A frenetic energy returned to Ireland’s lower parliament as TDs, and some Government senators, spilled into the chamber to hear Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe pitch his cost-of-living Budget for next year.
Some TDs highlighted their notes as senior government figures took their seats, with Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald charging into the chamber to take her place opposite the Taoiseach Micheal Martin.
As Mr Donohoe rose to his feet, sporting a forest-green tie, copies of the hefty Budget 2023 booklet were passed around the chamber along with a copy of his speech.
With most of the major budgetary measures already reported – in some cases all but confirmed by Government ministers during media interviews – moments of shock from the opposition benches were few and far between.
A levy on concrete products to pay for a redress scheme for those affected by defective materials used to build their homes prompted a murmur from the opposition benches, with Sinn Fein housing spokesperson Eoin O Broin leaning over to confer with finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty.
With excises on alcohol par for the course in past budgets, there were smiles as a 50% excise relief for small, independent cider producers was announced – including from Mr Martin and Tanaiste Leo Varadkar.
There was a clap and cheer from Government senators seated at the back of the chamber at the announcement of a zero VAT rate on hormone replacement therapies and a small number of period products that had previously been subjected to a 9% VAT rate.
Grumbles at the mention of the carbon tax was the only measure to elicit a response from the Rural Independents – apart from the stray Nokia ringtone.
The beaming Higher Education Minister Simon Harris and a contented Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys chatted happily throughout the speeches.
Mr Harris’s good mood was only broken when Mr Doherty, while delivering his budgetary response, argued that the Government’s plan to reduce third-level contribution fees by 1,000 euros did not go far enough as it was only a one-off measure.
The minister seemed to mutter in reply that fees in Northern Ireland are higher.
As Mr Donohoe sat back at the conclusion of his speech, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath rose to his feet – a preview of the rotation of their positions due to take place later this year.
Mr McGrath began addressing the Dail and Mrs McDonald pointed out the third last line of Mr McGrath’s speech to her Sinn Fein colleagues – a quote from the Irish poet Seamus Heaney about hope.
By the time Mr McGrath was halfway through his speech, the opposition was preparing for its retort.
Mr O Broin typed, highlighted and scribbled notes, and Government backbenchers congratulated their colleagues as measures were announced, with shouts of “Well done Norma” and “Well done Jack”.
Mr Doherty began his response by arguing that households need certainty, that those earning less than 35,000 euros should have been prioritised, and that price caps on energy bills should have been introduced, as has been done in other parts of Europe.
“Follow the Tories?” Fianna Fail TD Cathal Crowe shouted, with his colleague Paul McAuliffe joining in a similar jibe.
Tut-tuts and objections come from the Sinn Fein benches before Mr McAuliffe promptly exited the Dail chamber, to join the other ministers and TDs who left for the post-budgetary briefings, interviews and reactions.