herald

Monday 21 August 2017

Noonan spares the scalpel, but we are still sick and tired

For the past few years, it's as if Michael Noonan was doing a nixer as a general surgeon.

Come Budget Day, he would don metaphorical scrubs, grab a scalpel and cut lumps off us.

In fairness, he did it in a reassuring way, whispering that once he had enough of our organs in the disposal bin, we'd be mighty. Never miss them.

As his patients, the Irish people ended up feeling hollowed-out and weak at the knees. We clutched our wounds and tried not to whimper too much.

We wanted to scream at the injustice of it all, but we didn't, in case we burst our stitches and all our innards fell out onto the floor. Grin and bear it? We bore it, whatever about the grinning.

Grand

This year, the Minister for Finance put away the scalpel, stowed the scrubs, stepped out of the paper bootees and articulated the prognosis: the outlook was good and we were recovering. Only grand, we were.

Now, it might take a while for the soreness to wear off, but the way Michael laid out today's budget, it seems that, while we shouldn't lose the run of ourselves, we're good to go, and he's stashing a wee cache of cash in our back pockets to see us through the winter while telling a few jokes to lower our blood pressure.

This Budget is the one that writes a line in the sand. On one side is recession, austerity and the prospect of surviving on cornflakes.

On the other side is an austerity-free existence, the chance of an occasional steak, and the economy growing like a bouncy castle being inflated.

The Tanaiste seems pretty chuffed with the extra fiver she won for the children's allowance, but she wasn't the only one working hard at not looking smug.

Minister Varadkar may not be quite in the situation where he can sit on the floor and toss banknotes in the air, but the health service looks a whole lot healthier, post-budget.

Minister Fitzgerald can sit in the Department of Justice knowing that An Garda Siochana will be able to recruit a few more boys and girls in blue and that they're going to have new cars to drive around in, rather than clapped-out bangers with their undercarriages dragging along the road.

Boost

Farmers got a CGT assist to their succession-planning. Hoteliers got to hang on to the 9pc VAT they wanted to hang on to. Social Housing had €230m shovelled into it. Even micro-breweries got a little boost.

Is it enough to make all of us glow with a new-found sense of possibility? No. Countless complaints can be - and will be - made about it.

This isn't a budget that will have the entire population dancing in the streets. But it feels pretty good, all the same, as does the diminution of any kind of sustained misery.

Put it this way. It's a bit like banging your head off a stone wall. Isn't it lovely when it stops?

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