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Budget 2021 will be revealed today - here's a look at how things will unfold

Today the biggest budget in the history of the State will be revealed – here’s what we know.

Proceedings kick off at 1pm today.
Proceedings kick off at 1pm today.
Image: Shutterstock/Cilinskas

THE BIGGEST BUDGET in the history of the State is going to be revealed today.

The government is working off the assumption that there will be a no-deal Brexit and that a vaccine for Covid-19 will not be available next year. 

With Covid-19 restrictions, this Budget Day is going to be a bit different than the usual state of affairs. 

One major change is that proceedings will not happen in Leinster House this year – with the Dáil instead sitting in the Dublin Convention Centre to ensure a full attendance can be accommodated. 

This year there will also be two speeches given, with both Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath due to address TDs. 

Donohoe will take to his feet first at 1pm to read his Budget speech.

McGrath will follow, with each of the ministers speeches due to last 45 minutes.

As the main opposition party, Sinn Féin will get an hour in reply. The six other opposition parties and groupings will get 45 minutes each. Speeches will be done by 8pm.

Voting on the Budget measures will get underway at 8.30pm, and is due to end by midnight.

Immediate changes are voted in tonight (such as excise or cigarette price hikes) but votes on some of the more substantial issues take place in subsequent days.

New normal

While the main event on Budget Day is taking place in the Dáil chamber, much of the activity that surrounds it actually takes place elsewhere. 

Included in all this is to-ing and fro-ing are journalists trying to get a handle on it all and lobby groups trying to get their reaction out.

Indeed, much of the reaction usually comes via press conferences and interviews in the nearby Buswells Hotel. But with Covid-19 rendering such events impossible, the famous hotel won’t do any extra business out of today’s Budget. 

“Usually you’d have, I don’t want to say people swinging out of the chandeliers, but you’d certainly have a lot of journalists here in big numbers catching up with industry people,” general manager Paul Gallagher explains. 

It won’t drive any extra business to be honest. We have 20 rooms booked and they’re mainly Senators and TDs staying overnight. We’ll have RTÉ broadcasting a certain amount of coverage from here, because they’re classed as essential workers, so luckily we’ll have them. So that means we’ll at least have something going on. 

With the usual press conferences not taking place, groups are coming up with alternative ways of getting their message out this year. 

Social Justice Ireland (SJI) is one such organisation doing things differently – with a live online event instead of the usual in-person Q&A.

SJI usually holds an event in Buswells the morning after the Budget, but this year they’ll be hosting a “Prime Time style” live broadcast with the help of media production house Kairos Communications. 

Instead of a tightly-packed Buswells function room, the briefing will be from a TV studio in Maynooth. 

“We did a similar event some weeks ago with our Budget Choices briefing,” SJI CEO Seán Healy tells TheJournal.ie.  

The set will have our colours and branding and it will be presented in kind of a Prime Time style. It’s on Wednesday morning at 11am and it isn’t like a webinar that you have to sign up for, it can be watched directly from our website and people will be able to submit questions. 

Healy adds that most of SJI’s actual analysis of the Budget will be done remotely too: 

We have a team of 14 people and normally we would gather all together but this time only a few of us will gang together and the rest of us are going to work remotely. We will have a series of Zoom meetings during the evening and into the night. 

“Basically what we’ll do is we’ll analyse the Budget once the documents are available and then we’ll set out a response across all the areas.”

The virtual format is one that is being replicated by number of different think-tanks, lobby and campaign groups.

The ESRI’s usual post-Budget briefing is being held via Zoom on Friday, as is another by community group The Wheel

Other groups have been keen to emphasise that the representatives will be free to take calls from the media throughout the course of Budget Day itself. 

RTÉ has said that its coverage will be near constant from 12.45pm this afternoon until a Prime Time Budget Special at 9.40pm. 

Protests

006 Budget Press Arrests Budget Day protests last year. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Budget Day is often accompanied by protests near the Dáil but Covid-19 restrictions make it likely that the scale of any such demonstrations will be smaller than in other years.  

Nonetheless, gardaí have said they are expecting protests to take place today and are reminding individuals that organising certain events could be in breach of the law. 

Attending events, however, is not against laws introduced during the pandemic.

“Gardaí are expecting protests to take place in Dublin city centre on 13 October 2020. An Garda Síochána has no role in permitting or authorising protest marches or gatherings, there is no permit/authorisation required for such events,” gardaí said in a statement to TheJournal.ie

The Health Act 1947 (Section 31A-Temporary Restrictions) (COVID-19) (No.6) Regulations 2020, as amended are currently in force, and place penal restrictions on persons organising certain events. An Garda Síochána will investigate any breaches of these regulations. Where possible, An Garda Síochána will advise identified organisers of such events as to their responsibilities and potential consequences.

“Individual social responsibility (personal attendance, social distancing, wearing of masks in public area) and other such public health guidelines are not penal regulations.”

What can we expect in the Budget speech?

No income tax increases or cuts are expected in the Budget, but tweaks to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) are on the cards.

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While there have been calls to restore the PUP to its initial level of €350 per week, such a move is unlikely.

There are likely to be changes and tweaks to the scheme, perhaps on a sector-by-sector basis, with additional supports for those working in areas that have been impacted the most.

The Taoiseach told TheJournal.ie recently that some workers might be able to take up jobs, while also retaining their payment.

The Christmas bonus for welfare recipients is to be extended to those who have been on a payment – including PUP – for four months or more. Previously only those in receipt of a welfare payment for 15 months were eligible. 

It was also revealed over the weekend that a VAT cut for the tourism industry is also expected.

Carbon tax will see another increase again today. Donohoe said funds raised will be ring-fenced to protect those at risk of fuel poverty. He also said that funds will go towards making progress on retrofitting homes for energy efficiency.

A supports package worth millions for live gigs and the music industry is also expected to form part of the Budget.

In terms of the State pension, a €5 increase has almost become customary, but this year recipients might not see the bump.

Instead, a €5-per-week increase for those in receipt of the Living Alone Allowance has been mooted.

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien is keen to extend Ireland’s Help to Buy scheme, which gives a tax rebate of up to €30,000 to first-time buyers. This could be extended into the new year.

Social housing will also be part of key budget announcements.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee has secured an additional funding for 600 new Garda recruits next year, as well as 500 extra civilian staff to enable a bump in front line policing.

Funding has also been secured to replace the 70 rental cars used by gardaí during the lockdown this year with permanent patrol cars that will be delivered before Christmas.

The Government also has to plan for the worst, so it is likely that there will be significant  resources allocated to those sectors set to be hit hardest by a no-deal Brexit.

While the July Stimulus rolled out loan and grant schemes, it is likely that further announcements will be made on similar items. The commercial rates holiday for businesses is expected to be extended into next year.

Taxes on cigarettes are set to rise. Some question marks however remain over whether there will be a hike in alcohol prices given the precarious position publicans have been put in over the last few months. 

About the author:

Christina Finn & Rónán Duffy

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