'Michaella McCollum should not get attention and I hope she will be ignored from now on'

RTÉ received dozens of complaints over the Michaella interview this week, deservedly so, writes Lorraine Courtney.

MICHAELLA MCCOLLUM WAS arrested, along with Scottish woman Melissa Reid, in August 2013 when the two were caught trying to board a flight from Lima to Madrid with 11kg of cocaine in their bags.

McCollum has since served a two years and three months sentence. RTÉ broadcast a controversial interview with her on Sunday, sparking a mixed reaction, and dozens of complaints to the national broadcaster.

We learned that trouble seems to follow McCollum around. Sectarianism somehow meant she was forced to leave Belfast. She didn’t have enough money to make a fresh start so she somehow decided that a two-month holiday in Ibiza was her best option.

McCollum told Trevor Birney that she had been “naive, young and insecure.” I was too at nineteen, but my insecurities didn’t drive me into the international drugs trade. She said she had now learnt a lot and said she “made a decision in a moment without thinking.” I still make those but they’re usually about what to have for lunch rather than opting to become a drug mule.

Talk about her highlights and red lipstick 

I’m not going to write about McCollum’s blond highlights (I’ve already seen a few keyboard warriors dismiss negative reaction as misogyny). I’m not going to write about her red lipstick. I’m not going to write about the tactless press release from Paddy Power, offering odds on which reality TV show McCollum would turn up on first.

Instead I’m going to say that she is a common criminal who is unworthy of our attention and I hope the media will ignore her from now on.

The public confession and redemption is an exercise in having your cake and eating it. You get to commit the crime – produce the memoir and get a career boost. But McCollum’s RTÉ airtime was something more cynical and calculating to me: an attempt to confess without confessing. It was an effort to meet the minimum standards required for a public confession while avoiding the difficult questions and the reality of what she had done.

The best she could come up with for us to explain why there was 11kg of cocaine in her suitcase was: “I kind of just followed along with it and I guess a part of me kind of wanted to be something I’m not.” She also said, “A lot of times I didn’t know how to say no to somebody.”

Viewers waiting for emotion 

Some remorse would have been good. Bursting into tears during a confession may be corny, but appearing to be almost totally without emotion, as McCollum did, is far worse. It draws the audience’s attention to the fundamental falsity of the whole operation.

You’re supposed to leave the viewer feeling moved, and perhaps a little morally superior – not soiled for having tuned in at all. I was left feeling cheated and dirty. Birney never once elicited a shred of remorse on McCollum’s part. But the likeliest explanation for that, to judge from her responses on Sunday night, was that there wasn’t any there.

She admitted to drug smuggling, of course, and did so within the opening minutes of the show, under Birney’s gentle questioning. But almost the whole of the rest of her 60-minute performance consisted of meaningless babble. She did admit: “I potentially could have hurt a lot of people, I potentially could have filled Europe with a lot of drugs. I can see the harm I could have done to people who consume drugs. If the drugs had got back I probably would have had a lot of blood on my hands.”

The truth is that she already has blood on her hands.

That 11kg of cocaine wasn’t manufactured without a few horrible consequences. She said she was “not a bad person” and wanted to demonstrate that by doing “something good.” Please.

The best thing she can do right now is not to insult us with another media appearance.

Lorraine Courtney is a journalist and writer. Follow her on Twitter @lorrainecath.  

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