The austerity budget Ireland must adopt in December could weaken its coalition government, though it has a "middling to good" chance of survival, a senior minister said on Thursday, raising doubts about the coalition for the first time.
Dublin must boost taxes and cut spending to the tune of 3.5 billion euros (2.7 billion pounds) in the latest of a series of austerity budgets promised under an EU/IMF bailout and Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte said it would be the toughest to vote through.
"I think they are middling to good," Rabbitte, a member of the junior governing Labour Party and one of the most outspoken members of cabinet, told the Today FM radio station when asked what he thought the government's chances were of getting through the year.
"My own private view is that the coming term is likely to be the most difficult term for this government and this budget is going to be the most difficult budget."
"If the government survives this budget, I think that we're back on the road to recovery."
Much like the Liberal Democrats in Britain, Rabbitte's party has seen its popularity fall sharply since taking office 18 months ago and most analysts believe this would stop it walking out of government over any budgetary disagreements.
The coalition, which is led by Prime Minister Enda Kenny's centre-right Fine Gael party, also controls 111 of the 166 seats in parliament, meaning it would likely take a total split between the two parties to bring it down.
The European Commission, one of Ireland's so-called "troika" of lenders, said in a draft document seen by Reuters this week that there was "no low hanging fruit left" when it came to the upcoming budget and that the necessary measures would require difficult political choices.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Michael Roddy)