WHEN Brian Murphy was brutally killed in an assault outside Annabel's nightclub in Dublin more than 10 years ago, the media played the class card harder than any poker player with a pair of aces.
The story had it all -- middle- class rugger-playing types, fee-paying schools, fancy south Dublin addresses -- and the headlines ('Kicked To Death By Posh Schoolboys') reflected it.
Strange then that class is the one thing which no one wanted to discuss after the outbreak of violence at the Phoenix Park concert last weekend, when nine innocent people were stabbed whilst watching a set by Swedish House Mafia.
To judge by the coverage, these unfortunate young people had been attacked by dance music itself, or drink, or youth culture. The frantic search for convenient scapegoats brought to mind a song by Welsh rappers Goldie Lookin' Chain which satirised the extremes of US rap music under the title Guns Don't Kill People, Rappers Do. Perhaps it's time there was a Dublin version -- Drugs Don't Stab People, Knackers Do.
Knackers, for those naive souls unfamiliar with the word, is a term of abuse for what the urban dictionary describes as an "Irish adolescent subspecies"... "originally a derogatory term of reference for Travellers but nowadays covering a whole spectrum of degenerates". Members of the tribe can generally be found hanging around outside fast food outlets and off- licences, picking fights with random strangers. 'Skanger' would be another term.
They're the same people who are called 'Chavs' or 'Pikeys' in Britain, or 'white trash' in America. Whatever the epithet of choice, we all know who they are, but none of these words has been aired much in the last week as what happened in the Phoenix Park was being thrashed out.
Instead there were earnest debates about the abuse of alcohol in Irish society, or the culpability of promoters in providing security; some observers even called for a hike in the price of alcohol so young people can't afford to drink, blithely ignoring the fact there's oodles of cheap alcohol for sale in continental Europe without any of the attendant outbursts of anti-social behaviour which bedevil us.
We may have a messed-up relationship with booze, and those who put on events assuredly do have a responsibility to take every reasonable eventuality into consideration and prepare against it. But none of that answers the crucial question, which is why anyone would bring a knife to a concert, unless they intended causing trouble all along. And who is it who does precisely that? Knackers. Skangers. Chavs. Scumbags.
What happened in the Phoenix Park bore the classic hallmarks of the species. It happens every night in every town centre in the land.
You don't have to be the FBI's top criminal profiler to narrow down the likely suspects -- and yet we keep pretending there's some big mystery here that can only be unravelled by a crack team of social scientists from one of the hipper universities. They could write a paper. Chair a conference. All without once pointing out the rather enormous elephant in the room.
Class is the fear that dare not speak its name.
There were some references to it, if you looked hard enough; whispers coded deep in news reports about the trouble occurring close to areas of the city which the gardai already find hard to police. But it was all so coy and evasive that anyone with a working pair of political antennae could hardly fail to find them quivering on alert. What no one wants to talk about is invariably the thing that should be talked about.
The problem was identified a long time ago, when Ken Aluetta of the New Yorker popularised the term 'underclass' to describe that group of poorly educated long-term welfare recipients, and others on the criminal fringe, who were unassimilated with, and hostile to, broader society.
The liberal left shudders at the term 'underclass', believing it wrong to separate the deserving and undeserving poor in this way -- even though by refusing to make this distinction they are actually insulting the decent working class who have been trying all along to do the right thing and who now find themselves thrown in with a feral underclass which is as contemptuous of them as it is of everyone else.
As for those who suffer at the hands of this generalised viciousness, they clearly don't count at all.
The left should get right back to its roots. Karl Marx recognised the phenomenon over a century ago when he came up with the (much more derogatory, by modern standards) term 'lumpen proletariat' to describe the various conmen and tricksters "and other flotsam of society" who made life a misery for their fellow man. Flotsam beautifully describes those cut adrift from the currents of normal life, but no doubt the left wouldn't let us use that word either in case it hurts anyone's feelings.
The early Communists had no such sentimentality. They recognised that these "declassed and demoralised" people -- given, as they were, to "desperation and frenzy" -- were not only of no use to the revolution but actively detrimental to it. The "desperation and frenzy" of the "declassed and demoralised" -- it's almost a perfect description of what happened last weekend, just as in last year's London riots, and the disorder which followed the Love Ulster parade in Dublin in 2006.
Rather than seeing these louts as the enemy of all decent classes, they're regarded by a myopic liberal intelligentsia as victims who must be shielded from blame for their own actions and treated with kid gloves when caught.
Swaggering brutes with short fuses and knives to hand when the fuse runs out are not the victims of society -- society is the victim of them. And ironically, prosperity only made them worse.
In the Celtic Tiger years, the only ones left behind were these very long-term generational feckless who didn't want to improve their lot. Their lot was improved anyway, because we could afford it, thereby entrenching them further in an adolescent state of dependency.
Their resentment was barely lessened by being cosseted like this. In fact, it only festered all the more, exploding at regular intervals when they had drink on them, or just when they felt like it.
There's no big mystery why they stab people. They like stabbing people. It gives them a bigger high than any drug or beats per minute. The only good that can come of last weekend's horrifying spectacle will be if it energises weary and scared people into refusing to put up with it any longer.
Until then, those who suffer at their hands will be expected to keep coughing up the money to maintain this violent, criminal underbelly in the style to which it's become accustomed, even though that dysfunctional lifestyle only incentivises them to be more anti-social. You can't stop people wanting to stab other people until you make the consequences of doing it so unpleasant that even illiterate knuckledraggers finally see that the game is up. That's not demonising them for what they are, but for what they do.
After all, being a knacker isn't an unavoidable affliction. It's a choice.