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Irish party leaders meet to discuss coalition

Two former opposition parties were holding talks yesterday aimed at forming a new government after the long-dominant Fianna Fail suffered a crushing defeat at the polls.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny – Ireland's next prime minister – and his Labour Party counterpart Eamon Gilmore agreed to meet face to face. "We don't want a situation where this is going to be dragged out," said Mr Kenny. The initiative rests with his Fine Gael party, which has won 70 seats so far in the 166-seat lower house after Friday's national election. Results are not yet complete.

The Labour Party has won 36 seats, its best-ever showing, while Fianna Fail suffered its worst election in 80 years with only 18 seats so far. Fianna Fail was punished for leading the government as Ireland's property boom collapsed, banks tottered under bad loans and unemployment soared above 13 per cent. To avoid bankruptcy, Ireland was forced to accept a ¤67.5bn (£57bn) credit line from Europe and the International Monetary Fund.

A Fine Gael-Labour coalition was widely expected after Friday's vote, but Fine Gael could also rule with the support of independents, who won 13 seats. Mr Gilmore is clearly eager to get his Labour Party into government. "If Fine Gael want a government for a period of five years, strong, stable, that brings together the two largest parties... the Labour Party is willing to play its part in that," Mr Gilmore said.