Sindo goes mad on the budget

  • 13 December 2006
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The substance of Brian Cowen's pre-election budget had been almost universally predicted by media commentators. As the Independent put it, it was “carefully crafted” so that “each interest group emerged better off”. The thinking was simple – give everybody an appreciable rise in their take-home pay and they are more likely to re-elect the current government.

Apart from the raft of measures designed to marginally increase net incomes, Brian Cowen's budget speech was little more than an exercise in public relations. Many of the investments mentioned were simply continuations of programmes which had been announced previously, while others, particularly the environmental measures, are not due to commence until after the lifetime of the present government.

Much of the media happily regurgitated Cowen's spin. For example, the Examiner described the budget as a “giveaway”, consisting of “generous tax measures” and welfare “windfalls”. Considering the fact that the money concerned was raised from public taxes, these were absurd terms to use – giving somebody back their money certainly isn't generosity.

Only the Sunday Independent really stood out from the crowd. Their front page carried a banner delcaring in enormous orange type: ‘We're mad as hell at how Fianna Fáil robbed the taxpayer to buy the election'. Sure enough, four full pages inside were packed with madness. Twelve articles were devoted to attacks on the budget, all under the heading ‘Budget 2007: The Greedy Hand in Your Pocket'. Alan Ruddock bemoaned the fact that the government was “bribing us with our own money”, Sean Barrett called for the government to “stop the tax-and-spend policy”, Daniel McConnell lamented the plight of the “middle-income” workers who “are being squeezed almost to breaking point” and Liam Collins told us how he was “sick of the poverty industry” which apparently regards him as colluding in social exclusion for managing to get up on a Monday morning despite his hangover.

The most notable thing about this coverage, aside from the obvious contradictions, was that it bore no discernible relationship to the budget itself. How could anybody describe a budget which reduced the income-tax burden on every single taxpayer as a “tax-and-spend policy” or a “greedy hand in your pocket”? How could a budget be simultaneously guilty of bribing the electorate and also squeezing “the silent majority”.  How could a reduction in the top rate of income tax be pandering to the poverty industry?

Yet there was method to the Sunday Independent's madness.  Since July 2006 the paper has been campaigning against stamp duty. Among the invective hurled from random and often contradictory directions, Brendan O'Connor, Eoghan Harris and Brian Hayes teamed up to attack the government's decision not to reduce stamp duty, with “flip-flop” Michael McDowell singled out for particular scorn.

The “greedy hand” was not in your pocket, it was in the pocket of a property speculator, and if you can't depend on the leader of the country's most right-wing political party to stand up for the down-trodden speculator, what use is he at all?