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Noonan budget fury at Reilly

A WAR has erupted between Michael Noonan and fellow minister James Reilly over next week's budget.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan is "furious" with his Fine Gael colleague over his budget "scaremongering".

The Health Minister has alienated many in government by "flying kites" over cuts which were never likely to be in the Budget, the Herald reveals today.

His tactics of shocking backbench TDs and the public by outlining an exceptionally harsh range of budget cuts has backfired spectacularly.

The Herald can reveal the "leaking" of unlikely measures such as a €50 medical card tax was never sanctioned by Noonan, or his partner in the Department of Finance, Brendan Howlin.

Labour's minister at the Department of Health Roisin Shortall has now also publicly hit out at the 'kite-flying' about possible health checks.

She admitted that the speculation "has caused a lot of worry and upset and that is unfortunate". Sources have told the Herald that Mr Noonan was "more than surprised" when the Dublin TD briefed dozens of TDs and senators on his budget ideas.

"Minister Noonan thought it was just bizarre to throw out so many wild ideas. He [Minister Reilly] said them to a parliamentary party gathering so they were always going to get into the public domain," explained a source.

Hike

Among the proposals outlined by Minister Reilly was an annual €50 charge for medical cards, a €1.50 hike in prescription charges and nursing home closures.

The Dublin politician suggested to backbenchers that he was coming under pressure to frontload health service cuts this year rather than spread them out over the lifetime of the Government.

However, finance sources have told the Herald that such a drastic line-up of charges at the Department of Health should not be necessary. Although it is not yet clear how much Minister Reilly will have to cut from his €14bn budget, sources say it will make a fraction of the overall cuts.

The final figure won't be anything close to the €500m that has been muted for Joan Burton's Department of Social Protection.

Separately, a Fine Gael source said that party members were not happy with the approach taken by Minister Reilly.

"Reilly went off kite-flying and that went badly wrong," said the party source, adding: "Michael Noonan couldn't understand it. Of course the relevant minister brings cost-saving proposals to the Department of Finance but if these are the best ideas that he comes up I think the Finance Minister will have to go digging himself."

Junior Minister Roisin Shorttold irishhealth.com that there was now "a lot of alarm and concern among older people in particular, people who very much depend on their medical cards, and I think it is unfortunate that it has happened".