The introduction to Ireland’s seventh austerity budget, delivered today by Michael Noonan, marked somewhat of a departure from the language of the previous year. On December 5th 2012, Noonan introduced the 2013 budget in entirely economic terms. He spoke of how ‘In the second half of this year, the NTMA has raised over €7 billion in the markets’ and that ‘Ireland has fulfilled 160 separate conditions of the [bail out] programme, and has now drawn down over 80 per cent of the low cost money available’.
There were general references to a ‘growing and developing economy’ and to creating a ‘country where everybody who wants work has a job’. For the most part there was a recognition of economic adversity and a straightforward determination to combat austerity, with only vague allusions to ‘political friends and foes alike’ who should be aware that ‘this Government will not resile from the task in hand.’
Today’s introduction, however, struck a more accusatory tone:
‘The story of insolvent Ireland is familiar to all our people and the sacrifices people have had to make in recent years are well known. Reckless policies were pursued by the Fianna Fáil led Government… Ireland lost its sovereignty and the Troika came to Ireland. The Fianna Fáil led Government collapsed in a shambles and a Fine Gael/Labour Government took office with a mandate to sort out the disaster, to stabilise the economy, to get people back to work and to restore the sovereignty of this Republic.’
The political gloves, it would seem, are off. The 2013 budget introduction did not place specific blame on any person or institution for the Irish financial collapse, merely set out in summary the budget’s aims in combating the debt crisis.
One year later, and the coalition government are back on the offensive, blaming Fianna Fáil government for Ireland’s loss of ‘sovereignty’. While this sovereignty may be literally economic, the full consequences to Ireland’s political independence are made clear by Noonan’s hark back to 1916 through W.B. Yeats.
In tone, the introductory speech to the 2014 budget bears much more similarity to the 2012 budget than that of 2013, when Noonan told of how ‘On this day 90 years ago, on the 6th of December 1921, the Treaty was signed.’ Dick Mulcahy was quoted in 1916 as saying that Britain ‘Gave Ireland back her purse’, and Michael Noonan stated in his speech 90 years later that the Fianna Fáil/Green Government ‘gave the purse away again this time last year as fiscal autonomy was conceded to the IMF and European authorities.’
The consequences of Ireland’s financial disaster are placed firmly at the feet of the previous government in the 2012 and the 2014 budget speeches, but the 2013 budget speech makes no such accusations. Why the change of rhetoric?
The most obvious answer is the political climate when the speeches were made. When the 2012 budget speech was delivered on 6th December 2011, Fine Gael and Labour had defeated Fianna Fáil in a crushing general election that year, and were looking to assert that they were Government to get Ireland out of the recession.
The 2014 budget comes in the wake of damaging revelations about the behaviour of senior officials at Anglo-Irish bank and the rather embarrassing failure of the Seanad reform less than two weeks ago. The aggressiveness with which Michael Noonan attacked the previous Government may have, in this case, been as much about the insecurities of the current Government as it was about the failures of the previous.