A point made throughout RTÉ’s Budget 2023 coverage is that this is the State’s biggest giveaway since the heyday of the Celtic Tiger. The obvious difference is that, in 1999, when Charlie McCreevy was hosing giddy taxpayers down with cash, the worst we had to worry about was an imminent Ronan Keating solo career or the possibility of Kevin Spacey winning an Oscar for American Beauty. Today we face runaway inflation, a soaring cost of living and war in Ukraine. The fear that Boyzone was just the start shrivels by comparison.
Sombre times call for sombre broadcasting, and that’s what RTÉ and Virgin Media provide. Both carry the Dáil addresses by Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath. Seated alongside one another in the chamber, they click together to form the world’s saddest political Power Ranger, a sort of Glum and Glummer of Budget-day speechifying.
Both Ministers get their points across. But there’s a reason they’re politicians rather than Love Island contestants. Goodness, it drags
Their double presentation goes on longer than a Twitter thread about the pedestrianisation of Capel Street. As the talk turns to tax credits and energy prices, viewers will have felt their life force draining away. The easily bored will have been tempted to flick from channel to channel in the hope that Virgin Media’s version of Paschal Donohoe is a bit more exciting and trashy than RTÉ’s. But for that analogy to be accurate, Virgin Media’s Donohoe would have to have already given his speech on ITV last month.
Both Ministers get their points across. But there’s a reason they’re politicians rather than Love Island contestants. Goodness, it drags. If you have the heating turned off — and of course you do — you may even find yourself sinking into a wintry torpor, soundtracked by the chattering of your teeth.
Speeches over, RTÉ zooms around the country, canvassing opinion. (Virgin Media is by now back to showing Loose Women.) This being Irish broadcasting, “all over the country” means “around Dublin”. And so we ping from Buswells Hotel across the road to Leinster House and then to another hotel the name of which I miss because my fingers are too cold to type quickly enough.
The broadcast, clocking in at a marathon three-plus hours, is presented by David McCullagh and Vivienne Traynor. Judging by their frosty expressions, the heating may well have been switched off at Montrose, too.
This doesn’t stop them enthusiastically grilling experts such as Colm McCarthy and John FitzGerald, the economists. (“In the face of uncertainty, there is a premium on caution,” says McCarthy.) McCullagh weighs in, too, observing that the Government has “spent an awful lot of our money trying to help people”.
Dr Theresa Reidy of UCC suggests Opposition critiques may not have been as impactful as in previous years because — and here I paraphrase — of the sheer amount of dosh Paschal Donohoe is firing from his T-shirt cannon
There are enough talking heads to fill RTÉ reception a hundred times over. Among the nattering noggins are representatives of Focus Ireland and Ictu, who feel the Budget is not targeted towards those in need. Dr Theresa Reidy, head of the department of government and politics at University College Cork, meanwhile suggests that Opposition critiques of the measures may not have been as impactful as in previous years because — and here I paraphrase — of the sheer amount of dosh Donohoe is firing from his T-shirt cannon.
The accusation of Dublincentricity is then undermined by a cut to Waterford, where a local financial controller and a bar worker give their opinions. They are generally positive, with the caveat that — and again to paraphrase — the world seems to be sliding off a cliff and who knows where this is all going.
Apocalyptic dread interspersed with light banter is probably the best description of the evening — and indeed of life in general at the moment. The broad takeaway from the coverage is that an €11 billion Budget is unprecedented and may go some way towards making things more bearable in the short term. But also that, as we plunge deeper and deeper into the unknown, there is no predicting how much direr the cost-of-living crisis will become. It’s a TV cliffhanger we could all do without.