Thursday 27 October 2016

And so it was written ... TDs left with little to say as the script is read

Published 12/10/2016 | 02:30

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe and Finance Minister Michael Noonan on Budget Day
Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe and Finance Minister Michael Noonan on Budget Day

THE speeches were running ahead of schedule. That said it all in a nutshell, really. Nothing ever runs ahead of schedule in Leinster House - where everyone loves the sound of their own voice, particularly when a tone of outrage is deemed suitable and where they only usually get going after the fifth page.

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That's when the lights start flashing and the Ceann Comhairle has to remind the deputies not to eat into the speaking time of others.

That wasn't required this time. What could they say about something so well leaked and with no surprises to prompt the furious oohs and aahs from the Opposition - whoever they might be in this strange political space.

In the morning, Labour Senator Kevin Humphreys was knotting his tie in the car park.

Hardly any point coming in when the whole thing was already put out on 'Morning Ireland', he shrugged.

"Fair play to the media for getting the scoop," said Sean Sherlock, rather sniffily in the chamber later.

Oh well. At least the Budget put a smile on the faces of our Independent Alliance TDs.

"I've never seen them so upbeat," said an astonished observer at their press conference afterwards, where an atmosphere of jubilant buoyancy almost managed to lift this very leaky budgetary vessel.

Super junior Minister Finian McGrath had been out on the plinth dragging on one of his final cheap cigarettes before going into the chamber.

His enthusiastic "hear, hears" were starting to get Fianna Fáil's goat as Michael Noonan delved into the details of this "a fiver for you, and a fiver for ewe" affair.

Whatever it was, Finian was having it all. "A great economy, fair and just society," the Minister for Finance said.

"Hear, hear," cheered Finian. At one stage he even gave a little fist pump.

"Many believed that the Government would not still be in place by the time Budget Day arrived and yet here we are," noted Paschal Donohoe.

"Hear, hear," bellowed Finian.

Barry Cowen looked up and all but snorted in disgust at such uncool antics.

But it was oddly comforting all the same, after six budgets which took a terrifying scythe to all that matters in our society.

The atmosphere around the House was strangely flat.

If it wasn't for our happily pampered sheep, with their new welfare package guaranteeing heated pens and wool-conditioning treatment packs, there would have been little to chat about.

There was a mischievous little 'baa' in the chamber as the minister announced this measure - which we can only presume will help the sheep farmers and not their woolly charges.

It definitely came from the Fianna Fáil seats and Timmy Dooley was mentioned.

There was a comprehensive cheer from all for the increase of medical card coverage to all children in receipt of Domiciliary Care Allowance.

But that was about all the genuine enthusiasm they could muster in the chamber for a Budget that Paul Murphy of the AAA later likened quite aptly to the loaves and the fish.

"It's reminiscent of Del Boy and Rodney with their 'tax is in the post' trick," he scoffed of the ruse which saw cigarettes going up overnight - while pensioners will have to wait until March to get their additional fiver.

"It's a trick and people won't be fooled," he warned.

As Michael Noonan finished his speech, which he had delivered with tremulous hands, Leo was the only one on the Government benches that put his hands together in two strangely silent claps, stopping when nobody else joined in.

Nobody said a word.

The Taoiseach looked like a pink and white china doll, sitting still and brittle. His face was tense.

Everything hinged on this.

But even the outrage from the Opposition sounded forced and unconvincing.

How could it when Fianna Fáil's fingerprints were all over the documents?

Especially when the option of voting against it would collapse the Government, putting us all back to square one. This is no normal Government and so this was far from a normal Budget.

One false move could bring the whole thing tumbling down like the house of cards it is. "It's an 'avoid an election at all costs' Budget," Michael Healy Rae noted shrewdly, as the debate went on into the evening.

When the Finance Minister announced he was increasing excise duty on a packet of 20 cigarettes by 50 cents, Fianna Fáil's Billy Kelleher shouted down something about smuggling - though, indeed, it could very easily have been something about smothering.

There was a wry little smile for Paschal Donohoe referencing Spider Man as he said that with increased spending "comes huge responsibility".

Apparently, his ministerial office has a fair few Marvel figurines knocking around so maybe the inspiration was right in front of his nose.

Michael McGrath got into his poacher and gamekeeper stride as he went from praising measures Fianna Fail had helped to push through, to snorting at the Brexit package as "absolutely pathetic".

But mostly he went on the defence about why Fianna Fáil find themselves in this bizarre place where they are neither organ grinder nor monkey.

He noted there would be those who will stand up and "criticise every single thing" about the Budget when they did nothing to form a government.

Richard Boyd Barrett rattled his folder of papers irritably. His own speech had been sheepishly retrieved from a reporter who had found it on the floor of the men's toilets and conducted an investigation.

"The Budget of crumbs and scraps that will change nothing for ordinary workers and families," he had scrawled.

He stuck to the script. Everybody stuck to the script. There is no other choice in this tenuous landscape.

Irish Independent

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