There was a time in Ireland when it was normal to be excluded. It was usual, if you weren’t among the privileged, to be outside the loop if your circumstances were wrong and you were trapped in the middle. Neither rich nor poor.
You might be an honest, hard-working Joe, well able to feed your family, whose children never wanted for clothes or Christmas presents or a week at the seaside, but you didn’t know the bank manager on first-name terms, or the doctor. You were afraid of your own lawyer, who instructed you what to do. You didn’t play golf with the local auctioneer. If you went to hospital, you weren’t looked after by the consultant — you were “under” him.
There was another class of people too. People who expected and got everything they demanded, from healthcare to housing, because they were perceived to belong to the mendicant classes, who for generations had thrown themselves on the State to support them in all their needs.
You didn’t expect to receive anything, even when you were entitled to it, and most of the time you didn’t ask, because you were brought up to pay your way. When times got hard, you didn’t understand the system. You thought the Services would step in and rescue you, but you found out the hard way that there were no Services for people of your sort. You learned to stand in line and wait, to hand in your form and sit down until you were summoned. To call to some politician’s house after work and tell him your story of desperation in the hope he’d fix it for you. The house you needed from the council. The operation you couldn’t afford. The academically-gifted daughter you couldn’t educate because your factory-worker’s wages placed you above the earnings threshold for a university grant.
You knew nothing of investments or shares. Stock-market reports on the radio had as much meaning for you as the shipping forecast. You didn’t put money into anything in the hope of a high return because you didn’t have any money, but your children were warm, and well-fed, and you worked yourself to the bone so that your daughter or son could get the education you didn’t have. They’d do better than you, if you had anything to do with it.
You despised the mendicant classes with their swagger and their sense of entitlement, their feckless, irresponsible waste of money, their gambling, their drinking and their sheer vulgarity, but you worked hard and you got on all right in the end. Your children made it through university, alongside the children of rich farmers and businessmen who were able to reduce their paper earnings so that their kids got the grant. Kids with cars.
In the end, you got on ok, and now you have a nice home, grown-up kids and a good life. You’re retired and you have grandchildren. Maybe a great grandchild on the way.
And suddenly, they’re back, the mendicant classes. They still have that sense of entitlement, the belief that the government should pick up the tab for their gambling, and their overspending, their vulgarity, their drinking, their partying and their drug-taking.
You despise them. Why? you want to know. Why after all these years of hard work, should my money support these gambling wasters? I didn’t buy shares in banks and I didn’t buy bonds, because they were too risky. So why the hell should I have to pay for the gambling debts of the bank manager and the auctioneer and the consultant surgeon?
You don’t care about the poor any more. These days you have eyes only for the insider classes. The new beggars. The people who expect the government to step in and rescue them from their ill-judged gambles, using your money. The people who can’t believe anyone would question their right to suck your country dry.
You remember how they made you stand in line all those years ago but not this time.
Not this time.