CHARLES Dickens famously wrote in A Tale of Two Cities of how the French revolution had been "the best of times and the worst of times". Ireland may be experiencing more of an occupation than a revolution, but whatever about two cities, today's Sunday Independent certainly reveals that we have evolved into two countries. The Ireland experiencing "the worst of times" is a land of distressed mortgages, mass unemployment and contracting income amongst those coping classes, who, in the teeth of a concerted onslaught from the Government and an unregulated private sector, find it increasingly difficult to even secure their modest aspiration to simply cope. There are, however, other classes experiencing the sort of "best of times", where recession is a distant thing discussed over restaurant tables with the detached separation normally reserved for some foreign coup-d'état.
Of course, as is ever the case in Ireland, the division is not a simple one between public and private or between distinct classes. Ireland may be thriving in selected areas of Dublin and some enclaves, such as Cork and Kilkenny. But when it comes to rural Ireland, despite the success of our food and agriculture industry, a new John Healy is required to write the modern variant of No One Shouted Stop as rural communities return to their 1950s emigration-decimated status of being a temporary hostel for children and the old. Today's Sunday Independent also unveils a land divided between a betrayed and serially taxed private sector and a State-protected public sector. Intriguingly, even the latter provide us with a portrait of a class divided between the masses of low-paid frontline and newly employed workers and the 'I'm all right, Jack' panjandrums of the mandarin class, who have silently colluded with the destruction of the terms and conditions of their successors to save their own hides.
Such a scenario has not evolved by accident, for, unlike Barack Obama, who believes it is always a pity to waste a good crisis, a Coalition that is too cunning for its own good has eschewed any radical instincts it once held. It appears instead to have espoused the politics of 'divide and conquer' in the hope that retaining the support of carefully selected insider classes will suffice to secure its re-election. Such murderous temerity is unfortunate, for Ireland is at a similar cusp to 1958, where Lemass and Whitaker took control of a country prepared for national renewal and waiting for leaders with the wit to direct it. The current complacent indifference to the rise of the two Irelands is not the Lemass-style moral and national renewal we were promised and need. This failure means that instead of reform, Ireland, to quote Dickens again, is experiencing the rise of the "long ranks of the new oppressors who have risen on the destruction of the old". And whilst the focus-group politics of divide and conquer appears to be sufficient to the hour when it comes to the art of winning elections, the Coalition should remember Lincoln's famous warning that a house divided cannot stand.
The nature of this State means the evolution of the two classes has not been accompanied by rioting or hand-to-hand combat. However, as those who belong to the designated outsider class watch with increasing anger the unaffected celebrants of the Celtic Tiger collapse, our political classes should note that if this loathing ever seeks a new political home it could be amongst the rough beasts of Sinn Fein – unless some new political grouping articulates their plight.