|An Irish protester|
The trajectory of a life in the Irish political establishment hasn’t really altered in decades. You move from the playing fields to the professions; or from the elite boarding schools to the law schools; or from the rural constituency offices to the offices of parliament.
Doors open as if by magic -- if your face and background fit, that is.
You don't even have to do much thinking in the process. You will probably be promoted faster if you refrain.
Somehow you will find yourself with unfettered access to the people in power, to the people of influence.
If Irish society and politics are corrupt (with its graft, preferment, payoffs, tip offs) you’ll never even need to notice because the system prefers you, so it is easy to assume the system works.
It’s a great truism that the Irishman least conscious of what actually happens in Irish life is the Irish national politician.
Oh, certainly people come to him from miles around to moan in his office or to write him long hectoring letters that he overlooks.
The truth is, there’s never any need for him to consult the Irish electorate. He’ll be comfortably re-elected if his party’s in favor, or if his grandfather fought in the Civil War, or if he rolls his R's like a local.
His performance or his aptitude is of no consequence. All Irish politics are parochial -- if he's an idiot at least he’s our idiot.
What has really distinguished the Irish political establishment, unique almost in the whole of Europe, is their remarkable longevity. Family dynasties have ruled in unbroken succession for generations.
Wars, recessions, mass emigration and even the sex abuse crisis in the church could not dislodge them.
In Ireland still, we still see fathers hand the reigns of power to their sons (and occasionally even to their daughters). And still no one thinks to question their competence or the efficacy of this antiquated, tottering system.
When the Irish ruling class talk about meritocracy, they only mean in so far as it seems to explain the privileged positions they enjoy in Irish society themselves. It's much easier to believe that your path to success was all your own doing when it ran straight and true and uninterrupted, after all.
So hidden among all the controversies about bank bailouts, biting austerity measures and new property taxes engulfing Ireland at the moment is something that I expected to see -- business as usual.
Even after Irish voters took Fianna Fail to the woodshed in the general election, the nation's appetite for change -- and dramatic once in a lifetime change at that -- seemed to blow itself out.
For a while in the lead up to the election it had been briefly possible to envision the building of guillotines, so great was the public revulsion at Fianna Fail’s epic misreading and mishandling of the Irish financial crisis, but it didn't happen. Caution prevailed.
Instead, one center right party was swept from power and another center right party was swept into it.
W.B. Yeats had a terrific description of that kind of cosmetic change over: “The horse changes riders but the lash goes on,” he wrote.
Perhaps the Irish people have grown so used to being cowed by far away powers whose influence is insuperable that they suspected no other avenue was available to them.
We've had centuries of bowing our knees and kissing the rings of foreign powers after all -- if it's not the British then it's the Vatican, if it's not the European Union it's the European Central Bank, if and it's none of them then it's our own senior ministers. The horse changes riders but the lash goes on.
We usually take our lumps like champions too, at least until we can take them no more and finally revolt.
Let’s face it -- the pages of Irish history are teeming with ill-conceived, peevish last minute attempts to shrug off brutal usurpers.
They have almost always failed too, because of a spectacular lack of planning and because for the Irish a revolution is always an afterthought. It's the absolute last trick in the book after uprisings and famine.
So it’s painful but not difficult to see why the Republic has failed (and it is not controversial or inaccurate now to claim that it has failed).