Philip Ryan: Snap election fears feeding into summer demand for Budget sweeteners
The Budget proposals are coming thick and fast this year. Once upon a time, the official start of Budget negotiations was Willie O'Dea's summer demand for a €5 increase in the State pension. But this year Transport Minister Shane Ross made sure the Independent Alliance were first out of the traps.
The group of increasingly wily Independent ministers were eager to ensure their Budget needs were not seen as an afterthought when Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe sits down to crunch his numbers.
In the run-ups to the last two Budgets, they felt like second-class citizens to Fianna Fáil when it came to talks with Fine Gael. They also compiled their shopping list a little too late in the day which gave Fine Gael the opportunity to say they didn't have time to crunch the figures. So this year they came out swinging early.
'Granny Grants', gambling taxes, disability funding and counsellors for third-level students. The Alliance knows this is potentially the last Budget of their ministerial careers, or at least under the current administration.
There are no assurances the confidence and supply arrangement will be renewed or will even reach its natural end. And with an election looming, it's important to stake claim to a few policies for your election leaflets.
O'Dea wasn't far behind the Alliance with his annual demand for a €5 increase across every welfare payment apart from the Jobseekers allowance. Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty has suggested she would not focus her Budget expenditure on pensions this year. But she is perhaps secretly delighted that O'Dea has guaranteed another €300m or so for her Budget. She will also get to knock on the doors of her Meath East constituency safe in the knowledge she oversaw another pension increase.
Today, we also have Katherine Zappone elbowing her way into the Budget debate. The Children's Minister is not a fan of Ross's 'granny grant' and is anxious to ensure the childcare debate is not centred on the Transport Minister's expenses reimbursement scheme for grandparents.
"In Budget 2019, we will continue that work with practical, realistic measures which are not only in keeping with the Government commitments but will also deliver supports in an equal and fair way," she says.
One of Zappone's measures for the Budget is to exempt all crèches from commercial rates. This could save some childcare centres up to €10,000 a year. The minister will argue that other childcare service providers, such as fee-paying schools, do not have to pay commercial rates so why should crèches.
The hope is the saving would be passed on to the parents who drop their children to the crèche in the morning before work.
However, other local businesses will wonder why a privately owned crèche is saving €10,000 while they are paying rates for the same local authority services.
There will be plenty more Budget ideas fed into the debate in the coming weeks and Donohoe will have an unenviable task in trying to make everyone happy.
Or maybe collapsing the Government over a Budget row might suit Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.