Monday 16 January 2017

Kim Bielenberg: Some of us still feel fleeced amid cash for homebuyers, pensioners - and sheep

Published 12/10/2016 | 02:30

Ministers Michael Noonan and Paschal Donohoe present Budget 2017 Picture by Fergal Phillips
Ministers Michael Noonan and Paschal Donohoe present Budget 2017 Picture by Fergal Phillips

By ORGANISING the Budget an hour earlier, Fine Gael probably thought they could have the opposition for lunch and dinner. We were told on Newstalk that the lunchtime Budget idea was created by party handlers so the positive message could be shaped and spun in the media all through the day.

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But Michael Noonan's delivery was so lacklustre that many viewers must have been tempted to switch off RTE's coverage, and go for a post-prandial snooze.

At the top of the screen, behind the low-key Noonan, even the Fine Gael chief whip Regina Doherty seemed to find it hard to focus on the Finance Minister's turgid delivery.

She was tapping away furiously on her phone through much of the speech, leading Alan O'Kelly to remark on Twitter: "I wonder who Regina Doherty is texting in the middle of #Budget2017 ... or maybe she is playing Temple Run."

Then, as Noonan droned on, we saw a note being passed to Doherty from the front bench, possibly from Enda Kenny.

Suddenly she stopped tapping on her phone, switched it off and dutifully paid attention.

RTE's TV Budget Special was mostly a parade of the usual special interest suspects - builders, teachers, accountants, chartered surveyors - and male politicians.

Bryan Dobson pondered proceedings with three chaps - Eoghan Murphy (FG), Darragh O Brien (FF) and Sinn Féin's Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.

Denise Calnan on Independent.ie's live blog complained: "Four men on RTE discussing Budget and big numbers... I suppose the 'wimmin' will be along later to discuss the girly parts."

That seemed to be a forlorn hope. We waited patiently through the speeches of Michael Noonan, Paschal Donohoe and Michael McGrath - and the gang of four chaps in suits were soon back on air. Perhaps RTE will have to introduce gender quotas.

The management at Buswells Hotel near the Dáil were no doubt delighted at the retention at the 9pc VAT rate on hotels, but they must also have welcomed the vast flock of lobbyists who assemble there every budget day to get their mugs on TV.

By getting their speeches in early, Noonan and Donohoe might have hoped to set the agenda.

But the early delivery gave 'Liveline' callers a chance to get their gripes in early. Personal finance pundit Jill Kerby described the €14,000 tax exemption to those who rent a room to lodgers as the "greatest tax-free benefit". But a 'Liveline' caller was singularly unimpressed and warned that this new tax-free lodger "could turn out to be a lunatic".

A caller talking to Joe was also unimpressed by the notion that pensioners were each getting a fiver.

Normally, the caller argued, these rises happen in January. But since the fiver rise was happening in March it would work out at more like four euro a week over the year.

Stay-at-home parents were also quickly on the airwaves to complain that they would not benefit from the childcare package. On RTE's 'Drivetime' Philip Boucher Hayes reported that a "pop-up protest group", the stay-at-home parents association, had emerged in opposition to the measure, believing that it was discriminatory and like "tax individualisation with knobs on".

There was a notable lack of heckling and rancour in the chamber as Noonan and Donohoe made their speeches, but the sound of "baaaaa" was heard when it was announced that sheep would get €25m.

Sean Sherlock popped up on RTE to bleat that there was just "€35m extra for kids, and €25m for sheep". Or as Jim Sheridan put it on Twitter: "€25 Million for sheep while the rest of us get fleeced!"

There was an air of unreality about the debate in the Dáil, as Fianna Fáil had to give a pretence of being in opposition - while declining to put the boot in.

As 'Waterford Whispers News' reported: "Whatever bits in the Budget you like, that was us," Fianna Fáil confirm.

Irish Independent

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