THE relationship between Health Minister James Reilly and senior Fine Gael figures such as Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Finance Minister Michael Noonan has worsened in the wake of the Budget.
Dr Reilly is said to partly blame Mr Kenny – and in particular Mr Noonan – for the "bad deal" he got in the Budget, with sources saying: "Words were had."
It comes as Mr Kenny told the Dail there would be no change in the level of "challenging but achievable" health cuts.
It is not clear whether the "words" were between Dr Reilly and the Finance Minister, or the three men.
"He's not happy, words were had," a source said. "He feels he was let down by the EMC."
Some TDs agree with Dr Reilly's assessment, with one backbencher saying he had been "shafted" not only by Labour, but by Mr Kenny and Mr Noonan at the Economic Management Council (EMC), the four-member cabinet sub-committee.
There was no detailed discussion of the current Budget controversy at the weekly cabinet meeting yesterday, but Mr Kenny told ministers to support the "under pressure" Dr Reilly. Sources close to the minister said he was particularly annoyed with Mr Noonan, saying: "The man from Limerick does not walk on water".
As well as Dr Reilly's overall figure of €666m in cuts for next year, he is also understood to be angry with Mr Noonan over the changes in tax relief for private health insurance.
Dr Reilly's spokesman would not comment on possible tensions, but sources close to Mr Kenny said "it was a difficult process".
There is also little sympathy at the top of Fine Gael for Dr Reilly because he left his own Budget negotiations until last, when all other ministers had settled their spending amounts.
Another TD said Dr Reilly felt "very sorry for himself", but Mr Kenny ruled out re-opening the health budget.
Dr Reilly and others have doubted if the €666m of cuts – which could rise to €1bn – can be brought in, but Mr Kenny told the Dail: "There will be no change now in the budgetary position that has gone through." He also called the health spending targets "challenging but achievable".
"I know it is difficult to make these changes; the choices are always unpalatable," Mr Kenny said. The Government has decided not to oppose a Fianna Fail Dail motion which says older people should be protected, without specifically criticising any government policy.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin pressed Mr Kenny in the Dail on the withdrawal of discretionary medical cards, and said 40,000 people had been taken off in the last year, even before the latest Budget clampdown.
He said Mr Kenny must be "the only person left in the country" who did not think there had been a deliberate change in policies on medical cards.