Mick Mullholland

And so to the B-Day landing!

And so to the B-Day landing!

Budget day is upon us. And, irrespective of the spin and the prospect of a less tough budget than we might have expected, it is going to be austerity all the way.

The reduction of the savings from 3.1 billion euro to 2.5 billion euro may ease matters somewhat in some areas. But, overall, the people of Ireland will take a hit.

It will be another grim day in the economic war.

It cannot be emphasised enough that this sorry pass was not of the people’s making. But the people are being asked to carry the can for greed, incompetence and, in some cases, corruption on the part of those in the higher echelons of Irish society who brought us to our economic knees.

Amid the haggling among Ministers, and the relentless search for savings, there has been a sense of hype as well. Was Sunday’s late evening Cabinet meeting really necessary?

The Government is top heavy with officials. Surely, in a matter as important as a budget, deadlines could be met if the work began in time and a consensus reached earlier.

Perhaps part of it was to portray a Government hard at work. And while some Ministers work hard, they are working no harder than the Irish people lucky to have a job.

And, lest we forget, Ministers are very well paid, have drivers and a huge Civil Service back-up.

That said, the tensions within the Cabinet are real. The health services, always a source of conflict, are in a mess.

There is no point in laying exclusive blame at the door of Minister Dr James Reilly. It is fairly certain that any Minister allocated “Angola’’ would be experiencing equal difficulty.

It is astonishing that despite all the money thrown at the health services over the years, the problems remain acute and seemingly growing.

Meanwhile, in the Department of Social Protection, Minister Joan Burton is proving a formidable operator. She is rightly holding the line on core payments, but is there is some doubt that she is fully appreciative of the blunt reality that the social welfare code needs reform in some key areas.

For instance, it should never be the case that an individual or family group is better off on social welfare than in the workforce.

And then there is ongoing tension between Ms Burton and party leader and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore.

How damaging is this feud to the performance of the Government? Is it a distraction? These are valid questions given the wretched state of the country.

Perhaps it is time for Ms Burton to put up or shut up. She should challenge Mr Gilmore for the leadership, if she truly wants it, and accept the outcome and move on.

Ms Burton’s strategy may well be to wait for the aftermath of the European and local elections next summer before making her move. In the meantime, the public may get very fed up indeed with the internal machinations of Labour which, above all, needs political credibility right now.

Inevitably, there has seen endless speculation in the run-up to the budget. It is rumoured that the banks will be hit by a new levy, a tax package to hit pensions will be introduced, increases in the old budget favourites, alcohol, cigarettes and petrol are inevitable. There is talk of a stimulus package for the construction sector.

The so-called low hanging fruit, available in earlier budgets since the start of the economic war, are not now an option for Minister for Finance Michael Noonan.

At Fine Gael’s weekend conference in Limerick, Mr Noonan hailed the Government’s achievements and said the country could not go back to an economy built on the quicksand of a credit and property bubble.

He promised that the budget would include a range of measures to build on the jobs growth that we had scene. Time will tell.

As we prepare to exit the infamous bailout, there should be grounds for modest optimism. But we have a long road to travel before the curtain comes down on the economic war.

And for some of those thousands of young people leaving the country, the issue is probably largely academic. Some may return in the event of an economic upswing. Some will not. It remains to be seen if the B-Day landing will be a significant event in the economic war here.

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