboo subject for Granard’s people. Religion and the shame it evokes in people.

At times, Letters to Ann appears as the real version of Robin Hardy’s 1973 cult/horror film The Wicker Man. We see Harris – and O’Reilly before her – as The Wicker Man’s police sergeant who keeps asking everyone in town about a missing girl whom nobody wants to talk about.

The story that O’Reilly tells from the minute 19 to 22:18 of the piece is shocking. Ann Lovette’s school principal agrees to make a statement about her on television. The filming crew gets to the school and finds her standing surrounded by teachers and the school’s staff. Speaking over the principal’s monotone voice, O’Reilly remembers how their cameraman could not zoom in on her face so what they ended up with was the whole school in one frame while the principal was making her statement. Perhaps, it is true what they say: if a young mother dies while giving birth she will become a saint. Maybe, St. Ann put a spell on the camera so everyone in Ireland could see the faces of the people who watched in cold-blood as the nine-months-pregnant Ann made her way to class.

The resemblance of Ann’s school with the one in The Wicker Man is unnerving.

We hear an unclear murmur of a priest which fades into an ominous music. The music fades into another letter, this time of hope and regret. Ann Lovette becomes young Gaelic women’s saint. She is Granard’s Joan of Arc perhaps.

Harris knocks on doors; a woman interrupts her request right after the “I’m a radio producer from RTÉ.” “No Sorry, we don’t want to talk,” she says.

Then Kevin O’Connor’s tells us about a town in which the friends of the town’s dead little girl have vanished. Their parents had warned them not to talk to anybody about Ann Lovette.

We hear a young mother ‘s voice talking to Harris. We hear her children too. She feels terrible about what had happened to Ann, she calls her an innocent girl but like everyone else, she wants to forget about her too.

Harris knocks on another door; a man tells her to fuck off and shuts the door. Does she try to show us that women especially mothers are more willing to talk about Ann? Most of Granard’s men are reluctant to talk, are they ashamed? Is the whole male population of Granard feels guilty of another man’s crime?

We hear O’Reilly talking about having teenage kids at home while working on Ann Lovette’s story. O’Reilly says that she felt helpless thinking about the possibility of something like that happening to one of her children. The very idea of a whole town’s cruel denial of a young life lost scares us as it terrifies O’Reilly. “Ireland at its worst,” she calls it.

Ann Lovette remains faceless to O’Reilly, to us and to everyone in Ireland except for the people of Granard. We learn from O’Reilly that she was an artistic girl. What does that mean? Does it mean that she wore unique outfits? Did she paint? Was she a good singer? She must have been a dancer. These are different thoughts going on the listeners’ minds as O’Reilly says that somebody told her that Ann was very artistic. O’Reilly herself thinks that Ann must have been “a lot of fun, spiky and probably difficult.”

Toward the end of the piece, Harris interviews a local man who knew Ann Lovette. He is the first person from Granard to admit that the town’s response to Ann’s death was sickening – the hush-up as he describes it.

He thinks Ann should’ve gone to the area where the baby’s father lived to deliver her baby as “over there people would’ve helped her.”

He says Ann was a quiet, nice girl.

We listen to the narrator: “I grew up in a town like yours, I grew up and saw it all.”

Once at the beginning of the piece and once towards the end, we hear one woman’s letter to Ann read by Ann-Marie Horan in which she compares Ann’s story to Mary. A 28-year-old Irish woman who gets pregnant by a man with nine children. She gives birth, chokes her baby, buries her in a suitcase and gets back to her work two days later. Then she gets sick, spends a few days at the hospital and gets back to work again. As the letter says, she keeps her pain to herself as there was no care, “it didn’t exist then,” –  it doesn’t exist now.

Kevin O’Connor tells us how he couldn’t revisit the story two years after Ann’s death as he felt that he had done enough harm to her family.

That is where Harris balances her piece by providing an opportunity for a member of the media to apologize to Ann’s family for invading their privacy.  O’Connor calls Ann a modern saint, and a modern martyr.

Letters to Ann ends with a narration that compares Ann Lovette to the Virgin Mary. And wasn’t that what we were thinking the whole time?

Letters to Ann is a superb radio documentary about a town that is still red with the blood of a 15-year-old schoolgirl called Ann Lovette. And it is about a storm of words that rained on that town.