‘No minister’ retains cool demeanour despite the pressure

At 1pm today, the phoney war will be over and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe will take to his feet in the Dáil chamber and deliver his budget, writes Daniel McConnell.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe

The budget process has for some ministers been more frustrating than others, with expletives regularly used by those less-pleased Cabinet members when his name is mentioned.

Donohoe, the bobble-head collector and music fanatic, is by far the most personally polite member of the Dáil.

He has had to say no to so many requests in the past few weeks that it is almost his default response to any question.

It has been a unenviable task as he has had to please his new Taoiseach, who is PR mad, his own backbenchers, his Independent colleagues in Government, as well as reaching agreement with Fianna Fáil, upon whose support he needs to get his budget pass.

With the final details emerging in the past 48 hours, Donohoe will oversee a substantial increase in public spending in 2018 compared to this year.

Because of a number of additional revenue-raising measures, the overall package of extra spending is likely to be a good deal higher than previously expected, with suggestions it could be up as high as €1bn.

Now, ministerial sources, as well as Fianna Fáil sources, have downplayed it will be that high, but with a likely hike in commercial stamp duty of up to €400m he will have a significant amount of wiggle room.

But the list of demands is extensive and there will be disappointments.

Tax cuts, welfare increases and measures to improve the housing crisis are likely to be the main hallmarks of the budget and, while negotiations went down to the wire with the Independents, it was clear that some of the expressions of angst were for dramatic effect.

Donohoe was doing his best not to look too stressed yesterday, firstly posting a video from the print room in the department appearing to hand over the budget document before key meetings had concluded.

When it was pointed out online, Donohoe’s spokeswoman moved to clarify that it was only a mock-up and the real document would only be handed over at the end of the day.

But why post such a message? The impression given by the video to his colleagues in the Independent Alliance was clear.

Having cancelled a meeting on Friday with them, he was clearly putting it up to them that no more play-acting would be acceptable.

He later posted tweets with videos of him practising his speech in his office as well as a picture of him and the Taoiseach standing in the Government Press Centre.

Donohoe had made it clear to colleagues earlier on in the process that leaking out of turn would be viewed dimly and by and large most ministers adhered to that warning.

The hope of both Donohoe and Varadkar is that the budget will signal the start of a process of sustainable growth in the public finances in the coming years.

What he wants to do is that by the next election, Fine Gael inherit the mantle of the responsible party of government and become the automatic choice to re-elect.

Donohoe has made the point repeatedly that he does not want to be the cause of another recession or painful cuts on the Irish people.

“The wasteful pay increase of today is the savage cut of tomorrow,” he has stated repeatedly.

By this afternoon we will know if he has managed to deliver a budget which avoids the backlash which were the hallmark of the tough austerity budgets of the past six years.

It is over to you, Paschal.

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