Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte acknowledged that many backbenchers believe the Tánaiste should swap his foreign affairs role for a domestic post after the party slumped to 6% in an opinion poll.
Mr Rabbitte warned that, despite the tax and cuts package in next week’s budget coming in at less than the previously expected target of €3.1bn, it will still be rough going.
Pre-budget tensions saw infighting grip the Coalition as Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin accused some members of Fine Gael of “hoping” for a more difficult budget than was needed.
Fine Gael junior finance minister Brian Hayes hit back, saying that Labour did not have a monopoly on caring. “No one wants more pain, we just have to get through this,” said Mr Hayes.
With Labour TDs left jittery by the opinion poll slump, they urged Mr Gilmore to be tougher in the pre-budget negotiations after the junior Coalition party was perceived as not being firm enough in the run-up to last year’s key financial statement.
TDs such as Kerry’s Arthur Spring have also called for Mr Gilmore to switch from foreign affairs to a frontline economic post to give the party more definition within the Coalition.
In a pointed intervention, Mr Rabbitte said he would not tell the Tánaiste what job he should take in the Cabinet, but Mr Spring was reflecting a widespread view within the party.
Mr Rabbitte also warned that the budget needed to be harsh if Ireland was to meet its target of exiting the bailout programme at the end of the year.
After the troika singled out the massive overspend in the health budget for criticism, Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin said major improvements had been made.
The move came as Fine Gael Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald said “aspects” of the health service were “not fit for purpose”.