There was a lot of trouble with the ‘good old days’. But it was hard not to feel a twinge of nostalgia as I peeked inside the door of Bar DÃ¡il to see what was there.
high stools invitingly pulled up to the counter but no one on them, an empty expanse of plush rugs and a contact list on a small table at the door with the names of the six or so people who had already come for lunch before dutifully leaving .
A mere shell of what it was in the afternoons of the budget days of yore, when the bar was an overheated mass of humanity with intimidated and overdressed family members and anyone owed a high favor like a special gift to savor the buzz on this day of days.
Elected officials bending down to whistle confidences to ears that are always well disposed. The plot. The high jinks. Pure skulduggery. Not to mention the irresistible smell of alcohol for an incredible hour – and until the early hours of the morning.
But the pandemic and a culture of significant leaks made a number on Budget Day. And we were a little sad about it, even if this version is overall healthier.
At least there was still a cheerful little tradition – the Christmas lunch at the restaurant has long been a budget day favorite and so turkey, ham and all the trimmings were available. Two types of potato. They even remembered the cranberry sauce, in small plastic jars suitable for the Covid.
You’d think the fact that the 33rd DÃ¡il is finally back at Leinster House for a box office event has sparked a little more excitement. But like everywhere else, you might have tiptoed back lately – the cinema, or the pub, or even Mass – the atmosphere was oddly flat and with little sign of that Roaring Twenties spirit yet. we were promised.
Leo did his best, however, bringing a bit of Hollywood to the proceedings by carrying a SuperValu bag from the Cabinet meeting. It wasn’t clear what it contained – papers, perhaps, or a healthy lunch. Although maybe like Matt Damon, he used it to carry his swimming gear.
There had been a noon photocall on the steps of government buildings and Leo was back, this time carrying a coffee, accompanied by something that looked like a red paper cone.
âI think it’s an ice cream,â said one photographer. In fact, it was just a leaflet of a demonstration against pyrite.
Time passed and the gushing fountain in the courtyard had pumped gallons by the time Paschal Donohoe and Michael McGrath arrived, nearly 40 minutes late, and with two cheerful bows, to pose with their files.
With pleasant synchronicity, Paschal wore a green tie that, perhaps, winked at the colors of his counterpart’s Fianna FÃ¡il, while Michael wore blue in what was, in turn, perhaps, a background recognition of Paschal’s Fine Gael. Excellent manners or a sign that someone, somewhere, had too much free time to come up with such a sartorial diplomacy gesture and to think it mattered.
There was just time to come back to the House for the speeches.
Ceann Comhairle Sean O FearghÃ¡il began by saying: âI must remind MPs that documentation, including the Minister’s speeches, circulates in the chamber strictly on condition that the information they contain is kept confidential. There was an explosion of laughter. “Shhh. Until the ministers brought it up in the chamber,” he continued.
âDocumentation should not be removed or sent by any means from the chamber until ministers have completed their speeches. I must ask everyone in the room to respect the confidentiality of the material provided to them. There was another eruption, this time with mocking ‘yahoos’.
“It’s not supposed to be a cause for lightness, I have to tell you,” added Ceann Comhairle dryly, given that the 2022 budget had been printed on a sieve. Was there something in it that hadn’t been disclosed before? Nothing comes to mind.
So there was no room for the theater, no pantomime “ooh and aah” or passionate speeches delivered on the fly by an agile opposition springing from fire in the belly to react to new information. It was all very scripted on both sides.
There was, of course, a lot of talk about the terrible times we had endured.
âThe last time I announced a budget in this place two years ago, neither of us could have predicted that the worst global pandemic in a century was waiting,â Paschal began.
Many lives have been lost and many livelihoods suddenly ruined.
He explained how this brought out the best in Irish society: âThe bravery, resilience and courage of our frontline workers, the commitment of those working in the community and social service sectors, and the determination of ordinary people across our country to help their loved ones get through the pandemic in the safest way possible. It was a new phase of recovery, to restore our public services and our standard of living and to restore our public finances, he declared.
McGrath spoke of how long we had come together, unsure of what we would encounter along the way. “There were many dark times, times when everything seemed hopeless, times of great loss and suffering.”
The âAnt and December of Irish Politics,â was Labor Ged Nash’s description of ministers later. “Both pretty cool guys but practically indistinguishable from each other.”
But it was Sinn FÃ©in, as the most popular party and the voters’ watchful eyes on it, that really needed to react with sufficient vigor.
Pearse Doherty has lashed out at the government over rising carbon taxes, fuel poverty and students being forced to “sit on the couch.” âWhy has this government decided to collectively ignore the pressure exerted on tenants? He ordered.
Mairead Farrell followed – the government had expressed concern about the cost of living – “You’re actually cheating on us,” she said.
MicheÃ¡l Martin and McGrath were discussing a national development plan board that the Minister of Public Expenditures was showing to Taoiseach on his phone, when Leas Ceann Comhairle Catherine Connolly called them, saying it was “quite difficult to hear their conversation “.
The Taoiseach momentarily removed his mask. âWe are not talking,â he said.
“Ignorant”, called a Sinn FÃ©in member with relish.