Ireland’s incoming leader is facing a one-week deadline to form a new government after Fine Gael romped to an historic victory in the 2011 general election.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore steered his party to become the second biggest and threw down the gauntlet to Taoiseach-in-waiting Enda Kenny to strike a complex deal in seven days.
But there is also a possibility Fine Gael could secure a pact with a collection of like-minded independents focused on solving the banking and fiscal crisis.
Fine Gael’s director of elections Phil Hogan said contacts will begin today,
“I expect that the leader of Fine Gael will be contacting Labour and will be contacting independents as well,” he said.
“There seems to be a realisation that there are some important decisions coming up for the country in the context of European Union matters.”
Mr Kenny is to make the first contacts with potential partners by phone.
His centre-right party continued to make gains on the second day of counting while the ousted ruling Fianna Fail party suffered yet another high-profile casualty in the loss of tourism minister Mary Hanafin’s seat.
Mr Gilmore said he had not been contacted by Fine Gael but said his party – now the second largest in the state – would be open to discussions.
He said: “If Fine Gael want a government for a period of five years, strong, stable that brings together the two largest parties, in what will be the closest we’re going to get in this country to essentially a national government, the Labour Party is willing to play its part in that.
“But I do say that the window of opportunity for that to happen is very narrow.
“I believe that a government needs to be formed on the first day the Dail is back which is March 9.
“So really there’s about a week in which a programme for government can be put together.”
Fine Gael faces difficult talks with Labour, with the sides at odds over the length of time it will take to turn around the budget deficit, tax and public sector cuts.