"THESE are very good times." Michael Noonan's bizarre declaration as he left the Department of Finance yesterday morning sounded even less appropriate after he and Brendan Howlin had delivered their speeches a few hours later.
If you don't drink, smoke, drive a car, have children or own property, you might find this a painless Budget -- otherwise it's a nasty Christmas present that will do the Govern- ment's popularity no good.
Credit where it's due. On a political level, Noonan and Howlin can at least boast that they hit their target of €3.5bn without stepping on any obvious booby traps.
The most savage cuts and tax hikes were leaked well in advance, which means that many people today are feeling resigned rather than angry.
Some Labour backbenchers are grumbling, but there are no signs yet of any defections -- although that could change when they return to their constituencies at the weekend.
So is Michael Noonan right when he claims that the worst is over?
Not necessarily. In fact, this Budget has three major political weak-nesses.
First, it hits low and middle-income families hardest while leaving high earners relatively unscathed. This is embarrassing for Eamon Gilmore, whose hollow rhetoric about protecting the most vulnerable now looks more ridiculous than ever.
It also plays right into the hands of Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein, since their basic strategy is to convince voters that this Coalition is being run by heartless number-crunchers.
Second, Budget 2013 could be wide open to the charge that it is anti-women. When you add together the €10 child benefit cut, a €50 reduction in the Back-to-School allowance and the taxing of maternity benefit, it looks as if mothers have suffered more than anyone else.
It may be no coincidence that this deal was hammered out by four men on the Government's 'Economic Management Council', while the Cabinet's only women (Joan Burton and Frances Fitzgerald) were mostly kept out of the loop.
Third, Noonan and Howlin failed to give us any real sense of hope that all this painful medicine will cure our disease.
The result was a highly depressing document, delivered without much passion by a ministerial double act who come across as bloodless accountants rather than visionary politicians. Only the scrapping of TDs' unvouched expenses will be welcomed by everyone -- even though it should have been done years ago.
In other words, Budget 2013 feels like a botched job. It fails the fairness test and it may well fail the political test as well.
We know negotiations were tense and bad-tempered, with Fine Gael humiliating Labour by ruling out an increase in the Universal Social Charge for anyone earning over €100,000.
Having lost the economic argument, Gilmore will probably seek revenge by pushing for major reform on abortion and gay marriage.
Some opposition TDs are crowing that this Budget will tip the political scales in their favour. Fine Gael and Labour will just have to comfort themselves with the thought that they are playing a long game.
Because there is no general election until 2016, the Government can afford to take a hit and gradually recover in line with the economy.
Still, that depends on Ireland securing a decent EU reduction of our banking debt -- and it was ominous that neither Noonan nor Howlin made any reference to this in their speeches.
Michael Noonan may live to regret his claim that happy days are here. This visionless Budget has left people more squeezed than ever -- and it looks like the work of a Government that is just whistling in the dark.