Monday 20 November 2017

Budget talks for health services will go 'down to the wire'

Sources say Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin’s officials are determined to “play hardball”
Sources say Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin’s officials are determined to “play hardball”

Daniel McConnell and Niall O'Connor

Talks to finalise a Budget allocation for the country's health services for next year are set to "go down to the wire", the Irish Independent has learned.

As Health Minister Leo Varadkar seeks to maximise the allocation for 2016, discussions between his department and the Department of Public Expenditure are now taking place daily, according to senior Government sources.

While details of the talks are being kept tight, Mr Varadkar is pressing hard for as "much as he can get" for Health.

But senior Government sources have said that while Mr Varadkar will receive an end-of-year bailout, Brendan Howlin's officials remain determined to "play hardball".

A meeting of the Economic Management Council - the inner Cabinet committee of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Joan Burton, Mr Howlin and Finance Minister Michael Noonan - is due to take place later today, with Health top of the agenda.

At this meeting, Mr Howlin and Mr Noonan are set to lay out their intended Budget in principle to their party leaders, to ensure any potential political land mines are dealt with.

A special Cabinet meeting has also been called for 8am tomorrow, and again, senior Government sources say Health is set to be the priority issue.

Unlike last year, Mr Varadkar and his officials are remaining tight-lipped as to their negotiations, which was seen last night as a sign of things being far from completed.

As of the end of September, Health was already €325m over budget and an end-of-year bailout of between €600m and €750m has been talked of.

In terms of additional spending for next year, Fine Gael sources have said Mr Varadkar can only expect to get about €270m extra. This includes €170m for demographics - the cost of dealing with our aging population.

Irish Independent

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