In the Ireland of the 1980s we really didn't go in for political upheavals. Back then there was what you might with some accuracy call the orthodox view, which was promoted by our two right of center ruling parties, often in close consultation with the Catholic Church, and handed down to the public.
Then there was the dissident view, which was usually offered by a half-crazed looking intellectual or a low level college professor, generally on an unscripted televised debate, where they were always vastly outnumbered and ritually slaughtered. Dissidence of any kind was so successfully stage managed it was ineffectual.
Politicians didn't lead the nation, they contained it. It was a simple system and it worked, for many.
From birth you knew where you stood in the pecking order and you knew where everyone else did too. There was no point in questioning it.
If you found yourself living within the walled fortress of Irish political and social privilege there was very little you could ever do to be ejected from it. Your name and background were your bond. You could wear them like a suit of armor.
If you were born outside the firm handshakes of the ruling elites, of course, there was nothing you could do to ever change it. There were few to take your part, which meant your opportunities to advance were easily curtailed because there was no profit in it for others, hence no point in helping.
So for a long time it was a tale of two Irelands, the first one a welcoming place where well-paid careers and the opportunity for advancement appeared like magic, and the second Ireland, the larger one, which was just a sort of particularly scenic departure lounge where you bided your time until you could afford the airfare to leave.
For a long time, since the foundation of the state really, it seemed there was no alternative to this calcified two-tiered insider and outsider system. The despised era of the Anglo-Irish aristocrats had passed away, to be quickly replaced by the native born middle manager, who if he – it was almost always a he – wasn't entirely equipped for the national role he had been cast in, at least he was a very sound fellow and he had played well for his county team.
We sowed many of the seeds of our recent national self-destruction ourselves, in other words. Our complacency had become so complete that it was insuperable.
Having decided that Ireland would be a country where who you know was more important than what you know, our political and financial elites stacked the decks against the challenges of the future from the very foundation of the state.
We diligently created a two tier society where rules existed for the people we personally disliked, but never for ourselves or our own circle. For us the only thing to do with rules was to get around them.
There is a lot to be said for the remarkable strength of our social bonds in Ireland, but when they override our good sense and promote the welfare of the unqualified over the qualified, we're setting ourselves up.
Having pull is more important in Ireland, still, than having skill. It's a colonial reflex left over from our long subjugation. Looking after our own is seen as payback for our own having been passed over for so long. We know the sting of marginalization and exclusion in our DNA, so we have created a society that replicates it, over and over.
Growing up in Donegal, the most marginalized and excluded county in the Republic, I saw first hand how we were passed over from decade to decade. I also saw the inexplicable hero worship of the political leaders who otherwise ignored us after they would condescend to pass by in their state cars for 20 minutes.
I always wondered at the cognitive dissonance. We knew that we were under-served by these leaders, but we lustily cheered them. Why? Because most voters had a primary or secondary education, and not much contact with the outside world, and not much interest in how the political system worked.
What we wanted was the real currency of the county, a wink and a nod. We wanted planning permission or a medical card or a state pension. Small stuff, easily within a senior ministers remit. That's what we got too. But it's not enough anymore, and it's still all we're getting.