Ballymun has never presented itself to me as a dangerous or a bad place. It is, however, an area of Dublin that has suffered for decades from the effects of serious social problems. In terms of education it is a designated DEIS area, which is an area identified by the Irish Department of Education as a place of educational disadvantage with a lack of access to opportunity (social policy code for poverty and social exclusion). Over the past number of years I have volunteered with a couple of education projects in Ballymun, and so this evening I was heading there to teach maths.

At O’Connell Street in the city centre I got on the bus to Ballymun only to discover that my Leap Card – a prepaid travel card – was out of funds. It was another fifteen minutes or so until the next bus and I was already, as usual, running behind time – my fault entirely. The bus driver didn’t see it this way at all. It was after five in the evening and he probably made the assumption that I was making my way home. He seemed to have the impression that my financial embarrassment was a ploy to get on the bus for free, and in fairness even I wouldn’t put that past me. When my card was declined and I had to step off the bus he remarked: “You people are all the same.”

In one sense he was right, and I agreed with him. All people are the same, and that is why I freely give my time to even the score of social inequality in this city. This, of course, isn’t what he meant. What he meant was that people from areas like Ballymun were not like him. According to his deeply prejudiced view of other people I was quite literally in this instance hoping for a free ride. If anything it gave me a painful insight into the treatment people like me suffer every day in Ireland.

Oddly enough, this class antagonism cuts both ways. This annoying event reminded me of a similar Dublin Bus experience a few years ago. On that occasion I was travelling with another person to a friend’s garden party in a very plummy suburb in the south of the city. We made sure to dress to the nines. For some reason we never paid the exact fare, and when we reached the limit of the amount we had paid the driver called us up. He took incredible pleasure in rudely telling us he would put us off his bus. We were short perhaps fifty cents at most, but he insisted that we pay for a whole new ticket each. At our destination the driver said something along the lines of “You people are all the same.” We broke down laughing.

Class prejudice, while never right, can be understood in a city as class divided as Dublin, but why can’t people decide which side they are on? We could make a complaint to Dublin Bus, but that would serve no purpose. Dublin Bus can only do so much to train its employees in customer care, but human decency isn’t something an employer can ever impart on individuals.

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