Short on in­ven­tion, it was more De­nis Ir­win than Lionel Messi

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - BUDGET 2018 - Lise Hand

The main char­ac­ter was de­liv­er­ing his fi­nal line. “We have achieved so much and we can, and will, achieve some more. This is why I com­mend Bud­get 2018 to the House,” pro­claimed Paschal Dono­hoe.

Cue (some) ap­plause, then half the House exe­unt, pur­sued by a barely-raised eye­brow.

As a piece of the­atre, it was a bit of a let-down fol­low­ing the dra­matic Cardiff cliffhanger the night be­fore. To be hon­est, it would have been an anti-cli­max if it had fol­lowed a five-a-side fix­ture be­tween two teams of ac­tu­ar­ies on a wet Monday night in Bo­hola.

This wasn’t a Lionel Messi bud­get, all in­ven­tive moves and dar­ing flour­ishes de­signed to leave a bam­boo­zled op­po­si­tion gasp­ing in its wake. In­stead, the gov­ern­ment parked the bus, and Paschal Dono­hoe was De­nis Ir­win, former Ir­ish in­ter­na­tional and Manch­ester United back, an ut­terly de­pend­able de­fender guard­ing care­fully against own goals and sneak at­tacks.

Usu­ally there is a bit of a fris­son around Leinster House on Bud­get Day — cer­tainly in re­cent dark times it was a fris­son of pure dread over what sav­age cuts were on the cards. Last year there was a bit of in­ter­est around the first bud­get un­der the frag­ile Fine Gael-In­de­pen­dent-Fianna Fáil ar­range­ment, with peo­ple tun­ing in as one does to the start of a Grand Prix to see if there’s a mas­sive pile-up at the first cor­ner.

But yes­ter­day the cor­ri­dors were deadly quiet. There was more an­i­ma­tion in a bag of door­nails. This was largely due to two facts. One, ev­ery­thing had been tor­tur­ously hag­gled out with Fianna Fáil and the In­de­pen­dents — the lat­ter couldn’t even, in all con­science, stage their usual last-minute syn­chro­nised spit­ting of dum­mies out of their col­lec­tive cot.

What’s more, all the in­ter­est­ing or po­ten­tially tricky bits of the bud­get had been strate­gi­cally leaked in ad­vance, just in case some pro­posed mea­sure sparked the light­ing of pitch­forks of hay by some out­raged sec­tion of the pop­u­lace. In­stead the ex­tra gar­daí out­side the Kil­dare Street gate cooled their heels and counted the tum­ble­weed while they waited for hordes of Fanta-wav­ing (sugar tax) tan­ger­ine-tinted (sun-bed tax) protesters to ma­te­ri­alise.

And what wasn’t leaked, ma­te­ri­alised on so­cial me­dia in­stead. In the run-up to the bud­get an­nounce­ment, the new Strate­gic Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Unit set about jus­ti­fy­ing its €5m price-tag — as in­cluded in the Bud­get Ex­pen­di­ture Re­port — to “im­prove” and “stream­line” com­mu­ni­ca­tions by post­ing pregame clips of Paschal prac­tis­ing his speech and bring­ing the bud­get to the print­ers (it was a blank dummy copy, as god for­bid the real thing should fall into the wrong hands and — ha! — leak). As the Taoiseach ran the gaunt­let of jour­nal­ists out- side Gov­ern­ment Build­ings en route to the morn­ing Cab­i­net meet­ing be­fore the un­veil­ing of the bud­get, Leo Varad­kar breezily as­sured the me­dia that there would “no fire­works” hid­den in the raft of mea­sures.

In fact, so sure was the fi­nance min­is­ter that there would be no scary scenes in the Dáil that his fam­ily were hap­pily en­sconced in the Dis­tin­guished Vis­i­tors’ Gallery — his proud mother Cáit (Paschal is the im­age of her), his wife Jus­tine, brother Ronán and his two young chil­dren Os­car and Lucy who were mod­els of good be­hav­iour — few kids would sit qui­etly for an en­tire hour while Daddy spoke non-stop.

But the en­tire cham­ber was al­most as good as Os­car and Lucy, with only the oc­ca­sional half-hearted heckle ris­ing from the op­po­si­tion. When he an­nounced the re­cruit­ment of an ex­tra 800 gar­daí, Billy Kelleher of Fianna Fáil shot off a small ar­row. “Are they all go­ing to Stepa­side?” he won­dered.

There were mea­sures ga­lore. Half-mea­sures and full mea­sures (cigs and sunbeds taxed, a new sugar tax but no tax on sugar-filled wine). Other smokes were paired with mir­rors — the num­ber of so­cial houses slated to be built next year is in re­al­ity un­changed, de­spite in­creases in over­all bud­get. There were car­rots-and-sticks, lit­tle sugar lumps and small bit­ter pills.

And sev­eral new acronyms were in­tro­duced — hur­rah — such as KEEP, or Key Em­ployee En­gage­ment Pro­gramme. In fact, if there was a tax on acronyms, the plain peo­ple of Ire­land would all be AHA PIS (as happy as pigs in.. oh never mind). Paschal care­fully re­moved all dra­matic lan­guage or tones from his script — the ‘shin­ing city on the hill’ el­e­ments of last year’s speech when he was Pub­lic Ex­pen­di­ture Robin to Michael Noo­nan’s Bat­man were re­placed with don’t-scare-the-horses lan­guage. Even Mi- chael Noo­nan, sit­ting among the back­benchers, looked stricken by a bout of en­nui. Of Enda Kenny there was no sign, un­til the late evening votes.

Fianna Fáil si­mul­ta­ne­ously ap­proved and dis­ap­proved. Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath in­stead trained his wrath on Sinn Féin — “hurlers on the ditch!” he thun­dered.

Like­wise his col­league Dara Cal­leary praised with faint damn. “This bud­get is by no means per­fect, but it is much stronger, much fairer and much more am­bi­tious for our is­land than it would have been with­out our in­put.”

There was a fiery hour-long re­sponse from Pearse Do­herty, the Sinn Féin TD. “Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and their in­de­pen­dent friends have told us that now is the time to re­turn to the boom and bust pol­i­tics of the past,” he de­clared an­grily.

The pol­i­tics of the past is cer­tainly lit­tered with the bones of bro­ken prom­ises. The Gov­ern­ment vowed to make ev­ery­one’s life a lit­tle eas­ier in this bud­get. We’ll see — no­body was sick as a par­rot, but no­body was over the moon, ei­ther.

Pic­ture: Leah Far­rell/

Colm Reddy protest­ing over the home­less cri­sis out­side the Dáil as Bud­get 2018 was an­nounced. Ex­tra gar­daí were on hand but the hordes of Fanta-wav­ing (sugar tax) tan­ger­ine-tinted (sun-bed tax) protesters failed to ma­te­ri­alise.

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