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Kenny risks massive revolt over savage health service cuts

FINE Gael TDs were today threatening "holy war" against the Cabinet over proposed cuts in the health service.

Health Minister James Reilly was under huge pressure to backtrack on Budget proposals that could see medical card holders pay a yearly fee of €50.

The Taoiseach today signalled that major health cuts were on the way.

A series of draconian cuts outlined by the Health Minister to TDs last night were met with astonishment by backbenchers. One senior TD told the Herald that the medical card charge would “cause holy f***ing war”.

The possible Budget measures include:

l A €50 charge on 1.5m medical card holders;

l An increase of €1-€1.50 in prescription charges for those on medical cards;

l Closing up to 40 of the country's nursing homes;

l Reforming the drugs refund scheme;

l Significant cuts in spending in the area of mental health.

But the idea of a €50 charge for all medical card holders has resulted in tetchy responses from Cabinet members.

Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald today revealed that she is opposed to the charge.

“Minister Reilly and myself and all members around the cabinet want to ensure that we protect the vulnerable and that the Budget is fair,” she said.

“Certainly the medical card issue is something that I would not like to see on the table.”

The targeting of health services has also deepened the divide between Fine Gael and their coalition partners Labour.

Labour sources feel that unfair pressure has been put on Social Protection Minister Joan Burton to makes cuts at her department.

TDs were today set to learn whether child benefit would be slashed by €10 – a move that would attract significant public backlash. But the decision to impose a €50 charge on medical-card holders will inflict major pain on the country's most hard-pressed people.


TDs today recalled how the Fianna Fail government was forced into an embarrassing U-turn when it attempted to touch medical cards.

“The meetings with (Minister) Reilly were an eye-opener, especially for the newly elected TDs. The honeymoon is well and truly over,” said one.

One backbench TD told the Herald that Dr Reilly presented them with “the worst case scenario” but that the cuts are “certain” to hurt families.

And despite promising to abolish the prescription charge for medical-card holders in his pre-election pledge, Dr Reilly indicated that an increase of up to €2 may be on the cards.

The news that a spate of nursing home closures is being lined up will cause deep public alarm.

Meanwhile, senior EU sources have told the Herald that Budget Day in the Dail could be a thing of the past.

Decisions on any spending cuts and expenditure would be made by a European body.

The source said that a more generalised look at the spending of countries in the EU is necessary to ensure that all governments are in line with rules.

\[rhagan\]They said that there needs to be a body established that has “the right to interfere” in national spending plans.

This is needed to prevent another boom, bust and debt crisis like we are experiences, the source explained.

“The enhancement of economic governance does not go far enough,” they said. “It points towards a transfer of national sovereignty.

“It doesn't mean the creation of a huge European budget. It doesn't mean the harmonisation

“I think a body needs to be established that can interfere with the national budget to ensure that the rules - that all members have agreed on - are complied with.