The shape of the first grand coalition in the history of the State between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael was emerging last night.
alks between the two parties, led by Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar, will get under way this week, with Fianna Fail's Michael McGrath and Dara Calleary mandated to talk to equivalent senior representatives of Fine Gael.
The intention of the two old parties, which emerged from the Civil War almost 100 years ago, is to embrace the Green Party in a three-hand coalition to be presented to the public as "change" while also holding the centre ground of politics in Ireland.
Such a government, with 85 seats, would have a majority of five, with the prospect of individual, or a collective deal with Independent TDs for further stability should that be felt required.
A stumbling block may be the issue of a "rotating Taoiseach", but a view was taking hold this weekend that the Fianna Fail leader would ultimately be prepared to accede.
Mr Martin would lead the government for the first three years, before stepping down as Taoiseach and resigning as Fianna Fail leader, leading to a leadership contest, and allowing Mr Varadkar to take over as Taoiseach for the final two of a five-year term.
There is strong opposition, and at a senior level, within both parties to the emerging plan, with widespread opinion that such a government would not really meet the electorate's demand for change, nor would it be in the longer-term interests of either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael.
"I think they will have real difficulty getting this one through an Ard Fheis or past the grassroots," a senior Fianna Fail TD said. He added: "Basically what we have here is a three-year Fianna Fail leadership contest."
A Fine Gael source said: "They should bear in mind there's bound to be a lot of backbench TDs disappointed at being overlooked for ministerial positions. This could be a recipe for severe disgruntlement to say the least."
Furthermore, a grand coalition government could ultimately lead to a more traditional left-right realignment of politics here, with Sinn Fein, as leader of the opposition for the next five years, the driving force behind a possible left-wing majority government this decade.
However, on the issue of whether the putative new government would meet the demand for change, a senior Fianna Fail source said yesterday: "If Fianna Fail and Fine Gael formally coming together for the first time in the history of the State is not change, then I do not know what is."
A Fine Gael source said: "The inclusion of the Greens in such a government would help to meet one of the most pressing issues of the age, that of the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis."
There was also a growing view yesterday that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael would move quickly, with the Greens, to put such a government in place rather than allow Sinn Fein time to organise public opposition among its supporters. "Weeks rather than months," in the words of one well-placed source, perhaps before St Patrick's weekend.
"The policies between the three are not hugely different. So there should not be too many difficulties in that area. The real issue will be to agree on policies that will tackle the burning issues of the day - housing, health and the climate emergencies."
However, Sinn Fein, which won the largest share of the vote in the election, rejects any suggestion that a grand coalition, even with the Greens or Independents, could be interpreted as change.
Yesterday, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said: "And it now seems that Micheal Martin's plan is to deny the people what they voted for. That is an arrogant and untenable position, given the strength of Sinn Fein's mandate."
She added: "The political establishment of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are circling the wagons in defence of a status quo that will not deliver the change citizens voted for last weekend."
Speaking in Belfast, she said: "Nor, however hard they try they cannot block the growing demand around unity." The future, she added, "will see an end to partition and the achievement of unity in our time".
Yesterday, a senior Fianna Fail figure said the question of Irish unity was not a major issue in the election, but the housing and health crises were. "In our negotiations, we will be insisting that any such new government along the lines of what is being talked about will have radical plans on these issues in particular. And I mean radical."
Yesterday, Mr Varadkar hit back at Ms McDonald by branding her promise of being about change to be a "Sinn Fein marketing scam".
"Sinn Fein should explain why it appears to have thrown in the towel on its plans for a left-wing government," the Taoiseach told the Sunday Independent.
Mr Varadkar said Sinn Fein, the left and Independents had the seat numbers to form a majority government and noted it was done in 1948, 1997 and 2016.
"Was this vote left-transfer, left-change message just a Sinn Fein marketing scam after all?" he added.
He also criticised the Sinn Fein leader for claiming Fine Gael was not respecting her voters. "That smacks of hypocrisy to me. When has Sinn Fein ever shown any respect for Fine Gael and our 450,000 voters?"
Meanwhile, it has emerged a group of rural Independent TDs are seeking to organise a voting block of between 10 and 12 deputies which will be pitched to the main parties as an alternative to the Green Party.
The plot, which involves Denis Naughten, former climate change minister, would see a significant number of Independent TDs come together with a set of policy priorities for supporting the next government. Aontu leader Peadar Toibin is also part of the negotiations.
The group is seeking to gazump the Greens and appeal to rural TDs in both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail who are concerned about the impact of climate change policies on their constituents.