Kenny warned to 'drop the charade' with Independents - and start dealing with Fianna Fail
Taoiseach Enda Kenny is being urged by senior ministers to "drop the charade" of trying to form a government with Independents - and start dealing directly with Fianna Fáil.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan has stated that talks with the second-biggest party are sure to get under way later this week.
But there is growing concern within Fine Gael that Mr Kenny has wasted the past 10 days trying to impress smaller groups with proposals for political reform without making any progress towards a new coalition.
Mr Kenny met the Independent Alliance, the Social Democrats and a number of other TDs yesterday in the latest round of negotiations aimed at securing their support.
But senior party sources admit that a coalition involving just Independents is highly unlikely, and an approach will have to be made to Fianna Fáil ahead of the Taoiseach's trip to Washington for St Patrick's Day.
"It would be a high-risk strategy to leave for the States next week and leave a vacuum. Kenny has to leave a gameplan," said one ministerial source.
A second minister said TDs are becoming impatient with the focus on political reform. "If these Independents think that the public are more interested in political reform than public finances, housing and public services, then they are deluded," the source added.
Speaking in Brussels, Mr Noonan said that after tomorrow's expected Dáil deadlock, the situation will "evolve... into discussions with Fianna Fáil and then we'll see where that goes".
The biggest blockage to a deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil appears to be whether it would be a coalition government or a minority arrangement. Fine Gael ministers do not trust Fianna Fáil to support them from the opposition benches for any substantial period of time, while Micheál Martin is said to be wary of a coalition, as Sinn Féin would then become the main opposition party.
It is anticipated that Mr Kenny will put in place a negotiation team prior to his departure for Washington.
The team will include Leo Varadkar, Frances Fitzgerald, Simon Coveney and Simon Harris. Mr Noonan is also expected to play a key role.
There is a growing acceptance within Fine Gael that a coalition will come at a very high price and they may even have to allow for a rotating Taoiseach, with Mr Martin going first.
This would most likely result in Mr Kenny stepping down as Fine Gael leader.
"It would be humiliating for us and we could lose card-carrying members, but it's time Fianna Fáil's bluff was called to see if they really want to act in the national interest," said a well-placed Fine Gael source.
After their meeting with Mr Kenny yesterday the Social Democrats said they made it clear that the "significant crises" affecting people cannot be forgotten.
"We suggested an All-Party Forum on Political Reform, which would be agreed before the election of a Taoiseach and he reacted positively to this suggestion," co-leader Stephen Donnelly said.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has called for the Dáil to continue debating issues "rather than shutting up shop" while coalition negotiations take place.
"We TDs might not be able to agree on who should be the next Taoiseach, but we can agree that there are crises going on in housing, healthcare and political reform, among others, that need urgent action - we need the political situation resolved as soon as practicably possible."