If ever there was a textbook example of the art of turning a negative into a positive, the people of Limerick provided it this week.
Around 50 minutes after a controversial programme on youth crime in the city had been broadcast by TV3 on Monday night, local councillor Daniel Butler hit upon a brilliantly simple idea. The power of social media – in this case Twitter – did the rest.
“Can we try and get #LimerickAndProud trending?” he tweeted. Almost immediately, from all over Ireland and beyond, users of Twitter followed his lead, declaring their pride for Limerick in hundreds of personal tweets, many of which featured pictures of iconic local scenes or people we are all proud of.
The hundreds became thousands. Watching this online phenomenon take off so spectacularly was a joy. It has reached millions of Twitter accounts.
Amid the positive affirmations, it was almost easy to forget the programme that triggered this extraordinary response. Indeed, many would declare this to be a good thing, such was the largely negative reaction to investigative journalist Donal MacIntyre’s work, which took him to the Regeneration estates of St Mary’s Park, Moyross, Ballinacurra Weston and Southill. Dismissing the programme out of hand, though, would be wrong. Some of the criticisms levelled at it were also unrealistic. There was no obligation on Mr MacIntyre, in making a programme about youth crime, to seek out a positive story to counteract every negative one, or to portray the city in a flattering light. Neither did he set out to do “hatchet job” on Limerick, as has been claimed. His programme largely well intentioned but it was also was badly flawed. The potential existed for a more worthwhile exercise on an important subject. With a better, more nuanced script, a more rigorous editor and more time it could perhaps have been delivered. Alas, previous TV3 forays into this world have been straight out of Tabloid TV Central and Mr MacIntyre could not resist falling into this trap too often for his programme’s own good.
One had the sense that the producers of Breaking Crime would have regarded the footage of joyriders on the loose in Southill as TV gold. A young father of three, in trouble for much of his young life, spoke freely about making guns at home, allegedly for no purpose other than the alleviation of boredom. He waxed lyrical about gardai tripping over bullets on the ground when they came to his house. Confident and brash in front of the cameras, he was allowed to make all kinds of negative statements about life in St Mary’s Park without being challenged or contradicted.
An over-the-top statement about Limerick having a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to deal with youth crime implied the city has been in the grip of serious criminals for generations. The language was too loose, trying too hard to woo the kind of casual viewers who buy tabloid newspapers for their crime content. Defending his programme, Mr MacIntyre said Limerick people were overly defensive. If we are honest, we should concede that there has been an element of truth in that, on occasion. Most cities have a crime problem, to varying extents. Most come in for criticism from various quarters. The most confident either brush off these criticisms or take them on board if they are justified.
This week, though, Limerick found a way to respond which has served us well. #LimerickAndProud released a torrent of civic pride. It might not have made for gripping television, by TV3 standards, but it was an eloquent and powerful statement to those whose view of Limerick has been unfairly tainted.