Clockwise from top left: Terry Wogan, John Bruton, Garret Fitzgerald, Cian Healy, Brian Lenihan and Cardinal Desmond O’Connell all went to the same fee-paying school
A RECENT study has suggested that Britain – multi-cultural, Olympics inclusive Britain – is ‘deeply elitist’.
The study suggests that in everything from politics through to media and even in to sport that privately educated Oxbridge graduates are over represented in a way that does not paint Britain as an open society.
So only 7 per cent of the British population attended a private school and fewer than 40 per cent went to university but 36 per cent of the Cabinet were privately educated, 43 per cent of newspaper columnists and 35 per cent of the English rugby team.
Which might explain why a minority sport like rugby is so grossly over-reported and why media is so unquestioning in the face of power. I mean, I didn’t attend a private school but the maths of that equation seems fairly self-evident to me.
Of course, we don’t have this in Ireland. There is no class system in Ireland and I have heard that said and seen it written down so many times that it is clear that people widely believe that.
The ‘we’re all in it together’ mantra heard on both sides of the Irish Sea during the recession has echoed in Ireland down the years through any number of decades of poverty and emigration.
But what if that weren’t the case? What if Ireland was as class-riddled as Britain but just without the knowledge? Would that explain a lot about this country or would it simply be something for academics to argue over?
In class-free Ireland in the 1990s only 6 per cent of the population went to fee-paying schools and by 2007 that had only risen to 7 per cent, which puts Ireland nicely on a par with Britain.
But Ireland, as a country without a class system, would surely not then reflect those British levels of elite education entry into elite sections of society would it? How could it when Ireland, this Republic of ours, does not have a class system?
Which makes the fact that 49 per cent of top business executives, 62 per cent of the top positions in medicine, architecture and the law, and over 50 per cent of our Cabinet, over 50 per cent of the government of the class-free Republic, attended fee-paying schools a little odd doesn’t it?
I mean Britain is riddled with class, is notorious for it, yet only 36 per cent of their Tory, Eton friends’, government paid lots of money for their education whereas here in the Republic over 50 per cent did. Who’s ‘deeply elitist’ now?
Indeed such does the influence of the old school tie seem to be here in the class-free Republic that even though 83 per cent of TDs went to non-fee-paying schools, leaving 17 per cent fee-paying ones, by the time we get to the summit of power over 50 per cent of them are running the country.
In what way then, can someone explain to me — and I didn’t go to an elite fee-paying school remember, either in Britain or in Ireland, so I need someone to explain this to me — in what way is Ireland not a class based society?
So as part of the research for this article I trawled through the websites of some of Ireland’s fee-paying schools in order to see which people in politics, the media and sport attended these schools.
I did so in order to see if Ireland was in fact much like Britain in terms of access to power and success arising from an elitist education based purely on parental wealth. And to be honest after a while I couldn’t do it any longer. There were just too many.
Garret Fitzgerald, Richard Bruton, Brian Lenihan, Conor Lenihan, Cardinal Desmond Connell, Cian Healy, Cian O’Connor and Terry Wogan all went to the same fee-paying school.
Frank Duff, Bob Geldof, Brian O’Driscoll, Leo Cullen, Shane Byrne and Ryan Turbridy all went to the same fee-paying school.
Fergal Quinn, Jamie Heaslip, and Geordan Murphy all went to the same fee-paying school.
Michael O’Leary, Paul McGuiness, Tony O’Reilly, Simon Coveney, Gordon D’Arcy and Rob Kearney. Ben Dunne, George Hook, Declan Kidney, Ronan O’Gara and Peter Stringer. Brian Cowen, Conor Brady, Dick Spring and Gavin Duffy. Fee-paying schools all.
Now I won’t bother pointing out the preponderance of rugby players on that list just in case I’m accused of being lazily anti-rugby again and I am sure many of the people on that list are talented and skilled people.
But if such a high percentage of people in Irish political, media and business life attended fee-paying schools when such a small percentage of Irish people do, does that not suggest something?
Does it not suggest class and influence? Move over Britain, does it not suggest that Ireland too is ‘deeply elitist’?