Tuesday 25 October 2016

Noonan won't line the pockets but the bigger picture shows some progress

Published 11/10/2016 | 02:30

Photo: Tom Burke
Photo: Tom Burke

If, as the Abba song suggests, the winner takes it all, then there will be no winners from today's Budget.

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Everybody will get a few crumbs in a carefully crafted Budget that aims to appease the elderly, the young, the so-called 'squeezed middle' and even the children.

But if there are no winners then it's unlikely there'll be many losers either. That's the benefit of a Budget with 'no surprises' - unless they are good surprises.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe will talk a lot about being fair and prudent.

It might sound dull - but with Brexit, the Apple judgment and the potential of Trump all brewing in the background, they need to be.

The two ministers released a video online yesterday in which they gave their merged vision for today, and indeed the next three years.

Mr Noonan said this would be the first in a series of Budgets that will ensure "everybody in Ireland will have a better chance in the future than they had during the years of recession".

That might sound a bit like 'payback time' but let's not forget that it's only three years since the lads from the Troika packed their bags and said goodbye to the Merrion Hotel.

Ireland is still a fragile soul, finding its feet after a devastating blow that some thought might be fatal.

We are off life support and walking by ourselves but still feeling a bit groggy.

There are many ailments requiring ongoing treatment, including a broken housing market and an imbalanced childcare system.

Then there is the underlying illness in the health service that pre-dates the economic crash.

The Government has a vision for all of these but only time will tell whether their treatment plan is effective.

"We will be placing focus on homes, putting in place additional investment to address the challenges of providing better homes for people in Ireland," Mr Donohoe pledged yesterday.

"We'll be putting in place more resources for our health system to ensure that more people get the kind of service they deserve when they visit our hospitals, our primary care centres and our doctors.

"And we'll also be making further progress in the area of childcare, investing to make sure that more families can access better quality childcare at a more affordable price than they can do today."

So anybody who thinks there will be a 'give-away' or 'bonanza' Budget today is sadly mistaken.

Public services have been prioritised over tax cuts, meaning the view is long-term improvement in our collective quality of life over short-term gain in our individual pockets.

Polls, and to some extent the election result, indicate that voters want the majority of available money to be channelled into services - but in reality many people publicly give that view while privately wondering what it will mean for them. It's not greedy to want more money. In fact, it's honest and practical.

When the calculators are pulled out tonight the majority of people won't be focused on what percentage increases health got over transport. They will look at their own bottom line and discover little has changed.

Yet it may be worth their while looking at the bigger picture.

Remember it was Budget 2014 that came with the headline 'From the cradle to the grave' as both maternity leave and funeral grants were cut on a savagely bad day.

Today won't come close to undoing all of the damage; but if the two ministers get their sums right they might just bring the people with them, on what Mr Donohoe has described as a "journey we are all taking towards a fairer and better Ireland".

Irish Independent

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