FINE Gael is rowing in behind embattled Health Minister James Reilly, with Justice Minister Alan Shatter backing up the party's deputy leader after calls for his resignation.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin called on Dr Reilly to resign or be sacked, but Mr Shatter released a statement backing the health minister and criticising Mr Martin's "chutzpah".
Mr Shatter said Mr Martin, a former health minister, was living in a "fantasy world" in which his 14 years in power were forgotten.
"It is astonishing that Deputy Micheal Martin, as the main architect of the HSE, has the chutzpah to criticise Minister Reilly," Mr Shatter said.
The senior Coalition partner is also privately casting doubt on public sector pay savings achieved by Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin as the battle between him and Dr Reilly intensifies.
Senior Fine Gael sources are criticising the "phoney" Budget targets given to Dr Reilly by Mr Howlin.
They claim alternative cuts will have to be found if the health adjustment figure given to Dr Reilly by Mr Howlin does not stand up to an independent verification process. "Other savings would have to be found," a senior source told the Irish Independent, while adding it was "too early to tell" where the alternative cuts would be found.
Going back to other departments such as Education and Social Protection wasn't ruled out.
However, a Labour spokesman said: "Our view is that the savings would have to be found elsewhere within the health budget."
It comes as Mr Martin called on Dr Reilly to resign or be sacked because of his handling of the health services. One of the main areas of concern in the health budget is €113m to be saved from "probity" tests for medical cards.
Junior Health Minister Kathleen Lynch also said Mr Martin had a "brass neck" while Junior Finance Minister Brian Hayes told RTE's 'The Week in Politics' Dr Reilly was "the right person to do this job".
And it is also claimed by some in Fine Gael that Mr Howlin's squeeze on Dr Reilly is about protecting the reputation of the Haddington Road Agreement pay deal the Labour minister negotiated and took credit for.
The Budget contained some €268m of "pay-related savings" for the Department of Health, which some in Fine Gael feel is overly optimistic.
Three of the country's most senior civil servants -- from the Departments of Taoiseach, Health and Public Expenditure -- will meet in the coming days to verify the €666m in cuts that Dr Reilly claims were imposed on him.
But senior Fine Gael sources say Mr Howlin and his department were pressuring Dr Reilly into unrealistic cuts to save their reputations and that of the Haddington Road Agreement.
"You have people who are trying to save their own reputations and great achievements with phoney savings," a senior Fine Gael source said." All of this was handed down from DPER (Department of Public Expenditure and Reform).
Health doesn't believe those savings are achievable."
Dr Reilly has requested that the figure of €666m is "verified" by teams of civil servants. and this will be done by Martin Fraser, the secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach; Robert Watt, the secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; and Ambrose McLoughlin, the secretary general of the Department of Health. The group has to "verify" the health savings before the Health Service Executive (HSE) can draw up its annual service plan, which details how the cuts will affect its day-to-day services.
The senior Fine Gael source added "it is too early to say" what would happen if the savings figure could not be verified by the secretaries general.
Dr Reilly and the HSE have already expressed concerns that the level of savings detailed in the Budget cannot be found, while others in Government have lost confidence in the Fine Gael deputy leader's ability to manage his own department.
"You have heard him express general concern at the level of savings decided by Government," Dr Reilly's spokesman said.
The spokesman added it was Dr Reilly's request to have Mr Howlin and Taoiseach Enda Kenny's departments involved with his own to "assess, validate and implement" the health savings.
Ms Lynch also told RTE anyone who needed and qualified for a medical card would get one.
"I would like to reassure people out there that when it comes to someone who qualifies for, and is in need of a medical card -- they will get it," Ms Lynch said.
The Coalition had initially promised at the start of its term of office to provide €35m for mental health services.
Only €20m will be provided in 2014, but Ms Lynch said the additional €15m would follow in 2015.