Irish PM under pressure to join hands with rival party

DUBLIN • Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny pleaded for time and space to examine options to create a stable government, as the nation's two biggest parties opened the door for an unprecedented grand coalition.

Mr Kenny's Fine Gael secured 25 per cent in Friday's election, according to a poll for broadcaster RTE. Traditional rival Fianna Fail secured 21 per cent. Under Ireland's electoral system, about 44 per cent is needed for an overall majority.

"Democracy can be very exciting, but it can be merciless when it kicks in," Mr Kenny said in an interview with RTE late on Saturday, conceding that voters had rejected his preferred option of an alliance with the Labour Party. He said the "over-riding imperative" is to find a government to continue Ireland's economic revival.

Like governments in Greece, Portugal and Spain, Mr Kenny suffered massive losses in Friday's election, feeling the force of popular wrath over spending cuts and tax increases.

His only option to provide political stability in the fastest-growing economy in the euro zone is a pact with Fianna Fail. Mr Kenny said he would take 48 hours to examine the options.

Yesterday morning, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael had 28 seats each, with Sinn Fein taking 13 and the Labour Party four.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail will seek to form a government, the Irish Times reported on Saturday, citing unnamed sources in both parties. Detailed talks would start should the next scheduled meeting of Parliament on March 10 fail to elect a new government, it added.

Before the election, both sides had ruled out a pact. Health Minister Leo Varadkar said on Saturday that the initiative may lie with the opposition to try to form a government.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail trace their roots back to the nation's bitter Civil War, a battle over the treaty which partitioned Ireland in the 1920s. Fianna Fail emerged from groups which opposed the 1921 peace treaty with Britain and Fine Gael has its roots in organisations which supported the agreement.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 29, 2016, with the headline 'Irish PM under pressure to join hands with rival party'. Print Edition | Subscribe