The job snob may seen be in for a shock


THE new Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Walton Empey, remarked recently that he would like to see fellow Protestants getting more involved than they are at present with public life in general and with the Army and Garda Siochana in particular.

He meant to remind his people, perhaps, that there are no sectarian grounds for standing aloof from this State's forces, the organisations at the heart of this State's assertion of legitimacy. What the archbishop wants to see is desirable on many levels. But I don't think it's going to happen.

Not for any reason to do with religion for reasons of class. The clerics and head teachers who guide our ruling classes through Clongowes and Gonzaga and Rockwell and St Gerard's and so on might make the same appeal as Archbishop Empey and it would fall on the same deaf ears.

Irish people did not beat their way into the middle classes and get off their rushy acres into the professions so that their sons could tussle with underfed drug addicts in gambling arcades or drive pregnant Shia women to Lebanese cottage hospitals in uncomfortable armoured cars.

The officer class is one thing: Irish officers are as desirable as anything. But it will be a long time before we hear talk about the Cillians and Davids going into the Army as privates. That's for Jasons.

And, as for the gardai, the woman who has driven a son on with steely determination ever since he came into the world in a private room in Mount Carmel could hardly envisage an entry point much lower than assistant commissioner.

It's the same in England. I've sat around a dinner table with Oxbridge graduates listening to their bitter complaints about police racism, police sexism, police brutality and corruption. But would anyone at the table even consider joining the police themselves? Not a bit of it.

Snobbery is one of the things keeping the pattern of occupations in Ireland from radical change. But there's also family culture. We happen to live in a transitional Ireland, one that includes older people who left school early, knew poverty and have always been insecure, but also young people who are fundamentally carefree.

When I see young men and - especially - young women going into the Civil Service, though the rates of pay for many years are terrible and the jobs are often intensely boring, I think did their grannies and grandas sit in on the discussions about their life paths? Because there are places to go and things to do and a welfare system that obviates the need for a permanent pensionable job, as long as your wants are few. You don't have to be an ill paid clerk.

The authors of the report on the proposed reform of the Civil Service are quiet on the important subject of the kind of people who go into it in the first place, and whether anything on Earth would fit them for the semi entrepreneurial future envisaged. What chance is there for a kind of competitiveness within the Civil Service if the reason most people enter it in the first place is to shy from the demands of competition?

OF COURSE, the dead hand of snobbery comes into it again. It is respectable - your neighbours can't find a thing to say about you - to have the young fella above in Dublin in Rateable Valuation and Appeals. He could have at least as much fun, and earn more, in Dunnes Stores.

But you couldn't announce that he's working in Dunnes with the complacent little look of the parent of a civil servant. Which is why, incidentally, most Irish supermarkets and department stores are so amateurish. It isn't done for the brightest and best to go into selling food or clothing even though there are obvious career opportunities in the field.

I often stand and look at some pimply youths fussing and bustling around some shop, interrupting everyone else at their work. This is a trainee manager. How come the structures in shops are so archaic? I ask myself. The new top man in Dunnes itself is, according to an article I read "an oddity in the retailing world with his Clongowes Wood/UCD pedigree".

I don't think you need a billion dollar education to change the ethos of a job, but you do need to open it up to clever part time married women, to bright young ones who want a part paid work, part study arrangement, to people with no qualifications at all except maybe that they're brilliant canoeists or once managed the canteen at Old Trafford, as well as people with relevant qualifications.

But the young themselves are snobs, naturally enough. I saw it in a European city, famous for its high paying summer jobs. There was a colony of Irish boys and girls, much admired for their intelligence and good humour and capacity for enjoying themselves. They were all Irish to the natives, all the same.

But inside the colony an Irish person could see the stand off between two groups. There were the ones from "uni", living like the working class while they made their way through college to the places booked for them in the bourgeoisie. And there were the working class ones, who had such little investment in the jobs they did in Ireland; that it didn't matter to them to throw them up and go away for the summer.

Money wasn't the issue between the two classes: occupation was. They were all willing to live on half nothing. But the students would live on £45 a week while they wrote a film script, or put together lyrics for a band, or trained for the ascent of Mont Blanc. But they wouldn't dream of earning £45 working in a hairdresser's. They wouldn't be a check out girl. They wouldn't clean offices. They wouldn't wire a house or fix flat roofs or clean out pipes. They wouldn't kneel at your feet selling shoes.

WE'LL see how long class attitudes to earning money can obtain. Because at this very moment we are heading into a crisis about work in the tourism sector. Up and down the country restaurants and hotels are desperate for seasonal staff. These traditionally low paying jobs are failing to attract the Irish. Our young would rather "sign on" than work for not much more. (This is a most important fact about our society, but vested interests have prevented the debate we should be having about it.)

But above all, the young now have higher hopes for themselves than they used to, the RTCs having made a difference here. All service jobs have been devalued as the ideal of the MBA takes hold.

When the inevitable happens, and the Poles and the Kurds and the Albanians get the right to work in the EU, the snobby Irish had better watch out. They'll soon see what happens to a comfortable little society when it is taken in hand by people with a burning commitment to advancing themselves.

It might happen that all the money will be hoovered up by non nationals. And we'll he reduced to the bureaucracy. Protestant or Catholic, we'll be fighting to put our kids' names down for the Garda at birth.