EACH year on Budget Day I ask a similar question — why do we cram so many economic changes into a single day?
Just a few issues catch sufficient media and public attention to get proper scrutiny, but the rest just goes by in a blur.
The Government’s insistence on increasing carbon taxes “per ton” is deliberately obscure.
The day seems tailored to have voters scrambling over the tiny tweaks and scrapes that will cost them more to go about their business and ensure they don’t question the bigger picture.
A wider angle lens would have citizens ask why workers have to fund public services while the beasts of the economy; multinationals, banks and corporate landlords escape having to pay their fair share.
Budget Day is all about short-term changes to catch the eye, it’s never the starting point of longer-term plans to, for example, correct rampant inequality in the economy exposed by the pandemic.
It never seeks to correct that imbalance where work and production is taxed rather than wealth.
It fails to even consider the unjust ideology that treats citizens differently to corporate business; namely that citizens are punished to alter their behaviour while corporates are enticed to do so.
Despite its claim to be “green”, this is just another budget that refuses to meaningfully act on climate change. Budget 2021’s climate action is to charge people to drive and heat their homes.
There’s nothing to tackle our biggest emissions problems such as our unsustainable agri industry and the surge in major data centres that will cost taxpayer billions to keep lit on our creaking national grid.
The Greens will claim some success in this Budget, but the reality is they’ve been a mute coalition partner with a meek leader who’s been absent on important issues and is barely noticed by the media.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are fine about hitting voters with carbon tax hikes while an election is a distant four years away.
Last week’s low-key publication of the Climate Action Bill showed that the two big parties have reduced the Greens’ agenda to a vague 2050 aspiration rather than anything concrete and soon.
Another tiresome feature of Budget Day is the spin charade of portraying individual ministers campaigning to win funds for their patch from the ministers for finance.
Absurdly, this faux-drama is lapped up by political commentators who talk of “last minute” talks and “deal-clinching” compromises.
It was reported that Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys “won” a climactic decision on the PUP Christmas bonus. Justice Minister Helen McEntee supposedly emerged victorious from “winning” extra funding to train and recruit new Gardai next year.
Charities, opposition parties and campaigners fight for these sorts of basic budget outcomes each year but the spin credits the party colleagues of Paschal Donohoe.
How is this nonsense even published or broadcast? We’re meant to swallow the line that ministers suddenly became passionate crusaders on poverty or public services as though acting independently of their party politics.
That sort of slant is a first cousin of the whole pretence that it’s the two finance ministers who decide the budget outcomes.
The reality is that Budget Day moves are decided by the coalition leaders, Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar, but the cart-dragging and media explainers are done by the two mini-mes Paschal Donohoe and Michael McGrath.
Look out for the questions they’re asked in the media; it’s always about the micro-finances of the average Joe rather than queries about why wealth isn’t taxed or how Fine Gael has reached its tenth budget without improving health services or housing.
One headline-grabbing feature of Budget 2021 is the €3.3billion set down for housing. It’s the biggest figure ever but there’s no detail on how this will actually deliver housing or bring down rents.
Much of the taxpayers’ money ends up plugging the holes in the housing crisis; paying hotels and private landlords to house the homeless or injecting funds into the charities who try their best to fill in the gigantic gaps left by Government inaction.
Last year’s budget provided €2.5billion for housing but building targets fall short every year. That allocation made absolutely no difference to the crisis that still renders 10,000 people homeless and prices hundreds of thousands of workers out of owning or in many cases even renting homes.
I find it jaw-dropping that there’s no PAYE rent relief for working tenants again, despite the fact that it lasted for much of the recession until Paschal Donohoe axed it in 2017.
The relief for corporate landlords who don’t have to pay tax on their profits is still in place.
Relief for renters was promised in Fianna Fail’s 2020 manifesto promise so you can mark that one down alongside a refusal to ban co-living as two big promises broken within four months of taking office.
TANAISTE HOLDING FIRM ON STANCE
AT the weekend, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar penned an op-ed where he mused on the likelihood of a Level Five lockdown in the coming weeks.
It provoked a mostly hostile social media response with many claiming this contradicted his slapdown of Dr Tony Holohan and NPHET over its Level Five calls.
