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Paschal and Michael make a fine budget double act

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We bumped into an Opposition TD in the corridor.

“Slim pickings today,” he sympathised. “It’s hard to heckle Ministers with those masks on. Sorry about that.”

The face mask is the enemy of the heckle.

Muffled squawks are no substitute for piercing interventions.

A decent spot of barracking is usually part and parcel of the budget day experience, but most deputies held back this year, preferring not to sound like they were talking through a mouthful of marrowfat peas.

This inconvenient outbreak of suffocating civility allowed Paschal Donohoe and Michael McGrath to glide through their budget speeches relatively untroubled. Lambasted they were not.

At least Michael Fitzmaurice kept his end up, bellowing from beyond the perimeter rail about the carbon tax.

“What about rural Ireland? Shame on you. Shame on you!” boomed the Roscommon-Galway Independent, who is a farmer and agricultural contractor. “What about middle Ireland, driving to work? Screwing them, that’s what you’re doing.”

While the two Ministers worked through their scripts, Sinn Féin’s first responders prepared their replies. Pearse Doherty (marking Paschal) and Mairéad Farrell (shadowing Michael) got busy with their highlighter pens while in the row behind, official anorak Eoin Ó Broin got stuck into the nitty-gritty of the accounts.

For the 90 minutes it took the two Ministers to do their thing, Eoin never let up. If he wasn’t feverishly writing on sheets of A4 paper he was belting away on the keyboard attached to his iPad or punching numbers into the calculator on his phone. The detailed budget document was on his lap and he flicked back and forth through it, occasionally consulting the closely written pages of a hardback notebook open on the ledge in front of him.

Camera-shy Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Camera-shy Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Leo walked back to his office after the Cabinet meeting, casually carrying his Cabinet papers in a SuperValu plastic bag. Very
Matt Damon 

Only when Pearse or Mairéad turned around looking for a steer did he break off from the typing and writing. Sometimes, when a Minister paused, the only sound in the snoozy chamber was the relentless tap-tapping from Ó Broin.

Oh dear. Perhaps he’s bringing out another book for Christmas.

Brandishing

The day began with the traditional brandishing of the budget statements on the steps of Government Buildings. The Minister for Finance and Minister for Public Expenditure were over half an hour late for their photocall but, in a stroke of luck, the notoriously camera-shy Leo Varadkar was forced to walk past the photographers on three occasions.

The first was when he walked back to his office after the Cabinet meeting, casually carrying his Cabinet papers in a SuperValu plastic bag. Very Matt Damon. Not, of course, that Leo would have made that connection.

Then he walked through the courtyard with a number of advisors, to the silent awe of a party of tourists outside the gate, only to return a short time later holding a takeaway cup of coffee and what appeared to be some class of ice-pop.

Finally, the two Ministers appeared, delighted with themselves. They were accompanied by an angst of advisors, who walked them to the steps.


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Paschal and Michael looked very smart in their smart, non-budget budget suits. One of the advisors spat on a hankie and wiped a smudge off Michael’s scrunched-up face while another spat on his hand and smoothed down Paschal’s little quiff.

Actually, no, they didn’t. That was done before everyone walked outside.

The second tradition was upheld by the Ceann Comhairle at the start of proceedings when the prayer was followed by the performance of the annual budget joke. They all know what’s coming but it never fails to get a laugh.

Seán Ó Fearghaíl reminded the TDs not to leak budget details and to respect the confidentially of the information until the Ministers announced it.

Knocks ’em dead, every time.

“That was not meant to be a cause of levity,” deadpanned the Ceann Comhairle, before succumbing to a sneaky smirk.

Ravenous

Then the ushers filed into the chamber and fanned out among the benches, distributing the weighty documents to the ravenous deputies. It’s normally the early highlight but Mary Lou McDonald’s monochrome tartan kitten heel shoes stole the show for some envious observers.

Svelte father of two Paschal flaunted his Eurogroup curves in a grey suit while father of seven Michael’s flattering navy suit showed he hasn’t held onto any of that baby weight.

Well done, boys! How do they do it?

Inspiring.

The third tradition of honouring the Budget Speech Reply Cliches was faithfully observed by Sinn Féin’s finance spokesman Doherty.

“This is the 13th time I’ve responded to a budget,” he told the chamber, which was shocking to hear.

Thirteen years, man and boy, listening to other people’s spending plan for the coming year.

