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Channel 4's 'London Irish': Reinforcing Stereotypes?

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Channel 4 recently launched a press release about an upcoming programme called London Irish, which will follow the lives of four young people from Northern Ireland living it up in the British capital. "For these four friends", the TV station's press release described, "it's not easy navigating their way through London life, particularly when they're too drunk to know where they're going, or remember where they've been. If there had been a plan, it wouldn't have been this".

This series, which has already raised a few eyebrows over its trailer, focuses on only four people. The programme's title, however, would automatically elevate the role of each character to that of ambassador, making them out to be typical of the new generation of Irish Londoners. For any self-respecting Irish person in London - or for any Londoner of Irish decent - this new series could be portrayed as being representative of them, and they may not like what they're about to see. It may not have been the series writer's intentions, but it's how Channel 4 has presented the final product; London Irish will follow young idiots, "too drunk to know where they're going".

Arguably, at least some of the British audience watching London Irish could return to old perceptions, regarding the Irish as nothing more than a bunch of cheerful but idiotic drunkards. While I'd love to claim that such generalisations are completely unfounded, it would be naïve to ignore those Irish men and women who do make such negative perceptions a reality. What doesn't make sense here, though, is that Britain does not import its drinkers from Ireland - they already have enough of their own.

Binge drinking among young people is as much of a problem in the UK as it is in Ireland or even the US. So, why would a British television channel feel the need to make the Irish out to be the kings of the keg, when they already have their own fair share of idiots on the brink of alcoholism?

Now, let's make something crystal clear: no country is going to raise an entire generation of polite, cultured, well-mannered people. I'm easily able to accept that not all those who leave Ireland's shores are a credit to their motherland.

But here lies the horrific irony to this particular turn of events: London Irish is written by Lisa McGee, a writer from Derry. She has written for Channel 4 and BBC in the past, as well as RTÉ in Ireland. She is well established and respected as a writer in both countries, and considering her upbringing in Northern Ireland, she is also aware of Anglo-Irish relations on both a social and political level. Despite McGee's own background, however, if Channel 4's description of the programme is anything to go by, London Irish has the ability to reinforce old stereotypes. Stereotypes which many Irish people have actively worked towards breaking down over the years.

Personally, Channel 4 has enraged me, and yet their programme hasn't even been aired yet. Their upcoming portrayal of the Irish may well add to an established yet unchallenged custom of casual racism against the Irish in Britain, which seems to be ignored or dismissed because of our shared history. And yet, what may be more worrying is that there seems to be some Irish people - in London and elsewhere - who are proving those stereotypes completely right.

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