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Dublin: 8 °C Wednesday 20 November, 2019

Did the government sweeten you enough to re-elect them?

Analysis: There was good news for lots of people yesterday, but can it convince them when they go to the polls?

Ministers Howlin and Noonan outside Government Buildings yesterday
Ministers Howlin and Noonan outside Government Buildings yesterday

IN THE END, nothing about what Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin announced in the Dáil yesterday was particularly surprising.

Over the last few weeks, even amidst the seven days of election fever, there was a steady flow of leaks about what would be in the coalition’s second expansionary Budget since it came to office.

For Fine Gael and Labour, the kite-flying was no longer about road-testing potentially nasty cuts – as was the case in the coalition’s first three budgets – but teasing voters about the possible income boosts they are in line for.

As one Leinster House observer astutely assessed yesterday, the steady stream of leaks had all been aimed at easing voters into a nice Budget and getting them used to the idea of this government getting another five years.

While ministers might preach and indeed believe in the altruistic nature of what was unveiled for the Irish people yesterday, it’s hard not to examine the potential political benefit for Enda Kenny and Co.

It was the sort of pre-election ‘giveaway’ that the coalition parties hope can convince voters to re-elect them.

13/10/2015 Budget 2016. Heavy Garda presence with Protests were almost non-existent outside Leinster House yesterday

Opinion polls consistently show that this isn’t going to happen – although Fine Gael is still the most likely party to lead the next government.

So, all eyes will be on the next set of polls carried out in the aftermath of yesterday’s announcement.

The tax changes are of obvious benefit to everyone and if you’re a PAYE worker earning anything under €70,000 you stand to benefit from the significan changes to the hated Universal Social Charge.

But measures on childcare, including the restoration of child benefit to €140, the extension of free GP care to under 12s, and the reversal of politically toxic cuts like the respite care grant will all benefit key groups of voters.

There are also measures to benefit struggling homeowners, like the freeze on the local property valuation rates until 2019 which provides the sort of certainty for householders that the coalition never stops going on about.

Similarly, the increase in the tax-free threshold for transfers between parents and children, aka the inheritance tax, from €225,000 to €280,000 comes in the wake of significant lobbying from Fine Gael TDs who’d been hearing constituents’ concerns in recent months.

There’s politics at play too in the €3 weekly increase in pension rates, which benefits 677,000 people. They’re people who are statistically more likely to vote than the younger generation.

On that note, it’s interesting that the coalition decided NOT to reverse the cut to jobseekers’ allowance for under 26s, a decision it implemented two years ago. This move was criticised by Labour’s own youth wing as “simply inexcusable”:

Across Leinster House yesterday it was hard to find a government TD who wasn’t pleased with what was announced. For the first three years in government, they had to cope with furious constituents raging against harsh austerity.

The lack of any protesters outside Leinster House, despite the erection of barriers and the increased garda presence, did not go unnoticed by many inside the gates.

A Labour deputy cheekily suggested to us that the Budget was so good that Colm Keaveney, now of Fianna Fáíl, would return to his old colleagues. Keaveney probably wouldn’t see it that way.

Now the coalition faces a long lead-in to the general election next spring – that was confirmed by Micheal Noonan last night – with the potential for plenty of things to go wrong.

As two coalition senators observed yesterday: if the two parties could argue over something as trivial as the election date last week, what might happen in the months ahead?

And, the politics aside, there is still much uncertainty about what the government will do in the area of so-called ‘rent certainty’, while the housing and homelessness crisis shows no signs of abating.

The number of people on hospital trolleys could only get worse over the winter months and let’s not forget Irish Water. The utility will hope its next tranche of payment figures are a significant improvement on the most recent ones.

These are all potentially huge issues which threaten to derail the government’s ambition to be re-elected next year.

But the coalition lives in hope that what was announced yesterday will be enough to sweeten voters sufficiently that other issues don’t matter as much as how much is in their pockets – and they’ll have slightly more money come election time.

Budget 2016 – here are all the main points

Read: When are the Budget changes kicking in?

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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