Monday 24 October 2016

Forget 'new politics' - Budget 2017 will see gloves come off in the Dáil

Published 26/08/2016 | 02:30

John Paul Phelan will chair the Committee on Budgetary Oversight
John Paul Phelan will chair the Committee on Budgetary Oversight

In the meantime, there is the little matter of a Budget for next year, expected to be presented on October 11 next - a mere fortnight after our TDs resume full Dáil sittings on September 27.

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Now, how are they going to do all that in so little time?

Well, we can look to the new-broom Committee on Budgetary Oversight, which is due to begin its work in about 10 days time.

Much has been made of this as the potential standard-bearer for our much-vaunted 'new politics'.

It is headed by an able and decent politician, John Paul Phelan of Kilkenny - a Fine Gael barrister who avoids show-boating, and who did valuable work on the committee of inquiry into the 2008 bank collapse.

He will be joined by several other deputies of experience, skill and good intent. But in politics that does not mean this new committee will work - even though its aims are laudable.

Already there is some talking down of the contribution this committee can make for Budget 2017. Most heavy-hitting politicians are talking about what it could do for the one after that - assuming this Government is still struggling on in autumn 2017.

Granted, there are exciting themes being talked up. The Budgetary Oversight Committee will ideally have its own expert office to independently cost those budget proposals, which in some past budgets were drafted on backs of envelopes to the taxpayers' longer-term cost.

In an ideal world our new committee would frame a "roadmap" for the Budget which our Government may have to follow. Perhaps, more realistically, it could identify a range of Budget options which the Finance Minister could choose from. Whichever plan emerges, it is a job for another day - if at all.

The rushed political preparations for Budget 2017 will be far more prosaic and, indeed, grim. It will come down to a vicious Budget row between the "big beasts" of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, with some sidebars from the Independents, who may or may not remember they are members of this hybrid minority government, and noises from a rather frustrated opposition.

But here's the rub: we cannot be entirely sure that Budget 2017 will go through.

Yes, it should be passed - and nobody wants an election - so, the odds are we will end up with a deal.

But it will be far from 'new politics'.

Irish Independent

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