Sunday 21 January 2018

Radio: Boring, baffling Budget is a tax on my patience

Author and comedian Colm O'Regan
Author and comedian Colm O'Regan
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

What about that Budget, eh? Good old Budget Day. Yeah, you gotta love that Budget. You know, with the whole budgeting thing going on there…

Okay, I admit it: the Budget not only bores me, it baffles me. Unlike 99pc of the adult Irish population (or so it seems from their strident conversation), I'm not an expert on economics or personal finances or anything in that sphere. All I know is that radio goes bananas for the Budget each year.

I did manage to sit through Michael Noonan's delivery of the main part of Budget 2017 on News at One (Radio 1, Mon-Fri), which began at the slightly earlier time of 12.30pm to incorporate the Minister's speech.

With that droning voice, and all those incomprehensible terms like fiscal framework, structural balance, macroeconomic policies and deferred liability, there was something almost hypnotically boring about it. As though the speech had tipped over some kind of Event Horizon of gobbledegook, reaching a strange place where space and time were frozen by the dense gravitational pull of supernova-sized dullness.

I wouldn't quite say I enjoyed any of it, or understood it, but it was certainly a singular listening experience: one never before experienced, and hopefully never to be repeated. Paschal Donohoe's speech, I presume, wasn't substantially different, at least in terms of listener pleasure.

I subsequently turned to the same station's Late Debate (Tue-Thur 10pm), in a bid to better understand the whole situation. Cormac Ó hEadhra's show is generally a pretty safe bet when you want complex matters untangled and made intelligible.

This time round, the search for clarity was hobbled a bit by the fact that Late Debate had no less than seven contributors, with three or four others "dipping in and out" throughout the night. Seven is too many voices at once on radio (eight, if you count the host). Three is probably ideal, four is acceptable. Any higher than that and it's more heat than light.

There were a few nuggets, though, which summed up Budget 2017 quite nicely. Cormac quoted a friend who had described it as having "something for everyone, nothing substantial really for anyone." Political correspondent Michael O'Regan agreed, adding that "Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil may not be sharing power - but they are holding hands."

Matt Cooper (The Last Word, Today FM, Mon-Fri 4.30pm) is also reliably good on economics. He began by promising, "No, we're not giving the whole programme over to the Budget - we wouldn't inflict that on you."

But there was some substantial stuff in there. Businesswoman Glenna Lynch, journalist Nick Webb and tax expert Brian Keegan had a good, informative discussion.

The last-named declared: "I never saw a tax relief I didn't like" but also pointed out that these ones amounted to a measly five quid for every thousand earned. Glenna added that the Budget had an "enormous fail" on addressing the housing problem.

I enjoyed Colm O'Regan's Budget Special on Drivetime (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 4.30pm).

A recent PPI award winner, O'Regan's comedy is less confrontational, more gentle and whimsical than Callan's, but that's fine - there's a place for all kinds of funny.

"This radio column," he said drolly, "which previously was my two cents' worth, is now my two-and-a-half cents' worth." Later he quipped: "Everyone looked at smokers in the way you'd look at someone being clamped: a sort of minor sympathy, but glad it wasn't happening to us."

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