Kenny and Gilmore meet again ahead of negotiations
The leaders of Fine Gael and Labour have met for a second time before negotiation teams go head to head to crack a deal on coalition government.
Taoiseach-designate Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore held a second meeting in Leinster House today with both sides accepting a weekend deadline for an agreement.
Fine Gael's finance spokesman Michael Noonan, director of elections Phil Hogan and front-bencher Alan Shatter will meet Labour deputy leader and finance spokeswoman Joan Burton, former leader Pat Rabbitte, constitutional expert Brendan Howlin and policy director Colm O'Reardon later.
Labour also has a meeting of its parliamentary party scheduled today where new and returning TDs can expect an informal briefing on the talks.
Under pressure from Europe, the two sides have set the end-of-week deadline to form a stable pact and programme for government.
The two leaders held the first behind-the-scenes talks in Leinster House, Dublin, yesterday and today marks the first official phase of hard bargaining on portfolios and policies.
Negotiations will be complex, with the parties at odds over the length of time it will take to turn around the budget deficit, tax, public sector cuts, water charges and how to tackle bondholder responsibility for banking debts.
The Unite trade union also called on Labour to back away from joining with the centre-right Fine Gael.
A quick deal is needed as Ireland faces a series of challenging hurdles linked to its multibillion-euro bailout loans from the International Monetary Fund and Europe, and the banking crisis.
The parties are also aiming to put a deal on paper before the Dail sits again on March 9.
It will have to be signed off by Labour's special delegate council on Sunday before the two sides can agree. That meeting, which involves hundreds of members from party branches only, is pencilled in for Sunday.
Mr Kenny is due to travel to Helsinki on Friday for a meeting of the European People's Party, with which Fine Gael is affiliated.
The contacts are intended to open the door for a charm offensive and garner support to renegotiate the €85bn loans.
Mr Kenny has already raised the issue in a series of phone calls with European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.
Prime Minister David Cameron has invited him to Downing Street.
Mr Gilmore will meet left-leaning European colleagues separately on Friday.
Thrashing out a coalition with like-minded independents is another option for Fine Gael.
But it could prove difficult given that a sizeable number of left-leaning TDs were elected at the weekend, while former stockbroker and Senator Shane Ross is also demanding a referendum on the EU/IMF loans.
Mr Kenny has vowed to force Europe's hand on renegotiation of the deal, but has made no mention of a referendum.