Trembling Brian delivers last sting of a dying wasp

Aoife Finneran

HIT them when they're down. If there was one salutary tale to be learned from the appalling Budget 2011, it was that the Government favours the cowardly approach.

Unleashing the most ruthless cuts in the history of the State, Brian Lenihan brought the axe down hard on the heads of lower and middle income earners.

The Finance Minister had obviously learned a thing or two from the IMF's Ajai Chopra, who has spent the last few weeks devising most unpleasant ways in which to fillet the country's pockets.


Despite his newfound expertise, there was no denying the shake in Brian's hand as he prepared for his big speech.

Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk reminded TDs that the contents of the speech were to remain confidential until the Minister had finished speaking.

This prompted a chorus of guffaws from the benches, as one wag remarked: "Has he not read the Herald yet?"

Sure enough, the details revealed in yesterday's paper were on the money.

Then Brian drove the knife in even further than we'd predicted by announcing the arrival of the mysterious creature hitherto to be known as the universal social charge. By the time he trundled to a halt after 43 minutes of misery-tinged talk, the benches behind him appeared to have shrivelled.

Fianna Fail TDs shrank back in their seats, cowering with fear at the thought of knocking on doors looking for votes in a few months. They couldn't even muster the customary standing ovation.

The way was then paved for Michael Noonan, a man who has spent a long time waiting on the sidelines for his return to the spotlight. He certainly didn't disappoint the fans, delivering a party piece that had Senator Jerry Buttimer delirious with admiration.

In fact, fresh from Tweeting about the rumours of the abolition of the Seanad, Jerry found time to commend Noonan for his "awesome" speech.

Remarkably, the widely-anticipated culls were almost sidelined by the rampant whispers around Leinster House as it emerged that the Cabinet had found themselves perilously close to agreeing to abolish the Upper House yesterday.

However, by the time Mr Lenihan got to his feet mid-afternoon, it transpired that the good denizens of the Seanad are safe, for now at least.

Instead, he decided to brandish the scalpel at the ones who simply didn't have the voice to fight back. And as Mr Noonan put it, if it weren't so serious, certain aspects of the Budget would be funny.

For a start, he couldn't understand what Mr Lenihan held against third-born children.

"Did some third child beat up the Minister coming home from school when he was a young fellow? What is the conspiracy against third children?" he drawled.

Amid all the raucous cat-calling, there was one moment of sheer poignancy, when Noonan took a stand for the thousands of carers around the country.

"I notice that the Minister does not have a high regard for carers with his income tax provision, as the tax credit for carers has decreased from €900 to €810," he fumed, as uncomfortable Fianna Fail deputies bowed their heads.

It was simply too difficult to maintain eye contact with a man who has spoken openly about caring for his wife, who suffers from Alzheimers.

However, if it was hard to look at Mr Noonan, it was impossible to tear the eyes away from the newly coiffed Joan Burton, who unveiled a highlighted copper look for the day.

Body image had clearly been weighing heavily on Deputy Burton's mind as she told her Fianna Fail nemesis: "Deputy Lenihan referred to households and businesses that continue to work off the excesses of the boom.

"He made the adjustments and cuts sound like a walk in the park just after the Christmas dinner or, alternatively, like joining the gym or going to Unislim. It is a way of working off the excess built up during the boom years.

"It is a pity that such slimming of income has been applied to working people and those on middle incomes because they are the people doing the heavy lifting in this Budget."


This Budget, she harrumphed, could be described as "the last sting of a dying wasp", with apologies to Michael McDowell.

That was only the start of it. The Dail's newest recruit, Pearse Doherty, then got in on the act, bamboozling his colleagues with a Padraig Pearse poem about sons who sold out their mothers. Tanaiste Mary Coughlan couldn't contain herself, voicing her disagreement with the new young upstart.

But the new boy wasn't in the mood to be silenced, goading her: "Mary, you are on much more than that and you should keep your mouth closed for just a couple of seconds."

Horrified, the Tanaiste primly riposted: "I am not known by my first name here".

In fairness, we can't blame Calamity Coughlan for wanting to adhere to protocol. After all, even if this Budget makes it into legislation, she and her colleagues are heading perilously close to their last days in ministerial office.