Watching Budget 2022 being announced on television in Buswells Hotel, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Watching Budget 2022 being announced on television in Buswells Hotel, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Pearse Doherty, who normally burst a few eardrums with his annual speech, sounded quieter when he spoke. Another sign of subtle changes in the Shinners?

But those long years stood to the Donegal man on Tuesday. He was able to reprise the classics in his reply. Although he reverted to pre-pandemic mode when he began by referring to “Budget 2020”.

“This budget is a reflection on the Government that delivered it: out of touch, out of ideas and out of time. Never has so much been spent to achieve so little. No answers, no urgency and no leadership.”

It should have been a budget of “vision” and “change”.

Any parts he welcomed he said were filched from the Sinn Féin alternative budget.

Back to the Government side, where the Ministers declared the country is enjoying the Covid “rebound”.

Rebound

“We are in recovery,” announced Paschal, pointing to the “remarkable rebound” in the country’s jobs outlook. He talked about “anti-reverse hybrid rules”.

Michael quoted Nelson Mandela. He talked about bringing Ireland’s investment in capital to “almost 5 per cent of GNI star”.

The budget, by the way, is “anchored in a conviction that we can take the learnings from Covid . . .”

In the run-up to the big event, Sinn Féin’s approach to the nation’s finances was described by some commentators as showing a softening towards some aspects of its economic policy, particularly where middle-income earners and certain businesses are concerned. This, it was posited, was to make the party more attractive to more non-working class voters as it powers ahead in the polls.

And Pearse Doherty, who normally burst a few eardrums with his annual speech, sounded quieter when he spoke. Another sign of subtle changes in the Shinners?

Perhaps not, for following him was Mairéad Farrell of Galway West. She puts Pearse in the ha’penny place when it comes to voice projection.

As she neared the end of her high-decibel reply to Michael McGrath, colleagues took umbrage on her behalf, saying the Taoiseach was talking loudly as she was speaking. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle asked a highly affronted Micheál Martin to pipe down. He insisted he wasn’t talking. Later, he explained that McGrath had been showing him some figures from the National Plan, that was all.

“It’s so ignorant,” huffed Pádraig MacLochlainn.

Labour’s Ged Nash said that Paschal and Michael were “politically indistinguishable”. Like the entertainers Ant and Dec, one of them should stand on the left and the other on the right so people can identify them.

Funny, but after the announcement that contraceptives are to be available free to young people aged between 17 and 25, we kept looking at the pair of Ministers and thinking of The Two Johnnies.

Speaking of which, we understand Joe Duffy slept in an oxygen tent on Tuesday night to prepare for the reaction.


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Census 2022 – what difference does it make?

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Next Sunday, April 3rd, is Census night. Millions of people in homes countrywide will fill in page after page of questions, some of which are deeply personal and many of which might be unfamiliar.

But what it is it all about?

At a basic level, Census 2022 will be used to inform planning of public policy and services in the years ahead, according to the Central Statistics Office.

The questions will cover a range of environmental, employment and lifestyle issues, including the use of renewable energy sources in homes.

The questions will help inform policy development in the areas of energy and climate action, and the prevalence of internet access, to understand the availability of and need for internet connections and range of devices used to access the internet.

Questions also focus on changes in work patterns and will include the trend of working from home and childcare issues, while questions are also asked about the times individuals usually leave work, education or childcare, to help identify and plan for transport pattern needs locally and nationally.

Other topics covered include volunteering and the type of organisations volunteers choose to support, tobacco usage and the prevalence of smoke alarms in the home.

And of course there is a time capsule – the chance to write something which will be sealed for the next 100 years.

In this episode of In The News, the head of census administration Eileen Murphy and statistician Kevin Cunningham about what it all means for us.

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Oscars 2022: Will Smith makes Oscar history after slapping Chris Rock over joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith | Culture

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Will Smith took the Oscar for Best Actor at last night’s 94th Academy Awards, but he also became the protagonist of the ceremony for other reasons. The night was following the script, until Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on the stage after the latter made a joke about the shaved head of the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had quipped that he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2,” in reference to her look. Pinkett Smith has revealed publicly that she has alopecia. It looked as if the moment had been planned, until Smith went back to his seat and shouted: “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”

The moment, which immediately became Oscar history but for all the wrong reasons, left the attendees with frozen smiles, and asking themselves whether it was possible that a veteran such as Smith could have lost his cool in front of tens of millions of people. After taking the prize for Best Actor, the superstar actor made a tearful apology, saying that he hoped the Academy “will invite me back.” Later on, actor Anthony Hopkins called for “peace and love,” but it was already too late. The incident overshadowed the success of CODA, which took the Oscar for Best Picture. Just like the time when Warren Beatty mistakenly named La La Land as the big winner of the night, no one will speak about anything else from last night’s awards.

