Taoiseach Brian Cowen last night lost his second government TD over the medical cards fiasco as the Budget fallout further eroded his Dail majority.
And the departure of Finian McGrath could yet be followed by walkouts from fellow independents Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy-Rae, as the unsinkable coalition put together by Bertie Ahern begins to fall apart.
The exit of the independents would significantly boost the Green party’s strength in the coalition, with their support now vital to the very survival of the government.
Mr McGrath’s withdrawal of support for the Government came as pressure intensified to reverse the over-70s medical cards decision and the education cuts.
Mr Lowry and Mr Healy-Rae also both appear to be on the brink of pulling the plug.
However, they are waiting until they hold a meeting with government officials today to get an update on the proposals.
“I want people to retain their medical cards and I’m not going to vote for any measure that will see the cards being removed from the elderly,” Mr Lowry said. “I have a serious problem with 120,000 elderly people being under the pressure, distress and stress of having to comply with a means test.”
In a further sign of the strains between the Healy-Rae supporters and Fianna Fail, the TD’s sons voted against the party on Kerry County Council for the first time on a motion of no confidence in Finance Minister Brian Lenihan and Health Minister Mary Harney.
Mr Cowen will today aim to consolidate support within his Government before heading off to China tonight, after postponing his departure for two days.
He has a Cabinet meeting where the medical card row and the 1% income levy will be discussed.