Budget 2018: Something for everyone in audience

Paschal Donohoe’s first budget was a bit like The Late Late Show — something for everyone in the audience, a stand-still patchwork quilt that is prudent and sober but lacking in ambition. It tinkers at the edges but fails to offer an overall vision for the future.

Budget 2018: Something for everyone in audience

There is nothing radical about it and it is, therefore, almost exactly as predicted, with little by way of innovation. Increasing, for instance, Vat on sunbeds from 13.5% to 23% is hardly an example of thinking big.

It should, of course, come as no surprise to anyone that there are no surprises in Budget 2018. Despite an apparent determination by Minister Donohoe to keep everything under wraps in the weeks preceding yesterday, there were leaks aplenty from all sides of Leinster House.

Even before the minister got to his feet in the Dáil yesterday, the Taoiseach revealed that the average family would be €500 to €600 a year better off. There was be “no fireworks, no big bonanza,” he said in advance of a morning Cabinet meeting. That is exactly what his minister for finance delivered.

Donohoe’s budget could be described as ambitious in two respects — its promise to bring about the building of almost 4,000 new social houses next year and the setting up of a Rainy Day Fund, with at least €1.5bn transferred to it from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. He described the establishment of the fund as “another important step in strengthening the national finances in a changing and risky world, especially in light of Brexit” and it is hard to argue with that.

Delivering a huge increase in social housing will involve the creation of a new entity to be known as Home Building Finance Ireland, a name that will make for a forgettable acronym (HBFI) and an impossible mnemonic.

The allocation of a total of €1.83bn for housing in 2018 represents a substantial investment but it remains to be seen whether it will be sufficient to tackle the housing and the homeless crisis.

Donohoe said his three pillars for Budget 2018 were to rebalance the economy; be fair and improve people’s lives, and make sensible long-term investments. These guiding principles of good budgeting are more like a three-legged stool — a seat that always finds its own level even on uneven ground.

In the context of Brexit, rebalancing the economy should mean laying the groundwork for us to find markets for Irish goods outside the UK but this budget offers nothing radical to aid Irish exporters.

While there was nothing innovative in the budget, neither was there anything memorable in the reaction by the opposition. Sinn Féin’s finance spokesman Pearse Doherty showed little by way of originality when he rose to his feet in the Dáil and chastigated the budget as a return to the “boom and bust politics of the past”.

All Social Democrats joint leader, Róisín Shortall could manage was a moan about what isn’t in the budget — an affordable housing scheme and something to tackle rising rents.

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