Sunday 22 September 2019

Fine Gael's crack codology team

iSpy: Budget 2018

Paschal Donohoe delivering Budget 2018
Paschal Donohoe delivering Budget 2018
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Paschal Donohoe, although self-satisfied in his demeanour, was hardly Churchillian in the delivery of a Budget that did not have a single memorable phrase. By the end, even the most attentive accountant had probably descended into a torpor.

Even the Taoiseach looked under the weather as he sat disconsolately next to Paschal. This was time wasted, when Leo could have been posting another inane video from the Government jet on the way on to way to somewhere more exciting - somewhere where he could swap novelty socks with Justin Trudeau perhaps.

No cliché was left unuttered in this apparently interminable oration. Paschal reminded us that the country was on a "journey", and we needed to "build on progress" and "rise to challenges".

Perhaps the only comical moment came before the start when the Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl told the Dáil: "The Budget documents being circulated remain confidential until the minister has announced them."

Given that virtually every last detail of this particular Budget had already spilled out of Government Buildings like water from a dodgy mains pipe in Louth, it was a pointless entreaty.

Hidden away in the small print was the news that Paschal would be spending €5m on the Strategic Communications Unit.

This is a crack team of highly-paid public relations handlers, who are supposed to put a shiny statesmanlike gloss on Leo and his team.

We saw the fruits of their labours yesterday in short video clips put out on social media: there was a six-second clip of a smiling Paschal gliding smugly through a corridor of power; another one of the minister walking down the stairs; and then there was the clip of Paschal preparing the bons mots of his speech in his shirtsleeves.

What next - Paschal going to the gents?

Who needs to spend €5m housing the homeless, or building hospitals, when we can blow the lot on this narcissistic codology?

Punters win as Paschal goes on

Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it has rarely been the modus operandi of the Minister for Finance.

Spare a thought for poor old Paddy Power bookmakers, who perhaps did not foresee that verbose Paschal would ramble on for an hour, as we all tried to get through our lunch.

Paddy Power were offering relatively generous odds of 2/1 that the minister's speech would go on for over 48 minutes.

Several punters did not have to look into their crystal balls to predict that he could not confine his utterances to a short timespan now that he is the main man. A Paddy Power spokesman told me: "There were a number of bets that he would go on for over 48 minutes and we lost out on that one."

On the other hand, the bookies recouped money from gamblers who bet that he would take three sips of water.

In the event, he took just one.

Is it the 'Martin O'Neill Budget'?

Budgets used to be held not long before Christmas. So cartoonists and commentators could compare the minister of finance to Santa Claus if they had lots of goodies in a boom, or Ebenezer Scrooge if he was taking money away.

This Budget wasn't tough enough or close enough to Halloween to have Paschal portrayed as the grim reaper.

But for those looking for clumsy metaphors, there was always the football.

Economist Austin Hughes popped up on RTÉ yesterday morning to remark.

"What we are looking for is a Martin O'Neill Budget. "It doesn't have to be pretty. It has to be results-focused."

We can't be sure of the results yet, but it certainly wasn't pretty.

No stamp of approval for Richie Ryan

The minister should not expect too much gratitude for slipping a couple of quid to social welfare recipients and taxpayers. As the National Archives reminded us yesterday, it was the same in the Cosgrave era.

They released contents of a sarcastic 1977 letter to then Finance Minister Richie Ryan from a member of the public, where she told him he would "no doubt be thrilled to know" that she was 13p better off as a result of his budget. She added: "Unfortunately this thank-you note will cost me 10p of this grandiose sum."

Irish Independent

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