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Sam Boal

'Life is depressing enough': Why plenty of people aren't bothered following the Budget

Many people are disinterested or disdainful of the Budget’s political pageantry.

DEPENDING ON WHICH push notifications you pay attention to, you’ll have noticed that Tuesday’s Budget announcement was either a “giveaway bonanza”, “pathetic”, a “missed opportunity”, or somewhere in between any of those things. 

Budget 2023, aka Paschal and Michael’s Excellent Adventure and/or Bogus Journey, has dropped, and we now know exactly what we will and won’t be getting over the next 12 months. 

Despite the allure of only listening to perspectives held by those whose political careers depend on making the Budget out to be good or bad, it seemed prudent to venture out into the real world and ask some real people whether they had any feelings about Budget 2023. 

The Square, with its MC Escher escalators that seemingly take you up or down to the same floor that you were already on, is one of the key hubs of activity – at all times ebbing and flowing with shoppers, students, parents, pensioners and workers – in the Dublin South-West constituency.

Dublin South-West is represented in Dáil Éireann by a TD each from Sinn Féin, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, People Before Profit, and the Green Party. It’s an electorally competitive constituency where all three large parties will likely eye bagging two seats come the next election. 

The emotional significance of The Square is likely to be inflated in the years to come, when video footage of dancers greeting Micheál Martin at last week’s opening of the new Penney’s makes it way onto one of those Reeling In The Years segments that comes just before the music cuts out and the screen fades to black, harbingering disaster.

Today, it is the backdrop against which I am apologetically asking a few dozen ordinary people what they made of the latest coalition Budget. 

Overhearing one chat I’m conducting on the subject, a woman interjects to give her thoughts: “Crap, if you’re elderly!” The woman who I’d originally been talking to nods serenely and translates: “I would have liked more, as a pensioner.” Another woman describes the Budget as “shite”, though she goes on to ask me not to print the word “shite”. 

A young local named June tells me her biggest concern is “being unable to afford to live in the county that I’m from”, and says the budget did nothing to assuage that worry. Asked what she would have liked to see, she says “rent caps”. She goes on to say that she voted for Sinn Féin in 2020 and will do so again, not because she likes them, but because they strike her as a viable alternative. 

The overwhelming majority of those I speak to say that they didn’t watch the budget and aren’t aware of what it contained, though it’s worth noting that this could be a clever ploy to avoid conversation with a journalist, admittedly some of the most irritating and tiresome people on earth.

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Even so, plenty of those who professed to have paid no attention to yesterday’s announcement do stop to talk, and most of them have their reasons. In the words of one shopper who is wiser than anyone who works in the news industry: “Life is depressing enough”.

People young and old, shoppers and those in work uniforms, say they “don’t have a clue” or “don’t follow that stuff”, making me feel like a bit of an idiot for asking at all. One person explains their decision to ignore Budget 2023 by appealing to the well-worn, if inaccurate, Budget-time mantra that “it all goes to people on the labour”.

But there is optimism, too. A group of six or seven medical students – based at Tallaght Hospital – stopping in for breakfast all feel relatively positive about yesterday’s budget, with one using the word “inoffensive”. In particular, they note changes to the SUSI grant (including a double payment), the €200 energy credits, and the fact there was “nothing on alcohol”. 

Help with energy costs is by far the most frequently praised measure, with several people who begin the conversation by saying they had no strong feelings about the budget excitedly remembering after a few moments the threefold €200 credit.

Free schoolbooks for all primary-aged children doesn’t come up at all, so I suppose here is where a journalist might include a caveat about the danger of small sample sizes. 

It stands to reason that many will not know how they feel about the this week’s Budget announcements until they feel their effects, and discover whether the raft of measures is enough to keep them afloat while navigating an ever-growing list of crises.  

Nevertheless, there is no replication of the fanfare atmosphere that greeted Micheál Martin here earlier this month, no Celtic Tiger vibes, just people living their lives who, when pressed, are mostly disinterested or disdainful of the Budget’s political pageantry. 

One such woman, who needlessly apologises for not knowing more about it, tells me that she doesn’t think it would be right for her to comment.  When I ask her if she had hoped for anything out of yesterday’s budget, without missing a beat she says: “I don’t hope for anything because I know I’m not going to get anything.”

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