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Analysis: Pre-Budget leaks made for anti-climactic affair inside and outside Leinster House

By the time Noonan and Howlin got on their feet we already knew about the worst of Budget 2014.

"You lookin' forward to the Budget, Michael?!"
Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

THE EXTENT OF the pre-Budget leaks, both good and bad, made the announcement of yesterday’s taxation and spending measures a fairly anti-climactic affair.

By the time Ministers Noonan and Howlin took to their feet, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin had already been out telling us how terrible it all was and was going to be.

Of course there were elements of the Budget that are not good for many people, but even one Fianna Fail TD acknowledged “there’s some good stuff in there” in relation to construction and boosting economic activity.

There was no sign of a backbencher revolt, as we reported yesterday morning with neither Labour nor Fine Gael expecting defectors, whereas in previous years several TDs wavered before most backed the Budget, although one or two went overboard.

For politicos this provided much to gorge on in the hours and days after the Budget. Not so this year.

There was briefly some concern about the fate of several Cabinet ministers who got trapped in a lift but after less than half an hour the crisis was averted.

The Dáil chamber was empty for most of the day. Once Noonan and Howlin were done government backbenchers exited en masse, a few stayed and stuck it out for most of the day.

But others were out quickly to formulate statements highlighting positive budget measures. If we in TheJournal.ie had a cent for every backbench TD or senator who issued a statement about the Budget yesterday we’d be very rich indeed.

Fianna Fail and Sinn Féin both gave strong critiques of the Budget measures though you sensed both have been stronger in previous years.

Even the protests outside Leinster House and Government Buildings were sparse.  At one stage gardaí on Merrion Street outnumbered protestors by a ratio of 3 to 1.

imageGardaí outside Government Buildings yesterday. Pic: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Medical cards

Most of the concerns about this year’s Budget centre on health and the proposal to realise €113 million in savings from what the Expenditure Review document termed ‘medical card probity’.

Given the strong debates around discretionary medical cards in recent weeks this was a particularly timely – and not in a good way – initiative announced by government.

It’s far from clear how the Department of the Health or the HSE will achieve the target set for them.

Elsewhere, the changes to Jobseekers’ Allowance for the young unemployed and changes to Medical Card eligibility for OAPs will not be welcomed.

But with no standout measures that are going to alter most citizens’ incomes – like the property tax last year (which applies for a full year in 2014, not that the government said much about it) – it may well be a case of austerity fatigue.

There’s no more fight left in is, no more to give out about.

After all we are promised that this was the last of the really tough Budgets and that we’ll exit the bailout next year.

The days to come will dictate whether any of the measures announced yesterday will be unravelled, but it’s not looking likely at the moment.

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Hugh O'Connell

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