Born into 1980s Ireland, reared in its roaring Celtic Tiger, and graduating into its cataclysmic aftermath — my generation expected little of our governments and almost nothing of their budgets, writes
My lasting memory of the Celtic Tiger was Bertie Ahern walking along a beach in his canary-yellow trousers and fawn sports jacket at the G8 summit in 2004. This memory is book-ended by another Bertie memory in April 2008. As I got ready to take my final exams, the taoiseach, this time in a yellow tie, stood on the steps of Government Buildings and called a halt to his three decades in politics.
He would hand in his resignation to President Mary McAleese on May 6.
His departure seemed suspicious, and most definitely ominous, but I’d been inculcated in years of prosperity, the legendary tales of Ross O’Carroll Kelly, and property purchasing left, right, and centre. Now here I was, getting ready to go out and experience this Tiger for myself. What could go wrong?
By August 2008, the word “recession” entered our national conversation.
To be specific, this meant a fall in our GDP for two successive quarters. And then the bailout followed, preceded by whisperings of ATMs running out of cash.
This activity was accompanied by thousands upon thousands of job losses. By the time graduation came, the class of 2008 had gone from one of great expectations to one of hard times. We’d viewed the Tiger and its bonuses and transatlantic trips and apartments in Bulgaria from the sidelines and when our time came, not only was the game suddenly over, but the astro turf had been rolled up and the stadium was empty.
We adjusted our expectations, not for a yearly bonus but for a chance to start a livelihood. The transition was swift.
A social welfare cheque was not an attractive option. We hadn’t done our Leaving Certs, studied for four years in college only to graduate into a dole queue. JobBridge wasn’t much better. We felt there would be no paid job at the end of that rainbow.
So we emigrated, in our tens of thousands, like the many before us, to places like Sydney, Melbourne, London, Dubai, Vancouver, and Toronto.
Others stayed around and pursued further education to hopefully while away the recession, and gain employment on the far end. Some got jobs, but not the ones our older siblings had, where there were bonuses and salary reviews and “jaunts” and “boozy lunches”. Some started businesses, many of which are thriving today.
For those who emigrated, the government’s annual budget was irrelevant. For the entrepreneurs who stayed around, you got an innovation voucher or a dig-out if you were a major start-up, but not the regular sole trader. And for the PAYE workers, the budget only came to mean one thing: Bad news. It meant only cuts, so we tuned out.
Then last year, we got some money back, and this year, we got some more.
Budget 2019 means about €190 more in my pocket. I am married, in a double-income household, so changes to the 40% income tax rate, which now kicks in at €35,300 for a single worker (or at €44,300 for a married couple with one earner), will put €150 in my pocket.
The changes to USC, meaning 4.5% as opposed to 4.75% on incomes between €19,300 and €70,000, will put about €40 more in my pocket.
I am a property owner and despite promises there are no changes to property tax rates, as set since 2013.
I am not a parent, so changes to the Affordable Childcare Scheme do not affect me, nor does the two weeks’ extra parental leave per parent that begins in November 2019 for children under one, unless I become a mum by then.
I do not smoke so the extra 50c on cigarettes, while positive, is irrelevant to me.
What will impact me, and many others, is the change in Vat rate from 9% to 13.5% in the hospitality sector. Anyone who goes for a haircut, out for a meal, or for a coffee will probably have to pick up some of this cost, as business owners decide how to handle this 4.5% change. Will they absorb it or will the consumer? Maybe that’s where some of my €190 will go.