"It's amazing. You cross the big hurdles, and when you get to the small ones, you get tripped up."
ALBERT Reynolds had reason to deliver those words with feeling on the evening of Tuesday, November 22, 1994. Barely an hour earlier, the man who drove the Northern Ireland peace breakthrough, had been forced to quit as Taoiseach over a very strange row about extraditing a paedophile priest.
His words are worth recalling today as the Coalition appears to have cleared the big hurdle while carrying the bulk of their epically harsh Budget 2013. Now they face the small hurdles, some of which are already visible, others of which may well remain unidentified as fretful government TDs face their constituents this weekend.
Most prominent among the 'small hurdles' is the 19pc cut in the respite care grant – by any standards a mean-minded and squalid measure with huge potential to trip up this Government. There were contrasting ministerial responses to this one yesterday.
First off, Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte regretted the cutting of a grant designed to fund a break for people who give round-the-clock care to ill or incapacitated loved ones, but insisted it was better than cutting actual carer payments. That's undoubtedly true, but will smack to most of us of coming at the argument from the reverse end.
A little later, Fine Gael's Brian Hayes appeared to wobble just a bit. He acknowledged that it was a tough blow to carers but conceded that the issue could be revisited, though at the risk of the Budget unravelling.
There is precedent for revisiting a harsh decision. Last year the Government reversed out of a decision to reduce payments to young people with disabilities. Do we sense another U-turn here? Seasoned politicians know that if such things must be done, they are better done quickly.
Meanwhile, the property tax continues to pose more questions than answers. Bar the €1 tax on the bottle of wine, it was the one that commanded most attention on Wednesday.
Most people noted straight away that the so-called mansion tax was a poor sideshow that failed to detract attention from the main issue. One expert suggested that as few as 16,000 homes out of the nation's estimated 1.6 million total might fall into that high-class bracket.
The main issue is how you arrive at fixing a value on property in what is at best a barely functioning market.
We are told that it will be self-assessment with back-up from the Revenue Commissioners. Smart alecs who try to cheat will find their case revisited. But what of decent citizens, acting in good faith, who arrive at a lower value? Must they employ an independent valuer? What protection would that give, since Revenue need not accept such an independent valuation?
One has the sense that this one will run and run through 2013 – when it will apply from July 1 – and far beyond. The government message for those who bought at the height of the boom is: they can forget about getting any credit for the huge amount of stamp duty already handed over.
Apart from this issue's many treacherous hurdles, there are a range of other smaller ones: changes in the tax treatment of maternity benefit will continue to puzzle women's groups, while cuts to child benefit and the back-to-school allowance have been criticised as "anti-family and anti-women". The impact of changes for pensioners will also have to be watched closely.
Following the Budget, some Labour TDs remained the main focus of attention. Colm Keaveney was sending out signals that the details could be revisited.
For the remaining 33 Labour TDs, the items cited above – and some others – may appear far from being small hurdles. Delivery of this extremely harsh Budget is still not assured.