The leading party after Ireland's election last week will try to form a government with other parties, including its nearest rival, after its outgoing coalition was rejected by voters, senior Fine Gael members said on Wednesday.
Punished last week by voters angry at the patchiness of Ireland's recovery, Prime Minister Enda Kenny's center-right party is set to fall about 30 seats short of the 80 needed to form a majority in parliament, with two seats yet to be filled.
With the second- and third-largest parties, Fianna Fail, and Sinn Fein, ruling out a coalition with Fine Gael, analysts say Kenny will not reach a majority without eventually striking some sort of agreement with Fianna Fail.
"Despite the disappointing outcome, which did not return the outgoing Fine Gael-Labour government, Fine Gael will be the largest group and we are determined to play our part in providing the Irish people with a government," Kenny said in a statement.
"We will engage fully and inclusively with other parties, groups and independent deputies to ensure that such a government is established."
Fine Gael minister Simon Coveney told national broadcaster RTE that included potentially talking to Fianna Fail. A senior Fianna Fail lawmaker, Barry Cowen, said his party may be willing to back a minority Fine Gael government under certain circumstances.
Kenny said that Fine Gael would meet on Thursday, a week before parliament resumes, to formulate a set of principles to guide its participation in a future government.
Fianna Fail has said it will put leader Micheal Martin forward as an alternative prime minister on March 10 but a senior member of the party said it was unlikely that either Martin or Kenny would garner enough support to win the vote.
Kenny would then have to resign and remain in place as caretaker premier until he or a replacement is voted in.
"It's quite possible, probable in fact, that nobody will be elected to the position of taoiseach [prime minister] and nobody will therefore be in a position to form a government on March 10," Fianna Fail's Willie O'Dea told RTE.
Martin raised the prospect of a more protracted delay on Monday by calling for a cross-party deal on reforming parliament before any coalition talks, a process he said could take more than a month.
Analysts believe it will take even longer to form a government. If the parties cannot agree, a second election would be required, potentially hampering any response to a possible exit by Britain from the European Union in a referendum in June.