Mick Clifford: Winter will tell whether government's budget plan really delivers 

Many of the measures announced will be greeted with relief, but there will also, possibly, be fears that it might contain too much for those least in need, writes Mick Clifford
Mick Clifford: Winter will tell whether government's budget plan really delivers 

Ministers Michael McGrath and Paschal Donohoe after delivering Budget 2023. Picture: Collins

At 1.03pm Paschal Donohoe got to his feet in the Dáil and delivered the epilogue to his budget speech. 

The main speech had been announced in the media over the preceding 48 hours. 

There were a few bits and bobs which hadn’t been aired, but all the big ticket stuff, accounting for the vast bulk of the €11bn package, had been leaked piecemeal since Sunday.

Still, the Minister for Finance went through the motions for his last budget in this role, noting early on that this “is and must be a cost of living budget, focused on helping individuals, families, and businesses to deal with rising prices".

Mr Donohoe has an engaging manner when explaining the plumbing of the national economy. He speaks slowly, patiently, as if to a primary school class.

Out of other mouths, this might sound patronising. 

Paschal carries it off because he conveys that he genuinely wants you to grasp why he is doing what he is doing.

The pace picked up when he got to the giveaways and then he wound down with the vision thing. 

“We can and should be confident about our future. We know our citizens need help, we know our employers need help, and this budget aims to give this help.”

 

Relief and dread

Many of the measures that he and his confederate Michael McGrath have announced will be greeted with relief, but there will also, possibly, be fears that it might contain too much for those least in need.

Mr McGrath related in a business-like manner his part of the epilogue. He had a few surprises, but, again, all the big stuff was accounted for. 

God and Charlie McCreevy be with the days when the nation was kept in suspense right up to the moments the details were delivered through an actual speech. 

And think of poor Phil Hogan who, back in 1995, had to resign as a junior minister because he had leaked some aspect of the forthcoming budget. 

If such standards still pertained, there wouldn’t be a body left sitting around the cabinet table.

 Still, Mr McGrath soldiered on and managed to reveal a few small nuggets, such as extra resources for special needs education. 

He concluded with the requisite cupla focal from Seamus Heaney that “there is good worth working for”, but it seemed somehow misplaced for the occasion.

Doherty disillusioned

Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty led the opposition, and he was fair to middling angry about the whole thing. 

“The Government had the opportunity to give people certainty as they face into a winter of rising costs, certainty about energy costs, certainty on rents, certainty that those on fixed incomes would be shielded from the price rises,” he said.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Finance Pearse Doherty.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Finance Pearse Doherty.

The quest for certainty strategically littered his speech. 

Right now, thousands are living in fear of what the winter will bring. More are uneasy. The country as a whole would pay dearly for certainty, and that was what Mr Doherty was promising, if only it was his budget to give away.

“We would have given certainty to families and households through the winter,” he said. 

He proposed a few alternatives to the Government’s choices on who to assist and by how much. But there was also a sense that the Government has stolen his thunder. How much more could have been used from the state coffers? 

This, after all, was the biggest giveaway budget — albeit premised on necessity — since the halcyon days of the early 2000s when the country was living high on the hog.

Mairead Farrell was equally solid from the Sinn Féin benches. 

Her main brief was the struggles of the young and she started off starting off by listing the challenges so many face. 

“It is because of the political choices you made over the years and the political choices of today,” she said, Mary Lou sitting next to her, nodding sagely. 

Ms Farrell’s contribution was delivered in a conversational style that would chime with a lot of people who are unaccustomed to the drone of political speak.

“Like seriously, how much damage could you actually do,” she asked at one point. “I mean, for God’s sake,” she sighed at another.

Unity debate

She moved to railing against the Government for foot-dragging on efforts to reclaim the fourth green field.

“The people are in front of you on the constitutional issue of this island. Unity is the big idea of our time,” she said. 

Maybe so, but not the most urgent considering what’s raining down right now. The other opposition spokespersons gave differing versions of the Sinn Féin theme of missed opportunity to provide certainty.

The winter will tell whether this major intervention by the state actually manages to quell the fears and keep everybody warm. 

If it does, the Government may have something to build on ahead of the next election. If not, they’re toast. One way or the other, certainty is going to remain elusive for the time being.

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