BUDGET 2020 - PREPARING FOR THE WORST - The risk of a no-deal Brexit is dominating our political and economic life and it is thus no surprise that it was the theme of this year's Budget.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe had the difficult task of framing a package against the background of extraordinary uncertainty, with no clarity on whether Britian will depart the EU without a deal and, if so, when. Against this backdrop he made the decision to plan for the worst while continuing to hope for the best. This was the right thing to do, writes the Irish Times in its editorial piece. Brexit uncertainty may drag on and, as a result, there was no point in delaying the budget. And presenting it on the basis that the UK would leave in an agreed fashion would clearly have been ludicrous given the current mood music between London and Brussels. However, taking the assumption of a no-deal Brexit as the central expectation leaves the Budget sums up in the air. If a no deal happens, the budget will be in deficit. If not it will remain in surplus. One outcome requires us to borrow an extra €1 billion on the international markets to bail out companies in affected sectors.
PERILS OF PLACING OUR BETS AS THE HOUSE BURNS DOWN - There is a pressing case budgets ought to be multi-annual, but Budget 2020 had to be all about the here and now.
With Brexit, an election and four by-elections on the horizon, protecting people, not self-serving party agendas, had to be paramount. Indeed, yesterday's "clarifying moment call" between Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel has made it "overwhelmingly unlikely" a deal will be done on Brexit, according to Downing Street. And how does anyone budget for a blame game? It appears the UK will now crash out of the EU, unless the North stays in the EU customs territory. Traditionally, a budget might be used to garner political capital which can then be converted into votes. But scope for creative use of public largesse to grease the wheels of an election did not exist. Despite €3.1 billion of expenditure, against such a grim background political opportunism was not on, says the Irish Independent's editorial. We are moving into terra incognita: Fianna Fáil has indulged the Government for the last time and had its say. Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe too has had to dig deep and look ahead. These are unprecedented times; being forced to ear-mark vast sums for events that are entirely beyond our control is akin to betting everything on black on the roulette wheel. And Mr Donohoe found himself being forced to place all our bets in advance of the house burning down. The stakes could scarcely be higher.
BREXIT'S DARK CLOUD LIMITS POSSIBILITIES - If Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe felt the ground moving under his feet as he delivered Budget 2020 in the Dáil chamber yesterday, as he surely must have, he gave no indication that that intrusion would distract him unduly.
Neither did Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Just hours before Mr Donohoe delivered the budget, Downing St - increasingly shorthand for the zealot Dominic Cummings - leaked details of how the Johnson administration expects Brexit negotiations to collapse later this week. This latest outburst of Silly Bullingdons' hubris suggested "Varadkar doesn't want to negotiate… he has gone very cold and in the last week the official channels and the backchannels have also gone cold… Varadkar has also gone back on his commitments." As it is always naive and often dangerous to imagine that coincidence is, well, coincidental, at this level of politics, it seems prudent to ask why that leak came when it did. Downing St, and Mr Cummings too, are undoubtedly indifferent to Ireland's budget plans, and more or less everything else about Ireland too, but it is not indifferent to an opportunity to undermine, to sow doubt among opponents. If you dismiss the coincidence argument, the timing of the leak shows that, despite all of the sunny uplands bluster, Mr Johnson’s administration realises that it is a far tighter corner than it pretends, says today's Examiner in its editorial. Options are not abundant, grim outcomes loom. Appreciating this snowballing implosion’s potential to do harm - he described it as the "most pressing and immediate risk to our economy" - Mr Donohoe detailed a package of more than €1.2 billion to try to ameliorate Brexit. Further support is expected from EU coffers should it be necessary.
TIME TO FOCUS ON REAL POLITICS - Budget 2020 has been officially unveiled - and now it's time to move on to the real politics and running the country.
By the time the follow-up interviews wind up today, the time for stage managing and spinning can be cast to one side for a time at least. There are major issues this country is facing - and has been facing for years - that a budget presented to sidestep any risk of controversy won't fix any time soon, says the Irish Daily Star in its comment piece. Brexit - and all it threatens to bring in its wake - is drawing ominously close. The budget was drawn up with the intention of riding out those stormy waters, which had to be done. But it's the real politics that can make a difference, if politicians are determined to put the interests of the nation first and have the dedication and ability to back that up.