Kevin Doyle: Donohoe tries to play Budget bingo where everyone wins
Budgets are supposed to tell us as much about what we can’t afford as what we can. But as the memory of the recession fades and we readjust to being a wealthy nation once again, the Government and the population are embarking on a game of ‘Budget bingo’.
It would be too obvious to say that we’ve been here before, because it’s not nearly as bad as the Celtic Tiger.
Back then people felt free to flaunt it. If money did actually grow on trees then they would have been planted in the front garden of every massively overpriced house.
Nowadays we are a bit more timid than Charlie McCreevey’s infamous “if I have it I’ll spend it”.
Paschal Donohoe is an altogether different character. With just €350m on the table he certainly can’t afford to be boasting about a giveaway Budget.
At the same time the Government has adopted a mantra that nobody will be left behind. Everybody must get something from Budget 2018 – even if that means spreading the little bit of cash extremely thinly.
The Finance Minister has cooked up an extra €600m through higher taxes for unpopular bodies such as banks and commercial property investors. But it still won’t be enough to please everybody.
The key word in Mr Donohoe’s game of Budget bingo will be “balanced”.
For the first time in a decade the books will be balanced and the minister will tell us this repeatedly during his speech before we hear similar statements from the Taoiseach and other disciples.
But in homes, offices and pubs around the country the non-political classes will have their own version of the game. Pensioners will be waiting to hear their names called out for a fiver win. The unemployed too.
Middle-income families will be eagerly listening for their pat on the back. Parents have high expectations that today will be their day.
Homeless, carers, the disabled, farmers, self-employed, first-time buyers, builders, business, motorists, the tourist sector, the sick and the public servants will also be waiting for a nod during Mr Donohoe’s hour-long speech.
Each time a little ‘bingo’ will ring and the minister will have announced a small prize involving allowances, USC, tax bands, incentives, Help-To-Buy, VAT and grants.
It’s no way to run a country, but people seem to engage the annual spectacle, particularly now austerity is over. Smokers are the only ones who know they haven’t a hope in hell of winning.
Today, Mr Donohoe will set out a longer vision, pitching beyond 2018 in a future where he might not even be in the hot seat. The strategy is to promise a bright horizon where tax cuts and pension hikes become the norm.
However, one experienced minister warned last night that by trying to satisfy everybody there is a high risk of hurting somebody. “You’re better off trying to tell people if you can’t do something for them,” they said.
Paschal better hope his numbers come up.