Lise Hand: Noonan wields a slash-hook, but it looks as if Paddy is taking up a shovel
EMPEROR Noonan is skint. He can give the plebeians no bread (boo!). But he can make it cheaper for us to go to the circus (hurrah!).
During the election campaign in February, neither Enda Kenny nor Eamon Gilmore could open their respective traps without the word "jobs" tumbling out.
It was "jobs" this, and "jobs" that, and upon joining together in holy coalition the pair solemnly swore to introduce a Jobs Budget before their first 100 days in office were up, in an attempt to make some class of a dent in the frightful figure of 440,000 unemployed citizens.
But how exactly did the Dynamic Duo plan to conjure jobs out of thin air? And would the usual Robin Hood Principles that rule the annual Budget apply? Would Public Sector Peter be robbed to pay Private Sector Paul?
Then last month the whole wheeze appeared to receive a hasty make-over. The much-vaunted 'Budget' transmogrified into an 'Initiative'.
There was no dangerous nailing of numbers to masts over the amount of jobs that would be created, and any blowing of trumpets was strictly prohibited.
By the time the actual unveiling of the Jobs Initiative took place in the Dail yesterday afternoon, the whole palaver was in danger of taking on the dispiriting properties of that soggy firework, the damp squib.
The public gallery was practically deserted, unlike Budget Day, when it is filled to Standing-and-Shaking-Fist-Room Only.
Without ceremony Michael Noonan rose to deliver his statement and reveal how the government were going to do a Tommy Cooper-style of magic trick and make large swathes of the dole queues disappear justlikethat.
And so the Cunning Plan hatched by Baldrick Noonan, is to create loadsa jobs by luring tourists. The gaff will be crawling with Chinese, jammed with Japanese, awash with Americans and brimful of Brits.
For he's taken a slash-hook to the VAT rate of 13.5pc and dropped it to 9pc, and all sorts of fun stuff will be cheaper, such as getting a haircut, eating out, staying in hotels, visiting museums and going to fairgrounds.
"The purpose of this targeted VAT relief is to boost tourism and stimulate employment in the sector, and I am confident that it will give the tourism sector a much needed shot in the arm," announced the minister.
And it turned out that he's taken a pick-axe to the pension pots by piling on a levy for four years to fund other job-creation schemes, such as filling in the potholes in the nation's roads and building schools and the like.
It looks as if Paddy's taking up a shovel and going back to work.
Michael Noonan took his time with his speech, and perhaps this dulled the reaction from the Opposition by the time they all got to put in their tuppence-worth.
Fianna Fail's enterprise spokesman Willie O'Dea rose to reply. And it was a more conciliatory, softer Willie who took gentle issue with the initiative, merely calling it "minimal".
So how many people would be plucked from the dole queues and given a gig? Well, afterwards Emperor Noonan declared that 6,000 souls would benefit. Enda was less clear, but was certain that the tourist boom would get even boomier with the Lizzie Lift and Barack Bounce.
The Taoiseach is confident there'll be a bonanza in some shape or form when hordes of tourists stampede into the country. But in the meantime it's back to the shovels.
Sure as Christy Moore put it, the potholed roads to nirvana are paved with good intentions -- we want to go to heaven but we're always diggin' holes.