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Friday 2 June 2023 Dublin: 15°C
Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland Brendan Howlin and Michael Noonan smile and wave for the cameras at Government Buildings yesterday.
# Budget banter
Inside Leinster House: Giddy government backbenchers embrace the end of austerity...
… while the opposition fail to muster much of an opposition.

ONCE WE ARRIVED in Leinster House yesterday morning it didn’t take long to realise that this was going to be a lot different to previous years.

Government backbenchers were running around with smiles on their faces as more of the Budget measures to be announced by Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin at 2.30pm began to leak into the public domain.

The tax cut was well-flagged but the €5 child benefit increase was a surprise – government spinners had been spinning that “a surprise” was on the way on Monday night – and for Labour in particular it was something to crow about after three years of seeing their famous ‘Every Little Hurts’ poster ripped to shreds.

“We can go and face people on the doors now,” one Labour senator said of the measures to be announced.

There was a feeling that Tánaiste Joan Burton had “really put her stamp” on this Budget – her first since being elected party leader – and as a result it was a going to be a good news day for the much-maligned junior coalition party.

Later in the day, a Labour TD who will struggle to get re-elected next time out, joked that he’d been on to his local constituency organisation to say he’d probably need a running mate for the next general election such was the optimism in government at how well the measures would be received by the public.

All jokes aside, Fine Gael were also pretty happy with the changes in the Universal Social Charge in particular and confirmation that the pension levy is being phased out.

It was almost too good to be true which is perhaps what led one nervous Fine Gaeler to ask us: “What’s the catch? Is there a catch?”.

They were fully aware of the unexploded land mines that can often be buried in Budget documents, emerging a few days later and sometimes forcing the government into an embarrassing u-turn.

Later in the day as ministers Noonan and Howlin did the rounds with the media outside Leinster House, TDs and ministers were going out of their way to go up and shake their hands. Not unusual on Budget day, but there were lots of smiles, warm handshakes and “Well done Michael”. The ministers had done these backbenchers a big favour.

But for the opposition the day proved more difficult. In previous years, TDs from the opposition benches have been only too happy to bounce onto the plinth after the Budget speeches and spin the various nasty cuts implemented by the coaiton.

Not so this year. “Gimmicky,” was as much as one Fianna Fáiler could muster.

The Soldiers of Destiny were perhaps hampered from the moment finance spokesperson Michael McGrath stood up in the Dáil to denounce the Budget as being “all about using borrowed money to buy votes” as if oblivious to what his party did in government at the height of the boom.

Sinn Féin were their usual selves with much rhetoric and shouting across the chamber. So much so that Mary Lou McDonald was, somewhat unfairly, turfed out of the Dáil chamber and was not a happy camper as she stood outside Leinster House, literally not allowed back in.

As for the independents, while Michael Fitzmaurice made an eloquent maiden speech on his first day as a TD for Roscommon South-Leitrim, Richard Boyd-Barrett’s shouting and roaring drove James Reilly to put in his earphones.

Even if there were arguments to be made against the Budget measures – and of course there are plenty – the government wasn’t listening.

As far as government TDs were concerned this was the day austerity officially ended and the next general election campaign began in exactly the way they would have wanted it to.

Read: What is James Reilly listening to? (Because it isn’t Richard Boyd Barrett)

Read: What was the story with Michael Noonan’s cough during his Budget speech?

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