The Government will not have enough votes to win a confidence motion in health minister, Simon Harris, Independent.ie can reveal.
The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, is now almost certain to bow to growing pressure in Fine Gael to call a general election either this week or before the end of the month.
Fianna Fail TD John McGuinness has confirmed he will defy his party and vote no confidence in Mr Harris rather than abstain early next month.
The Sunday Independent also understands that Independent TD Noel Grealish, on whom the Government relies for support, will abstain, meaning the Fine Gael minority government faces defeat in the Dail, a development which will almost certainly trigger the collapse of the administration and a general election.
Senior Fine Gael and Government sources want and now expect Mr Varadkar to call an election in the coming days, but the Taoiseach was still considering his options yesterday and seeking the views of those in contact with him.
He is understood to have said he will do it "my way" rather than repeat the actions of his predecessors, including former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who famously made a Sunday morning trip to Aras an Uachtarain in 2007 to ask for the Dail to be dissolved.
Ministers are in the dark as to Mr Varadkar's intentions, although one Cabinet member said they did not expect anything to happen until the Taoiseach meets Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin on Tuesday.
In a significant intervention which could now force Mr Varadkar's hand, Mr McGuinness said he would vote against the embattled Mr Harris and called on his own party colleagues to defy Mr Martin and do likewise.
"I am urging members of my own party and beyond to consider what is happening here, the fact that there is no leadership, we're in limbo and the country is not being properly administered," he said.
"I will vote in favour of a motion of no confidence in Simon Harris.
"It is a charade and poor leadership, it is damaging the country and the people we represent. Every member of the parliament has to reflect on that, the Government, Opposition and particularly Fianna Fail. Call the election, name the date for the election and stop all this nonsense."
Mr McGuinness said he was not concerned that he could be expelled from the Fianna Fail parliamentary party. "What's at stake here is something far bigger than the parliamentary party and I believe this is the right thing to do at this time of clear uncertainty," he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Grealish has told friends that his agreement to support the Government in crucial Dail votes concluded after the Brexit deal was struck, and it is understood he will abstain in any Dail vote on Mr Harris.
The decisions by Mr McGuinness and Mr Grealish mean that if all TDs are present and vote along party lines and in accordance with previous confidence votes, the Government will lose a Dail vote by 56 to 55.
The Government can also not be assured of the support of other Independent TDs Denis Naughten and Michael Lowry this weekend.
Mr Lowry refused to be drawn on whether he would back Mr Harris, saying he did not think the Dail will last that long. "My assessment of the present political circumstances lead me to the firm conclusion that the current Dail will not be given the opportunity to debate a confidence motion in health minister Simon Harris," he said.
"Dail procedures dictate that this confidence motion will not be heard until February 5. I expect the Taoiseach to exercise his prerogative to call an election which will be well under way by February 5. Therefore speculation on my voting intentions is immaterial and irrelevant."
Mr Naughten did not return calls about his intentions.
The motion of no confidence in Mr Harris is set to be debated in the Dail on February 5, with the issue being pressed by rural Independent TDs, including Michael Collins, Mattie McGrath and Michael and Danny Healy-Rae. However, Government sources at all levels yesterday expressed the belief that the 32nd Dail will not last that long.
"It can't go to April. There are 10 days left at most," a Cabinet minister said. A second Cabinet minister added: "I'd be firmly of the view that we're going now."
Transport minister Shane Ross said last night: "I've got a lot of work to do on the reforms to the FAI and I would prefer to see those implemented before a general election. So I would have a preference for an April/May date, but obviously that's not in my hands."
However, a Government source said the election will be called this week, adding: "It's happening."