Budget season - the first real test of 'new politics'
Published 11/08/2016 | 02:30
Budget season, when we can expect a variety of kites to fly high over Merrion Street, is almost upon us.
In the coming weeks Michael Noonan and Paschal Donohoe will slave over the figures as they try to come up with the magic formula to please all of the people.
The only problem is that on this occasion Micheál Martin will be standing outside with a big scissors threatening to veto anything Fianna Fáil doesn't like.
But more worrying for Fine Gael ministers is the already-evolving shopping list that Mr Martin's frontbench is compiling -and is likely to deliver over the public airwaves ahead of the new Dáil session.
That's why Public Expenditure Minister Donohoe was quick out of the traps yesterday to warn that he doesn't want power at any cost.
Fine Gael has already paid a high price for the formation of the minority Government, including the likely abolition of water charges - despite what the European Commission might say about fines.
So when Willie O'Dea appeared on the front page of the 'Sunday Independent' to announce that Fianna Fáil is set to 'force' a €5 pension increase, it immediately set alarm bells ringing.
The deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil has a number of very clear targets - but doesn't have a roadmap for how to reach most of them.
Neither is there a timeline, apart from a commitment on Fianna Fáil's part to facilitate the safe passage of three budgets.
For example, it talks about a "provision for pension increases", "reforming the public sector" and "securing the future of family farms".
However, it was left up to Fine Gael as the party of government to decide how to achieve these goals.
So the real test of 'new politics' is about to begin. Everything up to now was a case of testing the waters and seeing how far both sides could push it.
Now it's 'put your money where your mouth is' time.
Both sides agree that the 'squeezed middle' need a break - but how much?
Both sides agree that investment in health, education, childcare and justice is badly needed - but what's the priority?
Mr Donohoe's intervention was pointed. He tried to appeal to Fianna Fáil's 'green jersey' attitude on Brexit, saying the Budget will be set against "risks that are growing".
And he promised to use the existing growth "to deliver benefits to people after all of the terrible hardship we have gone through in many years".
But there was a sharp warning too that Mr Martin needs to avoid creating a budget war.
Essentially, he was saying that he won't be giving in just because Fianna Fáil describes something as a red line issue. Sources say Fianna Fáil's frontbench has already been warned by the leadership not to create expectations that they can't be guaranteed of fulfilling.
But it seems clear the ministers of Merrion Street have their work cut out for them.