DUBLIN (Reuters) - Acting Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Wednesday it would be possible to form a new government in the next two weeks, returning the focus to negotiations that have been sidelined by the outbreak of coronavirus.
Varadkar’s Fine Gael agreed two weeks ago to step up talks with rivals Fianna Fail following the Feb. 8 election, but emergency measures to fight the health and economic crisis have taken precedence as confirmed coronavirus cases rose to 1,329.
Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have 37 and 35 seats respectively in the 160-seat parliament, which is sitting only intermittently, meaning they need the support of at least one smaller party or group of independent lawmakers to reach a majority.
“I do think it is possible to form a government in the next couple of weeks,” Varadkar told a news conference on Wednesday.
“We’re not there yet. We continue to negotiate with Fianna Fail. There are discussions happening today. We’d hope to get to the point where we can then approach other parties to see whether they are willing to form part of that new government.”
Ireland’s fractured parliament passed a series of emergency measures last week and will do so again on Thursday. But Varadkar said there was concern about the ability to pass laws after next week once elections to the upper house are completed.
Ireland’s upper house of parliament cannot be fully constituted until an additional selection of members are picked by a new prime minister.
For a new government to last a full term, Varadkar said, it would need a stable working majority of 82 to 85, which means having at least 10 more lawmakers willing to come on board.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, historic rivals on the center-right who have never formed a coalition together, both refuse to govern with the left-wing, pro-Irish unity Sinn Fein party, which surged to 37 seats in last month’s election.
The Green Party, which has 12 seats, has been courted by Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, but it is calling for a temporary national government encompassing the whole parliament while the coronavirus crisis continues.
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Catherine Evans