This week, the Budget has been the talk of… well, not of the town, because that would suggest that the general public is discussing a financial planning exercise of deliberate opacity. Like every year, however, it’s been the talk of every vested interest and their lobbying group. Which, given that paid lobby groups are a substantial source of press releases and PR, means there’s been a lot of reporting about it.
This year is something of a showcase budget- the first plan the government has made for an economy not under Covid restrictions. This, they tell us, is what they meant to do all along.
But it turns out that the three parties in government have all intended to do different things.
Fine Gael have intended to make sure things carry on as much as before as they can contrive (this has always been FG’s policy in respect of everything social and economic. Indeed, so deep is this commitment to the status quo that the policy manages the extraordinary feat of predating the existence of the party by approximately twenty years, when it it took the form of a promise to deliver Home Rule). They even managed to launch a National Development Plan with the reassuring statement that it was the same as the last one, with all the previously unbuilt infrastructure still just as promised.
The Green party, on the other hand, have found that their leader holds the crossroads for almost all of that capital spending and have been fighting to bend it towards climate change remediation, rather than carbon intensification (ie, fewer big roads for big cars). The result has been the first big win for the Greens in government. Despite tussles, there are no firm commitments to actually build any new roads. Instead, every road anyone has ever asked for has been placed in the Laminated Magic Book of Dreams (that’s the National Development Plan’s new official name, a title previously monopolised by the Argos Catalog) so that FF and FG TDs can show the pictures to their voters.
Fianna Fáil just wanted to get back into Government. In years gone by, they never needed to worry about what they’d do when they got there. The Civil Service ensured a continuity of political policy and the patronage powers of the state delivered for the party. Now that it no longer functions as a patronage machine, its elected members are becoming ghosts at their own Cabinet table, looked through instead of at.
For example, ask yourself What will the Department of Education do because Norma Foley is their Minister that they wouldn’t do if left entirely without any Minister at all? If the only answer is ‘do up more primary schools in the Minister’s constituency’, you’ve already recognised FF’s problem.
Meanwhile, the outside world presses in. Covid supports are unwinding unpredictably, Brexit continues to mess with the supply and cost of goods, inflation is being implausibly raised as a concern, people are walking around Dublin in short sleeves in October, while cattle burps are emerging as a global focus for fighting climate change and 135 other countries squeezed Ireland hard enough to abandon the tax rate that the country built its foreign direct investment policy on.
Ships left to drift don’t reach any harbour, they just eventually run aground. That’s as true for the ship of state as any other sea-going vessel.