FG willing to offer seat at cabinet to Soc Dems
Fine Gael will offer the Social Democrats a cabinet seat in return for the party's support if a government cannot be formed with the backing of the Labour Party after the General Election, the Irish Independent has learned.
Senior Coalition figures have now all but conceded that they will not reach the 80-seat target required to form a new government without support.
There is now a strong view at senior Fine Gael level that the Social Democrats will be required to "prop up" a so-called 'rainbow coalition'.
It is felt within the party that a deal involving the Social Democrats will be more acceptable to backbenchers than one involving Lucinda Creighton's Renua party.
Fine Gael is confident that it can win 60 seats in the election - 20 short of what is required to form a coalition.
To make up the numbers, it is highly likely that other TDs in the Dáil will have to be courted.
Fine Gael strategists privately say they would be prepared to offer at least a cabinet and junior ministerial role to the Social Democrats, which currently has three high-profile TDs.
"It's fair to say the Social Democrats will be our first port of call," said a senior source.
But there is concern within Fine Gael over the Social Democrats' leadership structure.
The party claims to have three leaders - Róisín Shortall, Catherine Murphy and Stephen Donnelly - who jointly decide on issues such as policy.
Fine Gael strategists believe Mr Donnelly is the best candidate to lead the newly formed party but the Irish Independent understand the topic has not been approached for some time within the Social Democrats.
However, it is understood the Wicklow TD will represent his party in RTÉ leaders debate due to be aired on Monday.
It is likely that for the Social Democrats to be part of the next Government, the newly formed party would have to select one TD as their leader.
However, news that Fine Gael is open to approaching the Social Democrats will alarm Labour Party figures.
Two of the three deputies, Ms Murphy and Ms Shortall, are former Labour members.
In recent days, Labour has sent out a series of press releases criticising elements of the Social Democrats' election manifesto.
And in a guide distributed to Labour candidates' campaign teams at their conference in Mullingar, the Social Democrats are accused of not knowing what social democracy is.
The document says "their policies will plunge us back into the darkest days of Fianna Fáil by placing the greatest burden of all on PAYE workers".