Most of the backlash brigade had clearly not read the full article. In it, Varadkar hadn’t moved his position an inch from his infamous turn on Claire Byrne Live.
He is still firm about sticking to the staged, graduated approach to Covid restrictions and merely repeated his view that a Level Five may eventually be needed, but only if targets are laid out to measure results.
The current phase of Ireland’s pandemic response is the most difficult and Varadkar’s leadership skills are being tested more now than back in March. In truth, the Spring period was an easy win for him.
He enacted all of NPHET’s recommendations with the unquestioning support of both opposition and media.
After that he just had to do a few speeches and enjoy the approval ratings boost that came from a public deferring to authority in a crisis.
Now, in a nation divided by attitudes to lockdowns, he’s being truly tested and has severed the shield of NPHET advice.
This will be looked back upon in time as the best period of Leo Varadkar’s time in office. He has adopted a risky strategy, clipping the wings of the reputable NPHET body and owning his position through forceful media appearances.
Ironically, Leo Varadkar seems to be more in charge now than ever, in a time when he could easily stand back and let Micheál Martin take the flak for hard choices.
BORIS IS LEAVING BRITS IN TEARS
IN Britain, Boris Johnson has torn up his country’s faltering Covid-19 five levels framework and replaced it with three new tiers of restrictions.
The three stages are now ‘medium’, ‘high’ and ‘very-high’ not to be confused with Britain’s three stooges of government — ‘medium intelligence’, ‘high on the hog’ and ‘very high on the hog’.
The new tiers replace what had become a confusing patchwork of muddled restrictions in different regions. Like much of what the UK government is doing these days, the mashed-up five levels fiasco highlighted how clear and successful Ireland’s version really is.
It’s also why our five levels thing has won praise in other countries, notably in the Netherlands.
Low-fi Boris Johnson has been appearing in low spirits lately, his mojo badly affected by contracting the Covo some months ago.
In other changes, he’s even got rid of the grim high-vis yellow ‘Stay Alert’ signs at his press briefing podiums. The new message on his jaw-jaw lectern say ‘Hands — Face — Distance’.
It sounds more like a handy pictorial guide of dos and don’ts for Boris on date-night.
The new plan coincides with data showing that at nearly 3,500, there are now more people in hospital in England with Covid-19 than on the day its lockdown began in March.
The UK is clearly in a bad place in its pandemic and the worst hotspots are now Northern Ireland followed by Liverpool.
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The change from five levels to three does not help the case for a north-south approach in Ireland since the two jurisdictions now have a totally different number of restriction tiers.
Medium, high and very high also seem a bit blase.
Perhaps Boris could have opted for more clear levels of alert — such as ‘Squeaky Bum Time’, ‘Holy Crap O’Clock’ and ‘Brown Trouser Day.’
TODAY was a good day. I did the Budget with Minister Little Mickey. Most people watching had never seen him before. Ha ha.
They probably thought he was one of the Green ministers, you know the ones who went into Govt and were never seen again?
It was the biggest Budget in the history of the State. That’s why we had to do it in the Convention Centre, where atmosphere goes to die.
I announced silly money here, stupid money there as well as billiony bits for this and that.
Everyone got something though they’ll never see it and no-one will have to pay a penny more to live in Ireland unless they want to heat their homes or operate a car instead of getting their driver to do it for some strange reason.
I also announced billions for social housing but that’s just imaginary moolah cos those houses will be as real as the Lego house Ed Sheeran builds in his song.
The only builders’ gear we’ll need is the bulldozer to push ton loads of €500 notes into the giant money shredder that is the health service. Then make everyone in A&E breathe in the money dust.
Sadly we couldn’t give tax breaks or cuts to frontline workers cos tax deals are for billion dollar companies.
So instead, there will be a 30 per cent increase in clapping for nurses when Covid explodes into their lungs again.
However, it will be a slow cap this time cos TDs have their hands full counting pay rises and collecting expenses for travelling absolutely nowhere.
We also put 50 cent on ciggies to exploit ppl who can’t get their pals to bring them home cheap cigs from Spain at the mo mo and can’t travel to the border to buy the fake ones made from sawdust and cremated auld fellas.