PoliticsDáil Sketch

Miriam Lord: ‘Mini-budget’ becomes a big deal amid frantic back-and-forth in Dáil

Taoiseach is adamant there will be no kite-flying or leaks in the days before the big announcement

Good news for the Government with an early verdict from the leader of the Labour Party on its new cost-of-living supports package, due for official release early next week.

It is not a duck, dead or otherwise.

The Minister of Finance will be chuffed.

“If it looks like a rose and smells like a rose, it IS a rose!” trilled Ivana Bacik during Leaders’ Questions.


What a lovely tribute to the fragrant Paschal Donohoe who must ensure that when the Coalition starts throwing money in all directions, it is flung in a prudent manner with the best interests of the exchequer to the fore, while providing essential targeted bullet points to assist the electorally vulnerable struggling to compile their constituency literature.

Then again, isn’t this the time of year for pruning roses and covering them with a malodorous blanket of horse manure, ushering in the sweet stench of spring?

It was the day after St Valentine’s night, so maybe that’s why Ivana had roses on her mind, which is nice.

She was not buying the Taoiseach’s line that the new measures, which will be finalised in the next few days, are not a big deal and the Government is merely making sure that when the current round of financial supports expire at the end of this month, people will not be left high and dry as living costs continue to bite.

The Labour Party predicted that people around the country would still be struggling to make ends meet even after the substantial payments introduced in Budget 2023 and would require help again when its one-off measures expired.

“We in the Labour Party predicted last October that there would need to be a mini-budget,” she trumpeted, sounding very pleased with herself and her team.

Minutes earlier, Sinn Féin leader, an irony-free Mary Lou McDonald, witheringly informed Leo Varadkar, who had just run through the Government’s 25 greatest hits of the cost-of-living crisis, that “retrospective self-praise is no praise”.

That line obviously went over Ivana’s head.

Although if self-praise – retrospective or otherwise – were to be banned under Dáil Standing Orders, the House would be in a permanent state of suspension with Mary Lou and her spokespeople leading lights among the ranks of the expelled.

Mini-budget? How did Labour get that idea?

There is categorically no mini-budget, insisted the Taoiseach. Although thanks to the money set to roll in from the windfall tax on energy companies and some underspends and a good bit left over in the reserve fund “we will have some room to manoeuvre”.

But there is no mini-budget, stressed Leo, with a straight face, like Groucho Marx declaring “there ain’t no Sanity Clause!”

The Labour TDs sniggered.

Ivana wanted clarity on the measures to be introduced so people are not worrying unduly about losing their supports. The Taoiseach promised all would be revealed in a few days’ time after Ministers have met and decided what they will do.

“It will probably require a short finance Bill, perhaps next week, or if not, next week,” added Leo.

The Labour TDs swooped in and claimed vindication.

“So it is a mini-budget!” crowed Aodhán Ó’Ríordáin.

“It IS a mini-budget!” whooped Seán Sherlock.

“It’s a short-term budget!” chortled Aodhán.

Leo ignored them and ploughed on, because while he does not wish to see any details of these generous measures cynically leaked in advance to the media, he could confirm they would be “both universal and targeted” and aimed at the likes of pensioners, people on low incomes and people in receipt of social welfare.

And along with the welfare element there will be supports for “all households, including middle-income households” because everyone is impacted by the rising cost of living “and I don’t think it would be right to say to middle-income families that you are being left out and we are doing nothing for you”.

But apart from that, he wasn’t giving anything away. (That will be next week.)

At this point, the Labour leader stood to confirm loudly that she had been right all along in predicting there would have to be a mini-budget at the start of the year, wrong-footing observers who fully expected her to introduce a duck to the proceedings.

“Eh, if it smells like a duck and it quacks like a rose, then it is a ...”


“If it looks like a rose and it smells like a rose, it is a rose. This sounds like a mini-budget,” she told the Taoiseach, getting all her ducks in a rose.

But what if she is wrong and he is right?

Because the way Leo was talking on Wednesday, it doesn’t sound like the Cabinet will be designing an above-the-knee budget over the weekend. They have so much material to play with now they must be thinking of launching a big range of below-the-knee numbers.

Not a mini-budget but a midi-budget.

The stench of roses probably threw Ivana off the scent.

As anyone who keeps abreast of world news knows, until Tuesday’s shock announcement of the demise of totally tropical Lilt, the biggest story in town was the death of the floral midi, apparently killed off by a major British department store.

“We’ve got to move on,” John Lewis told the Guardian newspaper, announcing the end of “ditsy florals”.

However, while flowery patterns are out, the midi is still very much in vogue.

The Labour leader almost called it right, she just confused a rosy midi-budget with a floral mini-budget.

In the meantime, the Taoiseach is adamant there will be no kite-flying or leaks in the days before the big announcement. He agreed with Ivana that people worried about making ends meet should not have to put up with a drip-feed of possible measures emerging from Coalition sources with “the Government testing the waters to see which proposals are politically expedient and which are not” by feeding yarns to the weekend papers.

“I hope I’m wrong in that prediction but I think it is very likely.”

Perish the thought, shuddered Leo. “I don’t want to say anything today that might raise expectations that end up being dashed next week... I don’t want to make promises today that I mightn’t be able to keep.”

Opposition parties might want to follow the same policy, he added, for the benefit of the main opposition across the floor.

So Tell You Next Tuesday, he pledged.

It won’t be a stunt.