Labour leaves door open to deal with FG and Social Democrats
The Labour Party has conceded that the prospect of a rainbow coalition involving the Social Democrats and Fine Gael is now the most likely outcome of the General Election.
In a major new development in the campaign, senior Labour figures strongly indicated that Tanaiste Joan Burton is now open to talks with the newly-formed party, widely seen to have won this week's leaders' debate.
Following Stephen Donnelly's stand-out performance on the RTE forum, the Social Democrats are now seen as potential kingmakers.
The Herald revealed last week that the Social Democrats will be the first party Fine Gael will turn to after the election if it does not have the numbers to return the Coalition.
A senior Labour source insisted the only "untouchables" for the party ahead of government talks will be Gerry Adams' Sinn Fein and controversial Independent TD Michael Lowry.
"If we are short on numbers, we would be willing to do business with the Social Democrats," a senior Labour strategist said.
Meanwhile, Mr Donnelly last night played down the possibility that the Social Democrats would be willing to go into a Coalition with Fine Gael and Labour.
He said they were focusing on the "long game" and "the next Dail is a secondary consideration".
"The important bit for us is establishing the Social Democrats as a credibile new party. We want to build the Social Democrats," he said.
"The primary consideration is in the long game of politics. Is there an appetite for this new approach? The answer seems to be 'Yes, there is a lot of appetite for it'. So that's the most important thing. The best way to implement your policies is as a big party, not as a small party. That's more important."
While Mr Donnelly said they would be open to conversation with any party after the election, it would have to involve a radical shift on the part of Fine Gael and Labour.
"We're not having any conversation about retaining the status quo. I'd be very surprised if Labour-Fine Gael were willing to basically take a different direction," he said.
The future of the Coalition partners was raised repeatedly on the campaign trail as polls suggested the outcome of the General Election is increasingly uncertain.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said he was leaving the door open to a coalition with Labour. However, he criticised the party's performance in government.
"We have said we will not go into government with Fine Gael and Sinn Fein. That is as far as we have gone and that speaks for itself, but the bottom line is that Labour have a clear strategic position in the middle of this campaign. Labour has again wedded itself to the Fine Gael ship and I think they'll pay a heavy price for that," he said.
"It's very hard to distinguish Labour from Fine Gael now. Essentially, it seems to exist to prop up a Fine Gael party that is very focused on looking after the wealthiest in society."
Mr Martin was also vague on who he is willing to do business with.
"That depends on the people and who they elect," he said.
"I'm actually putting my trust in the Irish people and saying to you, you know I have a very dismissive attitude to polling, but it is interesting when you look around the country and you see some of the constituency-based analysis. You get a completely different picture than the national picture, so this is wide open," he said.
"We would go in with people who would support our policies in terms of the prioritisation we have given to investment in public services. We're obviously out to maximise our numbers."