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Long roads, burning worlds and Nelson Mandela



Risk assessment

“The last time I announced a budget in this chamber two years ago, none of us could have foreseen that the worst global pandemic in a century awaited. We knew well about the risks associated with Brexit, and had prepared for it. We could not have predicted the devastation which Covid-19 would leave in its wake. Both events have demonstrated the need for us to always prepare for the worst, while still striving for the best.”

What they mean:

After last year’s apocalyptic sojourn to the Convention Centre Dublin for a socially distanced budget, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe began his Budget 2022 speech with a wistful flashback to the halcyon days of October 2019. At that point, bats and pangolins might not even have had the fateful encounter suspected of leading to a crisis that simultaneously highlighted the best of humanity (scientific endeavour, public spirit) and its worst (blasé attitude to ecological destruction, Golfgate).

Still, failing to foresee a pandemic and not actually being able to predict one are two different things, aren’t they?

Burning world

“Future generations will not tolerate inaction from the leaders of today. But, by future generations, I do not just mean children yet to be born. Children, teenagers, and the younger adults of today demand action. They deserve action. They are clear in their arguments and the science is unambiguous: the world is burning, and the only chance we have to control those fires is through coherent and effective policies. This is why carbon taxation is so important.”

What they mean:

An interesting perspective on the anticipated timeline for world-burning from the Minister for Finance here, with middle-aged and older people apparently excluded from the groups that might be keen to avoid the climate change that is happening around us in real time.

Controlling the fires is, alas, only part of the visible battle: controlling the floods, the heatwaves, the melting ice-caps and the devastation to crops and livelihoods will also be necessary. Carbon taxation is “likely to be the single most effective climate policy”, Donohoe went on to say, but it’s not the only one.

In short, expect more retrofitting and maybe think about not buying so many cars.

Are we there yet?

“For those whose jobs have not returned, let me again reiterate that this government stands with you. For those concerned about the rising cost of living, this Budget will help you. For those worried about whether they can own a home or afford their rent, this Budget will support you. For businesses looking to the future, this Budget backs you.”

What they mean:

Does it though? Will it though? Unlike his colleagues and his predecessors, the Minister for Finance isn’t big on weaving poetry into his budget speeches, but his oratorical toolkit definitely includes a dash of repetition.

This was the stirring conclusion to Donohoe’s address, arriving more than 40 minutes in, and was followed by the assertion that he is “an optimist by nature” – not terribly Generation X of him, perhaps, but essential for working in politics long term.

“A good journey to a better Ireland is within our grasp for 2022 and beyond. Budget 2022 sets the course for that journey,” the Minister suggested.

Other satnavs are available.

Digital budget

“The next decade will see a number of profound changes in our economy and society… A new funding call for the Disruptive Technology Innovation Fund will support projects across a range of sectors including environmental sustainability, AI, life sciences, and medical devices. The creation of a new Digital Transition Fund will help encourage the development and adoption of data analytics and AI.”

What they mean:

Second up on his feet, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath continued what was also a minor theme in the Minister for Finance’s speech: namely that this is a digital budget.

After Donohoe confirmed the introduction of a digital gaming tax credit to boost employment in the games sector, to “support quality employment in the creative and digital arts”, it fell to McGrath to namecheck two other measures that recognise the value of digital innovation. The recovery of the Irish economy, he said, would be “equitable, green and digital”.

This would all sound lovely and upbeat were it not for the ominous-by-default use of the phrase “profound changes”.

On the buses

“In order to promote modal shift in the transport sector, I am providing €25 million for the introduction of a Youth Travel Card. This card will be available to any person between the ages of 19 and 23 and will allow them to avail of a 50 per cent discount on fares across the transport network.”

What they mean:

Some might say a shift on public transport is a rite-of-passage for any young person growing up in Ireland. A “modal shift” is rarer, signifying as it does the Government’s grand scheme – or, at least, the Green Party’s grand scheme – to encourage young people to use buses and trains more often to get about.

At the moment, student fares are up to 30 per cent cheaper than adult ones – the new scheme bumps up the discount and extends it to all 19-23 year-olds, which is great, though it’s also the sort of benefit that could easily have its upside undone by any post-pandemic, across-the-board fare increase.

For now, the only bad news here is for 24 year-olds not in possession of fake IDs: not only do they miss out on half-price transport, the Government is of the clear opinion that they are old. So old.

Long walks

“As I said at the outset, the past year and a half has seen us all walk a long road together. Some led the way along the road, and we salute them. For many it was a difficult road, as they suffered loss – of loved ones and of livelihoods. But we all walked that road in solidarity.”

What they mean:

McGrath opened his speech by recalling the “long road” of the past 18 months, which had many “dark moments” along the way and an unknown destination, though together we “dug deep” and “stayed the course”.

He finished by returning to that metaphorical road and the friends we made on it along the way, detouring briefly into a quote on hope and human compassion from Nelson Mandela, then warning that there remains yet more road ahead of us – an “uncertain” road (probably in need of resurfacing) – before we can emerge in “a better place”.

As long as the world stops burning, of course.



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