Rule Breakers

We have built a nation on a value system that equates ‘being good’ with ‘being there for each other’, although simply keeping the rules is not considered an equivalent form of goodness. As a society we favour ‘minding our own’ over ‘doing what we’re told’.

So far, so Irish.

But, apply this conflict to the economic crash, to Irish Water, or to political cronyism, and we learn how the role of insider intimacy amongst elites, and our weak rules in regulating this intimacy, gets us into trouble. And despite their criticisms of bankers and political elites, the Irish middle classes themselves use favours generated within relationships to get around the rules they encounter.

Niamh Hourigan’s ground-breaking survey paints a picture of the Irish national character, from its colonial history to its current-day dramas. The Ireland that emerges is a country where outcomes are often decided by who rather than what you know, and where – for good or for bad – rules are sometimes made to be broken.


‘Niamh Hourigan’s probing, perceptive and highly readable exploration of the Irish value system that led to the collapse of the Celtic Tiger should be required reading for anyone seeking to fully understand the roots of the catastrophe.’ - J.J. Lee, New York University

‘Lucid, engaging and persuasive, Niamh Hourigan’s Rule-breakers digs out the cultural and historical roots of the Irish banking, economic and political crises that the country has been mired in since 2008. She traces these crises to a centuries-old aversion to rules in Irish culture and a deep-seated cultural bias that prioritises relationships. From Cromwell to corruption, from Parnell to penalty points, she teases out how a unique and delicate balance between rules and relationships evolved in Irish culture, and how that balance disintegrated in recent decades. Every politician should read this – and so should every voter.’ - Colin Murphy, writer of The Guarantee

‘Compulsively readable and teases out the €60 billion question, debated furiously wherever thinking Irish people are gathered. Did our own value system ultimately sweep us to economic disaster? Did the culture of “being there” versus “being fair” finally catch up with us? We may not like the answer, but in a work that takes us all the way from colonialism to Michael Lowry, we can begin to understand ourselves.’ - Kathy Sheridan, The Irish Times

’Rule-Breakers arrives at a timely juncture, now that parts of the country appear to be moving out of recession and the dust is settling on one of the most difficult periods Ireland has ever faced. This is the time, surely, when we should look at ourselves and ask if our self-interests in the short-term collectively harm us in the future.’ - John Meager, Irish Independent

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Publication Date

March 2015




Paperback, 272 pages

Country of Origin



Gill Books


234 x 153 mm


By Niamh Hourigan



Availability Status


Niamh Hourigan is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Sociology and Philosophy, University College Cork, where she specialises in the study of minorities groups, media and, most recently the sociological impact of debt and austerity on the Irish middle class.

Having worked as a journalist and radio presenter while completing her PhD, she continues to make regular appearances in the national media, primarily as a columnist (Irish Independent, Irish Times and Irish Examiner) and expert commentator (‘The Right Hook’, ‘Tonight with Vincent Browne’, ‘Morning Ireland’, ‘Today with Pat Kenny’ and ‘Prime Time’).

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