HEALTH Minister Dr James Reilly's controversial Universal Health Insurance (UHI) proposals are in grave danger of causing a cabinet split before his plan is even unveiled.
In the wake of scathing criticism from the Department of Public Expenditure, three Fine Gael ministers have privately criticised Dr Reilly.
"He has made a mess of this. But it is not just this, it is everything. He is politically naive, not the hardest worker and has caused us to defend him a lot. But he's wounded on this UHI," one minister said.
Another minister went further, saying that while there was a lot of support in principle for Dr Reilly's healthcare plan, the Health Minister had "bungled it, causing us again to have to defend him".
"We support this plan, it was in the Programme [for Government], but it is now really in trouble because he hasn't got his work done," said one of the ministers.
Dr Reilly now stands isolated – not only from his Labour counterparts, who have long questioned his abilities, but from many within his own party.
A senior minister warned: "Reilly won't get this document through the Fine Gael party, let alone Labour. Enough is enough for middle Ireland. They are paying property taxes, they are paying water charges, they're paying increased private health insurance – they will not accept another tax, they have no money left to pay."
One source close to the heart of Government warned: "It is normally the case that when Noonan makes a decision Enda agrees with Michael and we move on. But while Noonan and his department are still utterly cold on this one, James is grinning away happily saying he has Enda's full support, so what are you going to do."
Significantly, at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis, the Taoiseach was effusive in his support of Dr Reilly's proposals.
One senior Labour minister said: "This is an astonishing mess. We are for UHI in principle, but not this mess – there are still large chunks of information missing. How can we have an intelligent conversation on this when we have no figures?"
The Labour Minister said: "How are we going to build a Coalition with the coping classes, the family in Tallaght, when we are telling them that they're going to have to pay compulsory health insurance?
"Fianna Fail is going to make hay out of this."
Mr Kelleher warned that the political uncertainty around Dr Reilly's White Paper would destabilise the private health insurance market.
"There will be a flight of the struggling coping class from private health insurance holders," he said.
"If people believe compulsory insurance is coming in, they will take a gamble and drop their policies."