Health overspend ‘will wipe out majority of fiscal space’

Department of Health officials have told Independents attending a Fianna Fáil negotiations briefing a €300m health service overspend risks taking up the majority of the fiscal space available to the country this year.

The dose of reality was outlined during the last day of talks between Micheál Martin’s party and unaligned TDs about what is on offer for anyone entering government.

During lengthy discussions between Mr Martin, his four-strong negotiating team, and the six-strong Independent Alliance on nine topics including housing, education, Irish Water, and health, Department of Health officials provided a detailed overview of the money available to health this year.

Despite Health Minister Leo Varadkar dismissing concerns about the inability of the health budget to cover costs and the fact no supplementary budget will be allowed under new EU rules, department officials said problems already exist in the system.

They said that, as of the end of last month, the health service was already €60m over budget and, that if the trajectory continues, it will be at least €300m over budget by the end of the year — wiping out most of the fiscal space available for 2016.

The situation was put forward to underline the reality of the options available to both Fianna Fáil and Independents should they form part of the next government, with a senior party source last night saying the only way to bring the costs under control would be to cut some services or delay others.

Mr Martin has repeatedly claimed health budgets in recent years have been “fraudulent” and do not reflect the realities of what funds are available for the system.

The dose of reality came as the party’s negotiation team of Michael McGrath, Barry Cowen, Charlie McConalogue, and Jim O Callaghan outlined Fianna Fáil’s position on a series of policy areas to the Shane Ross-led Independent Alliance.

The discussion — similar in nature to the day-long briefing that Fianna Fáil gave to the five rural TDs, the Healy Rae brothers, Katherine Zappone, and Maureen O’Sullivan on Monday — was given a cautious welcome by Independents.

However, a number of Independent Alliance TDs — who are due to meet again with Fianna Fáil after 12pm today, just hours before the Dáil Taoiseach nomination vote — said last night it will do little to help them decide on who to support.

One Independent TD told the Irish Examiner the group’s view remains that there is no point in supporting either Mr Martin or Enda Kenny’s bid for power today as it is unclear what they will in reality be supporting.

He said there is no point in “helping to put our own heads on the chopping block”, with one TD expressing scepticism about the entire talks process until this point as “neither side have asked us to support either of them yet”.


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