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Budget delivers 10% increase in cliches

Inside Politics: Paschal Donohoe’s budget contains no major political landmines

Pick your cliche to describe Paschal Donohoe’s first budget. Jam for tomorrow. One for everybody in the audience. No big fireworks. Spreading everything around. All kinds of everything. Balancing the books. An election budget. A giveaway budget. A Fine Gael budget. A Fianna Fail budget.

In truth, there were bits of all those cliches in the budget. Paschal Donohoe may have designed it, but he allowed Fianna Fáil and the Independence Alliance to do some of the colouring - and they did not always stay inside his neatly drawn lines.

So what can be made of it? What can be said with certainty is that Donohoe managed to raise more money to spend, primarily with a raid on non-residential stamp duty and a 50c hike on cigarettes.

When he came to spend it, the Minister went far and wide with modest increases in just about every conceivable spending area, as well as modest tax increases.


Although there were no major political landmines, there were a few decisions on which the Government might find itself vulnerable further down the line.

The prime example is the 6 per cent stamp duty on commercial property. As Pat Leahy reports in the main lead, it was ushered in quickly to prevent concerted lobbying.

There is also concern over the measure’s efficacy. It is, after all, a transactional tax that funds permanent spending.

On the other side of the equation, the duty was once 9 per cent but was slashed (along with everything else) to 2 per cent when the economy slumped. With commercial property booming, there was a rational argument for increasing the rate.

The big question is whether commercial property sales remain buoyant and steady to sustain the tax?

Certainly the Opposition were quick to fasten on to this yesterday, with claims it was a return to Charlie McCreevy’s dangerous hobby during boom times.

Over in the Independent, they focused on criticism from the IFA that farms would now be subject to those duties.

The other controversy revolved around the Strategic Communications Unit, or “Department of Spin”, within the Department of an Taoiseach. When it was launched, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar claimed it would be cost neutral.

Yesterday it emerged it will cost €5 million in 2018. It was quickly picked up by the Opposition who were equally adept at putting their spin on the disclosure.

Surveying the front pages, the reaction is generally positive if underwhelming. There is focus on one around the €600 per annum average benefit to families, to giving construction a ‘kick-start’ in another.

Indeed, if you read any media outlet 24 hours before the budget you would have known all of its content. Every single detail. Except for one - the hike on VAT for sun tan sessions. We all got burned on that.