Saturday 20 January 2018

Lise Hand: Tumbleweed and a peculiar calm... usual buzz absent after carefully leaked Budget 2016

Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin and Finance Minister Michael Noonan pose with Budget 2016 outside the Dail. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin and Finance Minister Michael Noonan pose with Budget 2016 outside the Dail. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Lise Hand

Lise Hand

A few early visitors to Leinster House this morning were openly wondering if they arrived on the right day.

Where were the hordes of party supporters and tense politicians? Where were the political reporters roaming the corridors half-mad in search of last-minute leaks?

Instead, tumbleweed drifted around the semi-deserted building. In the Dáil restaurant one long-time member of staff recalled manning the door and letting in diners in batches of three, such was the throng of people in search of a cuppa and a feed.

Outside the gates, the barriers were up in readiness and the Gardaí were there in numbers. By noon there was a single protester in evidence – but then, it was a particularly chilly morning.

So what’s with the peculiar calm before the supposed storm? Well, for a start, the usual buzz of anticipation was noticeably as lathair given that most of the major Budget announcements had been carefully and comprehensively leaked to the media in advance.

It was like knowing a week before Christmas what we were all getting from Santa – be it a lump of coal or a shiny bicycle, depending on the fiscal year that’s in it.

And the conclusion being rapidly reached as the Budget hour drew closer was that Michael Noonan has hung up his hairshirt.

The axe was back in the tool-shed, and – a bit like the Late Late Show – there’d be something for everyone in the electorate ...sorry…audience: a cut to the hated USC, a few quid to the pensioners, free GP care for the under-11s, a tax credit for the self-employed, more Gardaí recruitment. And so on, so flaithulach.

Of course not everybody will be turning cartwheels, and much attention will be paid to how the coalition look after the most vulnerable in society – the homeless, people with disability, the elderly, and all groups who suffered during the long years of the recession.

Though with a bountiful Budget anticipated, given the proximity of the looming election, some wondered if the spending hawks of the ESRI and the Fiscal Advisory Council would be among the protesters due to turn up outside Leinster House later today.

But coalition tails were up around the House. One minister bustling along the corridor a couple of hours before the Budget was unveiled, didn’t stop to speak, but simply gave the thumbs’ up as he passed.

In fact, the only guessing-game left was what would be the colour of the finance Minister’s budget speech tie.

He had been spotted sporting a cheery multi-coloured one earlier in the day, but when he turned up with Brendan Howlin for the traditional photo-call, Michael was parading a rather posh looking silver-and-black number.

At least it gave the photographers something to get excited about.

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