I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Budget Ritual and Reality

Budget Ritual and Reality

John Bradley
In calm and predictable economic weather, budgets can be rather dull affairs. But while most of the ways that organised interest groups in society seek to promote their sectional advantage are well hidden from view, during the budget process these societal trade-offs take place in full view and in stark fashion. The annual budgetary process starts with the preamble in the media, now elongated to many months of frenzied speculation, leaks, hints, kite-flying and argument. Organised interest groups lobby government in public and – no doubt more effectively – in private. Political positions inside the government are squared, and pre-budget arrangements are agreed. When budget day eventually dawns, there follows the gala performance, with the Minister of Finance, in these days of coalition government accompanied by the Minister for Public Expenditure, posing uncomfortably with the electronic version of the speech which he then proceeds to read in excruciating detail to the packed Dáil chamber. Then the opposition spokespersons attack the budget, the details of which they have just received and cannot possibly have absorbed. Later in the evening radio and television media engage in an orgy of debate and argument over the most controversial and newsworthy features. On the following day national newspapers devote enormous space to further comment and provide ready-reckoners to permit every possible combination of single and cohabiting citizens to work out how their livelihood is likely to be affected. Then gradually the whole circus drifts away and a kind of post-budget peace descends, interrupted only by second thoughts during the formal votes on the implementing Finance Acts in the Dáil. Our most recent Budget 2015 followed this general ritualistic pattern but was different in one vital aspect. In a sense that we should not yet get too excited about, it represented a partial restoration of economic policy sovereignty after more than four years when almost all economic policy decisions were dictated to the Irish government by the international institutions who had bailed the nation out of imminent, self-inflicted bankruptcy. During those years of externally enforced austerity everyone fully understood that when the Minister delivered his budget to the Dáil, he was in much the same position as hostages of the Islamic State who are obliged to denounce ritually to camera the actions of their own governments. Perhaps with the saving grace that in the budget speech the gun or the sword that ensured compliance to the captor’s will remained…

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