At first sight, Smith’s actions looked as if they were scripted. When he first heard Rock’s joke, he laughed. But his wife was seen on camera rolling her eyes, and it was then that the actor got up onto the stage and hit Rock. When he returned to his seat he raised his voice twice to shout “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” sending a wave of unease and shock through the attending audience. The fact that he used the f-word, which is prohibited on US television, set alarm bells ringing that this was real and not a planned moment. In fact, the curse word was censored by the broadcaster, ABC, in the United States.

During a break, Smith’s PR manager approached him to speak. In the press room, which the actor skipped after collecting his prize, instructions were given to the journalists not to ask questions about the incident, Luis Pablo Beauregard reports. The next presenter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, tried to calm the situation. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this – but right now we’re moving on with love,” the rapper said.

When Smith took to the stage to collect his Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams – the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – in King Richard, he referred to the character as “a fierce defender of his family.” He continued: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK.”

He explained that fellow actor Denzel Washington, who also spoke to Smith during a break, had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”

“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith continued. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy and all my fellow nominees. […] I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he said. He then joked about his mother, who had not wanted to come to the ceremony because she had a date with her crochet group.

The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement last night saying that Chris Rock would not be filing any charges for assault against Smith. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the statement read. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”

On December 28, Pinkett Smith spoke on social media about her problems with alopecia. She stated that she would be keeping her head shaved and would be dealing with the condition with humor. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends… Period!” she wrote on Instagram.



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House-price inflation set to stay double digit for much of 2022

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House-price inflation is expected to remain at double-digit levels for much of 2022 as the mismatch between what is for sale and what buyers want continues.

Two new reports on the housing market paint a picture of a sector under strain due to a lack of supply and increased demand driven by Covid-related factors such as remote working.

The two quarterly reports, one each from rival property websites myhome.ie and daft.ie, suggest asking prices accelerated again in the first quarter of 2022 as the stock of homes available for sale slumped to a new record low.

Myhome, which is owned by The Irish Times, said annual asking-price inflation was now running at 12.3 per cent.

Price

This put the median or typical asking price for a home nationally at €295,000, and at €385,000 in Dublin.

MyHome said the number of available properties for sale on its website fell to a record low of 11,200 in March, down from a pre-pandemic level of 19,000. The squeeze on supply, it said, was most acute outside Dublin, with the number of properties listed for sale down almost 50 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.

It said impaired supply and robust demand meant double-digit inflation is likely until at least mid-2022.

“Housing market conditions have continued to tighten,” said author of the myhome report, Davy chief economist Conall Mac Coille.

“The broad picture of the market in early 2022 remains similar to last year: impaired supply coupled with robust demand due to Ireland’s strong labour market,” he said.

Soure: MyHome.ie

“One chink of light is that new instructions to sell of 7,500 in the first 11 weeks of 2022 are well up from 4,800 in 2021, albeit still below the 9,250 in 2019. The flow of new properties therefore remains impaired,” said Mr Mac Coille.

“Whatever new supply is emerging is being met by more than ample demand. Hence, transaction volumes in January and February were up 13 per cent on the year but pushed the market into ever tighter territory,” he said.

He said Davy was now predicting property-price inflation to average 7 per cent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.5 per cent, buoyed strong employment growth.

Homes

Daft, meanwhile, said house asking prices indicated the average listed price nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 was €299,093, up 8.4 per cent on the same period in 2021 and and just 19 per cent below the Celtic Tiger peak, while noting increases remain smaller in urban areas, compared to rural.

Just 10,000 homes were listed for sale on its website as of March 1st, an all-time low. In Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, prices in the first quarter of 2022 were roughly 4 per cent higher on average than a year previously, while in Limerick and Waterford cities the increases were 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.

The report’s author, Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, said: “Inflation in housing prices remains stubbornly high – with Covid-19 disturbing an equilibrium of sorts that had emerged, with prices largely stable in 2019 but increasing since.

“As has been the case consistently over the last decade, increasing prices – initially in Dublin and then elsewhere – reflect a combination of strong demand and very weak supply.”


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