DURING the summer, when the voters of Dublin voted for a Labour candidate in a by-election, there was a small side event that spoke volumes about our society.
It spoke loudly about Ireland but, considering who dominates your government, it said much the same about the UK too.
In an Irish context it was most startling because this tiny incident was essentially about class and class is the Irish fact that dare not speak its name.
An Irish Times journalist, Una Mullally, wrote an article about the Fine Gael candidate that pointed out just how well connected he was, how much of a privileged background he came from.
She pointed out that he had two Supreme Court judges as parents and that his access to power and influence and the right networks stemmed from there. She pointed out that, this privileged environment aside, the Fine Gael candidate had achieved very, very little compared to those he was standing against.
It was an opinionated but balanced piece. Nothing too remarkable.
Not, indeed, the kind of column you would expect to provoke an animated response from both a serving member of the Cabinet and a former Taoiseach.
Truly, those Fine Gaelers, those men of a certain social class, really, really don’t like it when someone points out the existence of that class.
Simon Harris, the Education Minister, and John Bruton, the ex-Taoiseach, wrote in the same paper as if Una Mullally had said something truly socially offensive.
As if her simply, factually, stating that the Fine Gael candidate was from a very privileged background and that this explained his candidature far more than anything he’d actually done, was unacceptable.
It would be as if pointing out Boris Johnson isn’t particularly bright, isn’t very gifted at anything, and has no ethical stance on anything, but is Prime Minister because he went to the right school and knows all the right people was seen as an outrageous assertion. Instead of just being the truth.
In an Irish context this becomes even more unacceptable though because it challenges the great Irish myth of the classless society.
We’re on the one road doesn’t sound as coherent if it’s pointed out that our history proves that for a certain class that road was only ever leading to the emigrant boat.
If this wasn’t so socially corroding it would be funny.
Funny that the same paper, The Irish Times, in which Mullally’s column and all the ensuing correspondence appeared, runs extensive coverage of a schools’ rugby competition that is played entirely between a select group of fee-paying schools.
Honestly, this coverage would make you laugh. It is bizarre.
Indeed, in my first few years living here I kept thinking it must be something else, so intense and serious is the coverage.
It can’t just be a competition between these schools can it, I used to think.
But it is. Hilarious.
Funny that at the height of the economic crash, when well educated, privileged boys had succeeded in bankrupting an entire nation, RTÉ radio’s flagship morning programme ran an item on a private detective tackling welfare cheats.
Funny when someone tells me that their big problem with Sinn Féin is not the whiff of criminality or terrorism or left wing policies but the tracksuit wearing Celtic-topped people it attracts.
Funny when the only fee-paying school in our area attracts a certain cohort despite the fact it’s exam results are worse than any of the surrounding schools.
So corrosive indeed is the class system that mediocrities and chancers and amoral liars end up in positions of deeply undeserved power.
Imagine how much more corrosive that is when the very existence of that class system cannot be acknowledged.
A society where honesty, integrity and ability are not rewarded in the same way connections, networking, and bought influence are.
Because if you are not buying a better education, at least in terms of exam results, what are you buying if not access to influence?
So an Irish journalist provokes the ire of the Irish establishment by pointing out the inherent inequality and injustice of social class being a reason for a person’s advancement.
An outraged letter to the paper, no less, from a former Taoiseach.
A whole column by a serving Cabinet Minister.
Even though Ireland has no class system.