Michael Noonan announced a 40c increase in the price of an old reliable — at the same time 260km away, a muffled groan went up in the Old Reliable.
The patrons of this particular saloon, on Cork’s Shandon St, had been keeping more than one eye on proceedings as Budget 2015 unfolded on two televisions. The view expressed beforehand by proprietor Pat Healy summed up the mood: “The only thing coming down is the fecking rain.
“It’s all about money, money, money,” Pat continued. The repeated cuts of recent budgets have been “cruel”, he insisted, claiming the household tax and water charges “are all kind of nails in the coffin”.
“It has been an absolute downward slope. The smoking ban — that made a hole in it; and when the arse fell out of the economy in 2008, that was really it. It’s a battle to maintain the status quo. There is a lot of pubs after closing in a 200m radius from here.”
He’s right. The years of the recession have left an indelible mark. Down the street, the building once occupied by Donnelly’s Bakery is boarded up and, in the locale, a number of pubs have closed, remaining up for sale. One pub has been transformed into an undertakers, he noted.
The Old Reliable, as the name suggests, can depend on its regulars, drawn to its cosy, wood-panelled chamber. One man, who asked not to be named, had fixed ideas about what the budget should deliver. “Get rid of the water thing first,” he said. “Get rid of the prescription charge.”
His friend chimed in with “shoot a few politicians”.
The first speaker continued: “Why are ‘normal people’ not being able to buy a house whereas the people who put us in all the shit are able to go out and get properties again? This government is a complete failure.”
Another local, Tom Murphy, who lives just off Blarney St, was cheered by the restoration of some of the Christmas bonus. Otherwise, he said: “Everything has gone up.”
The prescription charge costs him around €25 a month — “it makes a terrible difference”. As for the Government, “well, they say their hands were tied but they only have themselves to blame”.
Around the corner in The Chimes bar, the budget was on the TV but the sound was being drowned out by music. It’s at times like this that you query the future of the budget as a popular spectator sport.
In any case, many people had their minds already made up. Outside on the cobbled street, Margaret Kelleher from Knocknaheeny said: “It’s always going to be the same thing anyway. I feel sorry for the older people because they are paying so much for prescription [charges] as it is.”
Margaret had taken part in the march against water charges in Cork last Saturday — “it was shite because there wasn’t enough people” — and said she did not plan on paying it. Her friend, Eileen O’Sullivan from Fairhill, felt the same way, commenting about the forms: “Return to sender.”
Back to the Old Reliable and the news there would be no increase in excise on alcohol. “Very good,” said Pat. “Something went right for us.”
With Brendan Howlin on his feet, the crowd in the bar had thinned a little, and those watching proceedings drained some laughs from the heckling and catcalling going on in Leinster House. “Children!” someone called out as the ceann comhairle battled to shut down some of the parliamentary shouting. The collective view, exchanged between sups of stout and lager, was this was “a real election budget”. Another man walked in. “All bad news is it?” he asked.
Then, from somewhere down the far end of the bar, music struck up — ‘Delilah’ by Tom Jones, and its classic refrain: “I just couldn’t take any more.”
Maybe ministers Noonan and Howlin were listening.
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