No point in asking the Taoiseach anything this week because he won’t know the answer until next week, and even if he did he can’t say anything as he has sworn himself to secrecy and his lips are sealed, but rest assured there will be something in the budget for everyone in the audience.
Not that he knows this.
He is just supposing.
“The budget isn’t decided yet and I’m not in a position to make any commitment or announcement today,” Leo Varadkar stressed to the Dáil on Tuesday, not exactly under siege from Opposition deputies looking for advance information.
The pre-budget speculation season isn’t what it used to be.
The best he could do was to make a few heavy hints and dangle them in front of the few deputies bothered to ask about the imminent annual statement.
Cork’s Mick Barry struggled to contain his excitement. He won the battle easily.
The People Before Profit TD rose to his feet during the Order of Business and took a deep breath.
“Taoiseach!” he cried, before pausing for dramatic effect. “Seven days to go now!”
A quiet Leinster House shrugged in drowsy anticipation.
“I see the Minister for Finance is out of the House. No doubt doing his sums.”
In contrast to the Minister for Public Expenditure, Paschal Donohoe, who turned up for Leaders’ Questions, but was gone by the time Mick got to ask his question. On his way out, Paschal exchanged a few quick words with Stephen Donnelly.
We couldn’t quite make out what he said to the Minister for Health but it was probably something along the lines of: “If you arrive at my door looking for money one more time between now and budget day, I swear to God I’ll burst ya!”
Deputy Barry seemed to think that Michael McGrath, the other half of the Government’s fiscal double act, wasn’t in the chamber because he was too busy on his bottom line. It’s more likely he was hiding from Stephen and his bottomless begging bowl.
“We need a budget for the millions, not the millionaires,” declared Mick. He doesn’t see this happening and therefore appealed to the people of Ireland to join the national pre-budget protest in the city on Saturday, organised by the Cost of Living Coalition.
What the Taoiseach could say was that the budget will be for the five million people who live in this country.
However, he was not at liberty to elaborate any further other than to say that it will include an income tax and USC package which will reward work and allow more people to hang on to more of their earnings.
Oh, and there will be a cost-of-living package “which people will see reflected in their pockets this side of Christmas”, which will be of particular help for families paying energy bills.
“There will be focus on child poverty and wellbeing and there will be help for business and farmers, and in addition to that there will be funding for the Garda and for law and order.”
But he was only hazarding a guess at this stage.
Richard Boyd Barrett, Mick’s PBP colleague, was also keen to plug Saturday’s march while not forgetting Wednesday’s one, which will be brought to the gates of Leinster House by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).
Students, mindful of the huge budget surplus available to the Government, want proper money spent on alleviating student poverty, what with the rising cost of accommodation (when they can get any), transport, registration fees and cost of living.
“Students won’t be forgotten in the budget next week,” predicted Leo.
And so to Violet-Anne Wynne, Independent TD for Clare, who was anxious that the Government put carers at the heart of its budget.
Heather Humphreys, the Minister for Social Protection, stepped in to answer this question.
Heather, as much in the dark as Leo about the measures in the budget, couldn’t promise anything.
“Of course carers, among others, will certainly be a focus in this budget, including those with disabilities, who many of them care for, and of course pensioners.”
Cian O’Callaghan of the Social Democrats talked about the invaluable community work done by youth services such as Sphere 17 in the Darndale area of his Dublin Bay North constituency. Is the Government considering increasing the funding for youth services around the country, given the importance of their work?
But the Taoiseach was under strict instructions to keep schtum. Lip firmly buttoned until next Tuesday when Michael and Paschal will officially put legs on the leaks.
“I know there are proposals for additional funding for youth work in the budget, but as I’ve been saying to deputies throughout the day and will again tomorrow, the budget isn’t decided yet.”
No point in turning up on Wednesday, so.
But back to Mick Barry, who made an arresting point during the Order of Business about a recent episode in the chamber which went over our head completely as visiting international politicians are routinely welcomed to parliament here.
“Last week Dáil Éireann, to its shame, gave a round of applause to a parliamentary delegation from Azerbaijan, which included representatives of its ruling party. This was despite the fact that the Azerbaijani state organised a blockade for 10 months of Nagorno-Karabakh, which resulted in starvation for some, and seized the territory, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds, including children, and forced 100,000 Armenian people to flee the territory – de facto ethnic cleansing.”
He asked the Dáil’s business committee to discuss the matter at its next meeting and “consider how this stain on the name of this parliament can best be dealt with and removed”.
On Wednesday of last week, the Ceann Comhairle extended “a very warm céad míle fáilte – one hundred thousand welcomes ” to his counterpart from Azerbaijan, Sahiba Gafarova, who was seated in the Distinguished Visitors’ Gallery.
Dr Gafarova was in Dublin to attend the European Conference of Presidents of Parliament, which Ireland and Seán Ó Fearghaíl hosted this year.
“She is accompanied by his excellency ambassador Elin Suleymanov and by our good friend Terry Leyden, who is outside the door.”
That would be Terry Leyden, the former Fianna Fáil TD and senator who was always fond of a good soundbite, and once famously told the Seanad that Hitler and Mussolini were “good Christians, allegedly”. Although he later apologised and said he was distracted at the time.
Terry escorted the 10-strong delegation and says he is involved in a process to become Azerbaijan’s consul in Ireland.
He gave his view of Azerbaijan’s action in Nagorno-Karabakh to the Irish Independent earlier this week: “They reclaimed their rightful territory, which is their right. If east Donegal was occupied by the British or the coloniser, what would we do?”