Yesterday I recounted a story told by David McWilliams about the sectarian outburst that disgraced Anglo Irish chief Sean Fitzpatrick had unfurled on him late one night in November 2008.
Fintan O’Toole in another of the endless books that dance around the issue of why the Irish boom went bust has an interesting couple of paragraphs on inequality during the boom times. Between 1995 and 2006, the top 1 per cent of the Irish population grew their wealth by €75 billion. By the time the Tiger was growing exhausted, in 2007, the Bank of Ireland estimated that the top 1 per cent of the population controlled 20 per cent of the wealth, the top 2 per cent held 30 per cent, the top 5 per cent held 40 per cent. But those figures included the value of residential property, which we know was hyper-inflated.
So in effect, the top 1 per cent of Irish people controlled 34 per cent of the wealth.
How’s that for a social revolution, a wealth transformation, the glory days of economic growth, cultural liberalisation and social equality?
Yet through this obscene bloating of wealth in the hands of a few people (about 450 people formed the elite, uppermost layer) who would have almost all known Sean Fitzpatrick personally, O’Toole comments that “Irish people went on believing that they lived in a relatively classless society.”
Why is that?
It’s because of what Fitzpatrick was ranting about: “fucking Protestants”. The cultural memory of the 18th Century ascendancy, the absentee landlords who drove the common folk of Ireland to ruination with their tyrannical landlordism lingers and echoes into the present day. Since the super-wealthy are not Protestant landlords, it follows that we have to be classless. There are other factors at work here of course, but as O’Toole puts it, “chief among them [is] the old Irish association of ‘upper class’ with Protestant Ascendancy, meaning that a Catholic aristocracy was a contradiction in terms.”
Of course, our Celtic Tiger gentry-class were not Catholic. But one of things that mattered most for us is that they were not Protestant.
Sectarianism extends beyond Christians being rude to each other.
Your Correspondent, Has done a lot of great things, but is a very old man now, and old people are useless