Tuesday 22 October 2019

Why won’t somebody think of the planet ... or grannies?

Appeal: A man holds a sign protesting against homelessness outside Government Buildings in Dublin. Photo: Clodagh Kilcoyne
Appeal: A man holds a sign protesting against homelessness outside Government Buildings in Dublin. Photo: Clodagh Kilcoyne
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

NAKED swimmers, a political Dickie Rock and won't somebody please think of the grannies - or the planet?

Budget 2019 - largely inoffensive in some ways but not without its pitfalls - came and went with a series of quips from those in the Opposition benches and an unexpected trading of Brendan Behan quotes.

Paschal Donohoe took to his feet to deliver the Budget, his voice having mostly recovered from a well-publicised cold, and must have been lamenting the fact that despite repeated warnings against leaks much of his Budget was already well-trodden.

An hour and 15 minutes later when he sat back down again, the world had not moved substantially.

There was no great surprises - no rabbit out of the hat or true banana skin beneath the heel.

As a result, it quickly turned into a race to the pithiest one-liner - with Fianna Fáil's Barry Cowen kicking it off with a swipe at the Opposition who had not deigned to support the Government in the way his party has.

The 2016 election, like a tide receding to reveal naked swimmers, had revealed the "true character" of those in the Opposition benches he claimed.

They were, he suggested, and borrowing the words from Brendan Behan, "like eunuchs in a brothel; they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves".

For Independent Alliance Minister Shane Ross, it was a cultural jibe of a different vein; Cowen compared the Transport Minister to a "political Dickie Rock" who was concerned with appealing to the granny constituency - a reference to the pre-budget suggestions from the Alliance of a 'granny grant' for grandparents providing free childcare, or a so-called 'granny flat grant' to allow an elderly person to divide their home into two units.

The granny - by her absence - was really something of the star of the show in the Dáil yesterday.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath loudly questioned "what happened to the granny?" at several points during Mr Donohoe's speech.

The first interjection was greeted with a thumbs-up from Alliance Minister Finian McGrath in a bid to say 'we have her covered, don't worry', but later on the Disabilities Minister (who was loudly congratulating his colleague John Halligan at every chance during the speech) had had enough, telling the Independent TD to "get over it".

For Mr Ross's part, he told reporters he didn't know of any comparisons between himself and Dickie Rock -allowing Finian McGrath, standing by his side, to quip that the only comparison was that he was standing alongside a good guitar player.

In any case, Mr Ross, despite laughing off suggestions from industry bodies that he resign, did not seem much in the mood for singing or dancing.

His granny flat grant - or home conversion grant - was in the Budget, he insisted. It just wasn't in the Budget per se. Eoghan Murphy will review a pilot project under way in Clondalkin. The fact that that review was already under way didn't seem to perturb him too much.

Back in the Dáil, the jostling over who could quote the most Irish literature was continuing. Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty described the Budget as a "poor joke", saying: "It is all well and good for Fianna Fáil to come in here and make jokes but to quote Brendan Behan, 'It is a good deed to forget a poor joke'."

Labour's Alan Kelly opted for Seamus Heaney instead, reminding them of the words of the poet which read "whatever you say, you say nothing". This was a do-nothing Budget, he asserted with gusto.

But for Labour, generally, food comparisons were rife.

Mr Kelly counted the slices of bread the changes would allow people to buy.

His colleague Joan Burton went one further - comparing it to a newly opened doughnut establishment in her constituency of Dublin West.

"If it looks like an election Budget, if it sings like an election budget and if Leo's choir cheers it like an election budget, then it is an election budget," she announced, before going on to compare it to a Krispy Kreme budget that left a "flat taste" in the mouth. 

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Good Budget

Tax cuts for workers

Low and middle income workers will get a modest boost from a rise in the entry point for the higher rate of income tax.  There’s been a .5pc cut in the USC rate for those earning between €19,874 and €70,044.

Older people

A €5-a-week increase in the State pension to kick in from March. There’s a 50c reduction in prescription charges for  over 70s.

Parents

More families will be able to avail of increased subsidies for childcare. There will be an extra two weeks of paid parental leave from November 2019.

Motorists and those who like a tipple...

No excise duty rise on beer, wine and spirits. Much-vaunted petrol and diesel hikes never transpired.

Bad Budget

Hotels and Restaurants

The tourism industry has been hit with a 50pc hike in VAT, restoring it to 13.5pc rate.

This is the same level it was at before a reduction due to the economic crisis. Hairdressers and cinemas are also affected, but newspapers stay at 9pc.

Independent Alliance

They didn’t get a ‘Granny Grant’ for childcare, the VAT hike has led to a call for Tourism Minister Shane Ross’s resignation, and their ‘Granny Flat Grant’ appears to be a reheated existing policy.

The environment

Despite this week’s dire warnings on global warming, and the need for drastic action by 2030, there’s been no carbon tax increase this year.

Smokers

Smokers were not as lucky as drinkers, seeing the cost of cigarettes rise again. It’s a 50c hike per pack.

Irish Independent

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