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Dublin: 7 °C Tuesday 19 November, 2019
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Inside the highly unusual hotel at the centre of every Budget

Buswells Hotel is an integral part of Irish political life. So much so that until a few years ago the Dáil voting bell used to ring out in the bar.

Updated at 7:55pm

ANOTHER YEAR, ANOTHER Budget.

Very little has changed in recent decades about the way Budget Day plays out at Buswells – the landmark, mid-size hotel that sits right across the street from Leinster House.

The venue – in operation since 1882 – has long been integral to Irish political life. So much so that until around 15 years ago, the official Oireachtas bell that signals voting time in Leinster House used to ring out in the hotel’s bar.

“Location-wise it’s highly unusual,” general manager Paul Gallagher says, as he and his staff prepare for the annual Budget rush.

“The relationship between the two buildings is quite close.

IMG_0292 Paul Gallagher, Buswells manager, at the hotel front-desk. The calm before the storm. Source: Daragh Brophy

“People who want to lobby or launch different projects or services will use us for our meeting space. In order to get ministers over, it’s very straightforward: they just tell them the name of the meeting room and they walk across.

“It’s a win-win: ministers don’t have to take too much out of their diary to get here. It’s a pretty simple commute across the road to here. They know the layout of the building so it’s in and out and gone. For a minister that’s fantastic, they get a lot more done in a day.”

Labour launch 'standards' plan Then-Labour leader Eamon Gilmore at an event in the hotel in 2009. Source: Julien Behal/PA Archive/PA Images

The scrum 

Politicians and political journalists are in and around Buswells year-round – meeting for coffee, attending launches, or propping up the bar.

On Budget Day, they take over.

The hotel will be filled with reporters from RTÉ, TV3, the papers and the various radio stations all afternoon as the speeches are played out in the bar, in surround-sound.

In the meeting rooms downstairs, groups like Ibec, Isme and the Vintner’s Federation (to name a few) take their own notes.

Once the dust settles – sometimes before – the talking heads from the various groups hit the lobby in search of a microphone or a camera, to get their spin on the Budget out to the millions of readers, listeners and viewers.

It’s a bit like some sort of frenetic political speed-dating event. Sometime unsettlingly so. The big, popular organisations get all the attention – and there’s always a lowly spokesman from some unheralded charity who can’t get anyone to take his press release, or his soundbite.

Between three and four o’clock, the scrum is nearing its peak.

“The Budget will be blaring,” Gallagher says.

“Serving people and getting around the room can be a bit tricky, in that you can’t get at the customers.

“The lobby, really, will be jammed full of people. You’re going to see a lot of cameras here. A lot of microphones, people taking soundbites.

“That will go on till six or seven o’clock and then it dissipates.”

b4 Reporters watch Budget 2014. Source: Rollingnews.ie

What do tourists make of it all?

If you’re not directly involved, it can be quite entertaining.

Foreign hotel guests, for instance, “generally find it pretty colourful”.

“It’s interesting. This isn’t going to happen in every hotel lobby in the world.”

Interesting, but not necessarily profitable…

“Well, Budget Day is a lot like a day of a protest. You’ve a lot of people in here but they mightn’t spend very much.

“Does the Budget generate income? Probably not. But it keeps Buswells front-and-centre.

“Our relationship across the road is enriched by it. But our profit-loss mightn’t be enriched by it.”

An eventful few decades 

It’s mid-morning as we chat in the lobby.

Empty cups and glasses are being stacked on a table at the still-quiet bar.

Outside, a garda ‘ring of steel’ is in place cordoning off Molesworth Street, in anticipation of protests later this afternoon.

Management always talk with gardaí in advance of days like this to ensure they pass off as peacefully as possible, Gallagher explains.

That said, he’s been running the place since the year Bertie Ahern was first elected Taoiseach, so there’s been more than a few memorable days.

22/10/2008. Age Action Protests Then-Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny pictured at the 2008 protests against medical card cuts. Source: Rollingnews.ie

The ‘Silver Revolution’ demonstration in 2008 was one – when over ten thousand pensioners descended on the Dáil to protest planned medical card cuts.

“That day stood out because we had to get five ambulances to the hotel to take people away, who were either overcome by the excitement or adrenaline of the day or simply weren’t well because it was just all too much.

“Another day, there was a demonstration against the removal of horses from county council lands out on the northside.

“They all came in with their Piebald ponies and things and hooked them all up to the fence outside. Some of them got scared, and the fence disappeared.

“The railing just got pulled away.”

Gallagher’s even been pelted with eggs himself, he points out. “So it’s an interesting hotel.”

“I was standing in front of a guy I didn’t realise was behind me. They weren’t aiming at me.

“You have to be careful who’s behind you in this world.”

Read: BUDGET 2016: All the developments, as they happen >

Read: What are these two men about to give us all?

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