Former PD deputy Noel Grealish insisted the Taoiseach could no longer count on his vote – but made it clear he was open to a deal to come back into the fold.
With Mr Cowen heading what is, technically, a minority administration because he relies on the backing of four Fianna Fáil TDs , who are no longer subject to the party whip, in order to pass legislation, the Galway West TD is in a strong position.
With the Dáil returning from its 81-day summer break next week, Mr Grealish said he would treat each vote on an issue by issue basis and had written to the Taoiseach demanding “clarification” on proposed health cuts in the western HSE region.
Mr Grealish insisted he did not want to “bring down” the Taoiseach, but could no longer sit on Government benches while his constituency was threatened by health cuts.
“I’ve taken a stance on this. I’ve said it publicly all along that I would find it difficult to support a Government if these cuts are implemented. I think I would be wrong of me to walk into Dáil Éireann next Wednesday and sit on the Government benches while this is hanging over us.
“I will not be supporting this Government from next Wednesday onwards until I’m assured that there will be an adequate service and that patient safety will be protected at all costs,” he said. Mr Cowen indicated he would listen to the Galway TD’s concerns, but that Mr Grealish must accept the Government was working under severe financial strain and budgets were limited.
“We have to make sure that we get more for less. What we are talking about here is the need for our health services to stay within the service levels, or the service plans, that have been agreed at the beginning of the year,” he said.
Health Minister and former PD colleague Mary Harney had a blunt message for Mr Grealish.
“There is no deal – there can be no deal. Patients are my number one priority,” she said.
Fine Gael senator Fidelma Healy Eames dismissed Mr Grealish’s actions as a stunt.
“This stunt by Noel Grealish is more about saving his own political career than it is about saving health services in Galway.
“The real question is if the crunch comes, will he really put his money where his mouth is and bring down the Government?” she said.