While the Prime Time set and even some presenters may have changed, on Budget night in recent years you could set your clock to Paschal Donohoe and Pearse Doherty going head-to-head.

Since 2017, the pair's encounters have proved a mainstay of Budget coverage – an old reliable, to borrow a phrase.

Last year’s debate was a sparky affair.

"You’re going to spend less and make things cheaper at the same time?" Paschal Donohoe asked, looking both appalled and puzzled at Sinn Féin’s childcare plans.

"How are you going to do that, Pearse?"

The steady hand on the tiller has been the Fine Gael TD’s calling card during his five years as finance minister. But his Sinn Féin counterpart has repeatedly challenged the minister on his brand of economic caution.

"We have to manage the economy, but we have to manage what’s happening in people’s lives," Deputy Doherty argued, highlighting the absence of any provision for renters in 2021.

This year, money is being spent – billions of it. So the argument turns on whether the right decisions have been made.

Here’s the issues you can expect to see debated in RTÉ's Stage B tonight.

Pearse Doherty has repeatedly challenged the minister on his brand of economic caution

Income tax

Paschal Donohoe announced a key change to income tax bands today increasing the standard rate cut-off point by €3,200 to €40,000. It means a single person earning over €35,000 will be better off to the tune of €831.

However, while those earning less than €25,000 will also see their take home pay increase – by around €1,000 next year – middle-income earners will get just a €191 increase in their annual pay packet after tax.

Paschal Donohoe will argue that, taken in the round with other credits and grants announced today, all workers will feel a significant benefit. In particular, parents stand to gain from expanded childcare subsidies that will reduce the cost of childcare by an average of €1,200.

Pearse Doherty was quick to highlight the income tax issue this afternoon, however.

"What message does that send that someone on €35,000 is getting a tax break that is four times greater?"

Describing the Budget as "the wrong priorities and the wrong choices," expect the Sinn Fein spokesperson to highlight this tonight.

Welfare

One of the last elements of the Budget to be finalised, the welfare package is one that illustrates the difficulty the Government faces with Budget 2023.

A series of new credits, allowances and double payments are designed to offset the worst of the cost-of-living crisis for those receiving welfare payments – but increases in the core welfare rates will be criticised as insufficient.

An additional fuel allowance of €400 will be made before Christmas, a double Child Benefit payment will be paid in November and a once-off double week "Cost of Living Support" payment will be made to social welfare recipients in October.

This will include pensioners, carers, people on disability payments and jobseekers.

But core welfare payments will increase by just €12 in January – less than the rate of inflation.

Expect Sinn Féin to argue that the most vulnerable are being left behind.

Ministers Michael McGrath and Pascal Donohoe ahead of today's Budget

Rent

The Government has learned the lessons of last year’s budget where there were no measures to help tenants.

This time around a new tax credit of €500 has been introduced for renters. Tenants who pay tax will get €500 off their tax bill both this year and next.

Critics, including Sinn Féin, say the measure will lead to landlords increasing rents unless it is introduced alongside a ban on rent rises.

The Government will point to Rent Pressure Zones as mitigation against widespread rent inflation. Expect Mr Donohoe to also highlight how renters in the over €35,0000 income bracket will benefit from tax cuts in this budget and potentially, a €600 energy credit.

Energy

When Mr Doherty stood in the Dáil chamber to deliver his response to the Budget this afternoon, the first issue on the agenda was the cost of energy.

All households are to receive energy credits totaling €600, paid in three installments of €200.

However, Sinn Féin has proposed a cap on electricity bills – limiting how much customers can be charged by their supplier and funded by the State.

It’s a proposal that the Government has dismissed as writing a blank cheque, potentially akin to the bank guarantee.

"Sinn Féin would have given households certainty," Mr Doherty argued.

Given how much inflation is being driven by energy price rises – forecast to increase by 100% this year – it’s a key point of difference between the two parties.

Tenants who pay tax will get €500 off their tax bill both this year and next

The future

There’s another dynamic to this year’s debate. Budget 2023 will likely be Paschal Donohoe’s last as finance minister and Sinn Féin’s performance in opinion polls means Doherty could be in the hot seat himself in the near future.

Both men will want to make a mark.

Mr Donohoe insisted today that it was "essential that we use our surpluses wisely".

Some €2 billion euro is being siphoned into a new rainy day fund, now called the National Reserve Fund.

The minister warned that the type of unforeseen events which have rocked our economy in recent years are "happening more often and they have a big impact".

It’s a message that Mr Donohoe repeatedly returns to – shoring up the public finances to respond to future challenges.

The reserve fund is one that Doherty himself may come to rely on if his bid to become finance minister comes to pass.

"What people need isn’t soundbites – it’s delivery," he told the Dail, already sounding like a man with one eye on Government.

He will also want to demonstrate that Sinn Féin’s approach to Budget 2023 would have been different.

Expect Mr Doherty to highlight the party’s proposals to cut USC which, it argues, would have put money back in the pockets of middle and low-income earners and highlight Sinn Fein’s repeated calls for a rent freeze.

Watch the live debate between Minister Paschal Donohoe and Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty tonight on Prime Time at 9:35pm on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player.