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Varadkar on rack as budget war games get into first gear

Health is emerging as the key Coalition battleground as negotiations intensify over the shape of Budget 2015.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar is sticking to his position that he needs €1.2bn to resolve the HSE over-run from last year's budget and to balance the books in 2015.

But the Sunday Independent has learnt that support is leaking away from Varadkar within the cabinet.

Significantly Mr Varadkar is also becoming increasingly isolated from the all-powerful Economic Management Council, which will decide the shape of the budget.

One senior political source close to the Cabinet told the Sunday Independent: ''Howlin and Noonan are starting to operate a pincer movement on Leo in Cabinet. He is putting up a courageous fight, but he is losing big battles there.''

Ministers, he said, were ''becoming increasingly concerned over just how much of all the surplus will be eaten up by Leo. They are watching all the money for their plans being taken away and thrown into the black hole of the HSE without one cent benefiting the government,'' he said.

Support for Mr Varadkar remains strong within Fine Gael, where a number of figures normally loyal to Mr Kenny were highly critical of the Taoiseach for "creating his own stalking horse''.

Intriguingly, the troubled status of Mr Varadkar within the cabinet and the EMC means the minister may yet need the Taoiseach's support if he is to secure his budgetary priorities.

One figure close to the cabinet said: ''The problem for Leo is that after a good start the mood music is all wrong.''

The government, they said, ''wants to dial down health, Leo is dialling it up. The belief amongst Noonan and Howlin is that he has been captured by the officials''.

Significantly, despite a very open charm offensive, Mr Varadkar's relationship with Brendan Howlin is falling on increasingly stony ground.

One senior figure noted that: ''Relations are already becoming as fraught between Howlin and Health as they were in the Reilly era.''

They added ''Leo is on the rack a little, they are all ganging up on him in the same way as they used to with Reilly until Enda would come to the rescue''.

They added: 'Every-one is now asking will Enda save Leo or will he let him swing?''

Sunday Independent