Clear that Labour is comparative winner in budget
Analysis: Party put ‘political facts on the ground’ and more or less made good on its promises
Not in comparison with Fine Gael but really in comparison with Labour last year. The 2013 Budget announced last December was a forgettable experience for the smaller party in Government.
It lost out ignominiously when it failed in its effort to increase the rate of USC by 3 per cent for those earning over €100,000. Its agreement to a cut in child benefit resulted in a terrible PR fiasco.
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With that last act, all of the promises it made in its infamous ‘Tesco’ advert before the election had been broken. And to compound its misery, the party chairman Colm Keaveney went overboard over social welfare cuts.
And the year before was not great either - Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn was forced to reverse cuts he had imposed on disadvantage schools and also on special resource teachers.
So, it was vitally important for the party to be seen to asserting itself and its identity in this budget, especially in the light of its poor performances in opinion polls.
This time when the party put ‘political facts on the ground’ such as free GP care for under fives, protecting class sizes, and protecting social welfare rates, it more or less made good on its promises.
This time around it is perhaps Noonan and Fine Gael who will face the greater flak than Howlin and Labour.
And that is in the context of Howlin always getting the short straw in terms of having to announce cuts.
Why might that be? Maybe Noonan over-announced when saying that people would be astounded by all the good things in the Budget. With him taking a whopping carry-over of €600 million into the Budget, he had much less ground to make up.
But while the €500 million jobs package sounds very impressive, the lustre is dulled a little when it is realised that the bulk of it (€290 million) comes from something that everybody expected, the extension of the lower 9 per cent VAT rate for the hospitality sector.
The other 24 items collectively contain some good measures but you wonder do they have sufficient ballast to provide the massive fillip and stimulus that some sectors - especially construction - really need.
And in the new tax measures he has announced there are some that will be thorny and painful. No more so than the 10c being put on the old reliables (cigarettes and a pint of beer) for the first time for several years; as well as another 50c rise on a bottle of wine.