Irish rival leaders to sign off on initial government deal

DUBLIN (Reuters) – The leaders of Ireland’s rival Fianna Fail and Fine Gael parties will meet on Tuesday to sign off on a broad agreement struck by their negotiating teams aimed at attracting enough additional support to form a new government.

The centre-right parties, who have alternated in power throughout the nation’s history but have never formed a coalition together, need the support of at least one smaller party or eight independent lawmakers to reach a majority.

Their two negotiating teams finalised a joint paper setting out broad policy goals on Monday. Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and Acting Prime Minister Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael will discuss the paper on Tuesday, a spokesman for Varadkar said.

If the framework document is then approved by each party’s wider group of lawmakers – likely a formality once the leaders give it the okay – it will be the basis of negotiations to form a majority government.

Both parties steadfastly refuse to govern with the left-wing, pro-Irish unity Sinn Fein party, which surged to 37 seats in the Feb. 8 election, the same number held by Fianna Fail and two more than Fine Gael’s 35 in the fractured 160-seat chamber.

That leaves the Green Party, which has 12 seats, and the centre-left Labour and Social Democrat parties, with six seats each, as the only viable partners. All three have so far shown little enthusiasm, although one of the Social Democrat’s co-leaders said on Sunday it was open to looking at the document.

“We need them to step up. This is a time for stable government in Ireland to get on with massive challenges. We need other political parties to join us,” Acting Health Minister Simon Harris of Fine Gael told a news conference on Monday.

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