How great expectations ended up in a bleak House


If finance ministers were all action men like Collins, we’d stay awake during the budget speech

Noonan pushed the shutters open. “What day is this, boy?” he cried at a passing urchin.

“Why it’s budget day sir,” said a puzzled Varadkar.

“Then I haven’t missed it!” said Noonan before giving Varadkar a shiny sixpence with which to procure a fattened goose (that’s how in touch he is with cost-of-living issues).

Sadly, the rest of this year’s budget lacked such Dickensian pizzazz. That was its main problem (editor’s note: that wasn’t its main problem, please see our extensive budget coverage elsewhere in the paper). It was so boring it was like Mass, so it was.

Dashing figures

Things weren’t so dreary in budgets past. Ireland’s second finance minister, revolutionary republo-hunk Michael Collins, was more of an action minister. He didn’t shuffle up to the microphone and mutter buzzwords from a jargon-numbed script. No, he’d roll in a smoke grenade, somersault into the Dáil and fire a volley of gun shots over people’s heads.

“I’m too old for this sh*t!” he’d say, and, “only one day till retirement!”, while calculating compound interest in his head, shooting a British spy and kissing a lady. He rarely finished a budget speech with his shirt on.

Eamon de Valera’s budgets were a sort of seance. He and his pal Archbishop McQuaid would, giggling, devise public policy according to the whims of an ancient war god. “TAX WOMEN!” the Ouija board would say, and the boys would crack up laughing before doing exactly that.

George Colley’s “everything must go” budget of 1977, based on the Fianna Fáil election manifesto, saw the whole nation given a shopping trolley and 15 minutes to zoom around the national mint.

Everyone voted for Fianna Fáil in 1977, even Fine Gael leader Liam Cosgrave. “Why wouldn’t I?! The car tax was killing me under the other lot.”

The 1980s were tough for some reason, but Charlie Haughey lightened the collective load by being a coquettish sun king.

“Ha ha!” he would laugh delightfully, as he emerged from his gold unicorn-drawn carriage accompanied by his doting guardian Ray MacSharry.

“The people don’t need things!” he would say in that guileless voice we loved so. “They just need to catch sight of their beloved monarch.” Then he’d strike a pose in his Little Lord Fauntleroy-style britches. They were simpler times.

Bertie Ahern was a different sort of finance minister. He forwent bank accounts and financial systems, choosing instead to keep the nation’s money in a cardboard box in a padlocked room at St Luke’s.

There was no budget day per se during Bertie’s tenure. When we needed anything, we’d just call round and he’d sort us out.

The big cheese

Ruairí Quinn, Ireland’s first socialist finance minister, used his budget speeches to redistribute income, nationalise industry and organise Dublin’s factories into soviets. Only joking – he flooded south Dublin with French cheese.

Charlie McCreevy was an innovator. Not content to fumble in a greasy till on budget day, he upgraded the event to a full on mud-wrestling extravaganza. The whole nation partook. How I loved bobbing in the mucky forecourt for gold doubloons before being hosed down by a disgusted German here on a gap year.

In more recent times, of course, budgets have been interrupted by rogue bank officials grabbing the briefcase and running off. “Our money!” cried Brian Cowen on budget day 2009. “That’s all we had left,” he wept, falling to his knees, while Brian Lenihan whispered to him to pull it together.

Then last year saw the first two-handed vaudeville budget in which Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin performed a comic turn recalling Abbot and Costello’s Who’s on First? routine (“Where’s a-our money?” said Howlin in a comedy Italian accent. “Where is our money?” Noonan would respond, winking and shaking a comedy cigar for effect. “Thatsa what I-a asked-a you!” said Howlin, shrugging his shoulders. “Where’s a-our money?”).

They did the same act this year, but it felt a bit tired. Thankfully our hearts can be warmed by the memories of budgets past.

Key points of Budget 2013:

No 13 reg cars – People are too scared to buy cars with 13 on the reg, because they fear they will be cursed by a witch. Solution?

Remove the number 13 from car registrations. Meanwhile, staple pairs of magpies together to ensure all sightings are “for joy”, build car dealerships on Ley Lines and ensure Dáil sessions cannot commence until everyone rubs Willie O’Dea’s lucky moustache.

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