Labour admits it would 'do business' with the Soc Dems
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 have strongly indicated that Tánaiste Joan Burton is now open to talks with the newly formed party, now widely seen to have won this week's leaders' debate.
Following Stephen Donnelly's stand-out performance on the RTÉ debate, the Social Democrats are seen as potential kingmakers ahead of post-election talks to form a government.
Last week, the Irish Independent revealed the Social Democrats will be the first party Fine Gael turns to after the election if it does not have the numbers to return the current Coalition.
A Labour source insisted the only "untouchables" for the party ahead of government talks will be Gerry Adams's Sinn Féin 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 told the Irish Independent.
But 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 the Labour Party.
He said his party was focusing on the "long game" and added that "the next Dáil is a secondary consideration".
"The important bit for us is establishing the Social Democrats as a credible 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."
And while Mr Donnelly said the Social Democrats would be open to conversation with any parties after the election, it would have to involve a radical shift on the part of Fine Gael and Labour.
"We're not having any consversation 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 issue of future of coalition partners was raised repeatedly during the campaign, as polls suggested the outcome of the General Election is increasingly uncertain.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, inset left, left the door open to a coalition with Labour.
However, he criticised Labour's performance in government.
"We have said we will not go into government with Fine Gael and Sinn Féin, 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.
"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," he told reporters out on the campaign trail.