Talks to form new Irish government to start on Monday

Ireland`s Fine Gael party emerges as the biggest party in historic elections.

Updated: Feb 28, 2011, 10:50 AM IST

Dublin: Irish prime minister in waiting Enda Kenny will make the first moves to form a new government on Monday after his Fine Gael party emerged as the biggest party in historic elections.

Kenny looks certain to be taoiseach, or prime minister, after the ruling Fianna Fail party of incumbent Brian Cowen suffered a crushing defeat by voters angry at the collapse of their once-booming economy and the subsequent bailout.

Kenny has promised to move quickly to seek an amendment of an unpopular European Union and International Monetary Fund bailout for the debt-ridden eurozone member.

As counting continue late Sunday to decide the destination of a handful of final seats, Fine Gael`s director of elections Phil Hogan said Kenny would be contacting potential government partners on Monday.

He predicted his party would get 75 or 76 seats, short of the 83 needed for a majority.

Hogan told RTE state TV`s `The Week in Politics` programme that Kenny was "assessing all of the options" and he would not be "waiting around”.

Kenny would be in contact with the "Labour party and others" on Monday "in relation to opening negotiations about putting a government together because time is of the essence and there are very serious matters coming up on the European agenda."

Hogan said Kenny had not been in contact with anybody so far because he is waiting for the counts to be completed.

The 59-year-old Kenny told supporters in Dublin late Saturday there was "no time to lose, no hour to waste" as he confronted the challenges ahead.

The centrist party will fall short of a majority in the 166-seat Dail, the lower house of Parliament, as it can now only win a maximum of 81 seats, two short of the 83 needed.

Several top Fine Gael figures have indicated a coalition with the opposition Labour party was likely.

With 154 seats declared, Fine Gael had 70, Labour had 36 and the dramatic collapse of Fianna Fail, which has dominated Irish politics for 80 years, was underlined as it had just 18 seats.

Fianna Fail`s former coalition partners, the Green Party, also suffered, losing all of its six seats.

In addition, 17 independent and other lawmakers were elected and the republican Sinn Fein party almost tripled its seats to 13, including its president Gerry Adams, who enters the Dail for the first time.

Kenny said it was important to international markets that Ireland had a "stable and strong government".

He also vowed to move fast on a key campaign pledge to renegotiate the EU-IMF EUR 85 billion (USD 115 billion) bailout which many Irish see as a humiliation.

"We`re going to move on this next week, I`ve already had contacts with Europe this very day," Kenny said in his first post-election TV interview.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said his party was "willing" to form a coalition government but said no talks had started yet. "The initiative rests with Fine Gael, that`s a call they have to make," he told RTE television.

He said a Fine Gael/Labour alliance would be "the closest thing we are going to get to a national government".

Cowen`s Fianna Fail meanwhile slumped to its worst ever general election defeat and looked set to lose two thirds of its seats. It suffered a wipeout in Dublin, with only outgoing Finance Minister Brian Lenihan keeping his seat.

Kenny is the longest-serving lawmaker in the Dail and viewed as a steady pair of hands, but he has a tough task to fulfil his pledge on the bailout.

Bureau Report