Ireland's class system raises its ugly head again

Ireland's class system raises its ugly head again

MOST unusually the Dail recently played host to an outbreak of class politics.

As befitting our age, it was class politics of the most camera friendly but essentially vacuous kind.

Those involved played their roles to perfection, a bit like Will Smith at the Oscars, either slapping or crying, they never stopped performing.

It began with Michael Healy-Rae doing his usual, finely tuned blustering from the Dail benches and Leo Varadkar doing his usual, smooth, disdain.

It took a more controversial turn when Healy-Rae used the words “off with you to the airy fairies”.

Leo Varadkar took umbrage at this being a dig at his sexuality. A row ensued.

Healy-Rae, who by his response seemed genuinely nonplussed as to how his words could have been understood in that way, refused to apologise.

That says a lot.

He almost certainly wasn’t referring to Varadkar’s sexuality, that would suggest a subtlety of language he has yet to exhibit, but he should have apologised anyway.

Yet that would suggest a subtlety of behaviour which he has yet failed to exhibit.

The substance of the main exchange between the two though was somewhat hilarious.

Healy-Rae, the second richest man in the Dail, with the largest property portfolio, in his stage uniform of flat cap and waistcoat, blathered on about being representative of the people of Ireland.

This son of Fianna Fáil privilege, in his amateur drama outfit of an Irish working man, sitting between big-fan-of-Hungary’s-quasi-dictatorship Mattie McGrath, and his own brother, climate-change-isn’t-real Danny Healy-Rae.

The same Michael Healy-Rae who not long ago provoked a furious Labour TD into these words.

‘I don’t have to put on a political costume and a caricature to pretend I’m working class like they do.’

Leo Varadkar, by contrast, the archetypal urbane, privately educated, city dweller, played his part faultlessly.

Varadkar claimed that Healy-Rae looked down on him exactly because he was middle class and from Dublin and had a certain kind of accent.

All this in a country without a class system.

It was great knockabout stuff. I mean, after all, we are not like the British, being made a laughing stock by a succession of Old Etonians.

We are not a people influenced by, hung up on, or in any way shaped by social class.

Indeed if I were to list some of those who had the privilege of an education at one of our most expensive private schools, Blackrock College in South County Dublin, fees of between €19k and €25k per year, you’d probably never have heard of them.

There is no way, you see, that Ireland operates a class system whereby schooling is reflected in prominence in public life the way it is in England.

For instance, have you ever heard of an old Blackrock College student who wrote Star of the Sea, Joseph O’Connor?

What about David McWilliams the ‘celebrity’ economist, writer and columnist? What about Lochlann Quinn, former chairman of AIB?

Ever heard of Eamonn De Valera? Ruairi Quinn, Barry Andrews, Eoin O’ Brion, TDs or Ministers for Labour, Fianna Fáil, and Sinn Fein respectively?

What about Roman Keane, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ireland?

Dermot Gleeson, former Attorney General?

Michael Moriarty, John Quirke, David Barniville, all High Court judges?

What about Frank Duff, founder of The Legion of Mary? What about Archbishop John Charles McQuaid?

How about the designer Paul Costelloe or the painter Robert Ballagh?

And you’ll surely never have heard of the rugby players, Brian O’Driscoll, Leo Cullen, Shane Byrne, Neil Francis, or Joey Carbery?

Or the RTE man who commentates upon them Ryle Nugent?

Ever heard of Des Bishop, Dave Fanning or Bob Geldof? Ever heard of a fella called Ryan Tubridy?

See, there is no class system in Ireland. We are not like other countries. When our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, who didn’t attend Blackrock and only went to a school costing around €20,000 per year, represents us abroad, other countries can see that.

All of that kerfuffle in the Dail between the so-called classes was good slapstick stuff but it was only that.

It was only performing. It was only stage actors having a laugh, the stage working man and the stage urbanite.

No class here in Ireland. Nothing to see. Move along.