Hopes of an early breakthrough in coalition talks were dealt a blow last night when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar bluntly said he intends to take Fine Gael into opposition.
Mr Varadkar's comments came after it emerged many Fine Gael TDs and senators oppose a "grand coalition" with Fianna Fail which was being talked up by some politicians in both parties as a real option for the next Government.
However, the caretaker Taoiseach moved to totally scotch speculation about a political development which would have ended a history of rivalry between the traditional "big two" since early in the State's foundation.
"Fine Gael is preparing for opposition. The country will need a strong and effective opposition and I relish the challenge of leading it," Mr Varadkar said.
The Taoiseach again urged Sinn Fein to resume efforts to put together a left-leaning coalition with smaller parties and Independents as the Dail numbers made this possible.
He said if that did not work out, Fianna Fail should work with the Green Party, Labour, the Social Democrats and Independents to forge a coalition.
Mr Varadkar said that while his party was determined to head for the opposition benches it might, in extremis, consider helping out with coalition as an absolute last resort.
"We will not let down the State and Republic we founded," Mr Varadkar said.
"We are willing to consider participating in a government but only as a last resort and only if we are wanted and needed."
A depleted band of 35 Fine Gael TDs will today gather at Leinster House to review why they suffered so many losses in the general election.
Ahead of the meeting many of them said their best option now was to go into opposition and try to rebuild the party.
"We went from 75 TDs in 2011 to 50 in 2016 and now we're down to just 35. If we became junior partners to Fianna Fail in a coalition we would risk total wipe-out next time," one senior TD told the Herald.
At the weekend Sinn Fein said it could not put together a broadly left-leaning coalition with parties other than Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. This followed Fianna Fail ruling out a coalition with Sinn Fein.
A noisy blame game over the coalition stalemate continued yesterday.
Fianna Fail and Fine Gael continued to insist Sinn Fein had not done enough to pursue a broadly-leftist coalition which did not involve the two traditional big parties.
Sinn Fein again countered that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael were excluding it - and by extension the one-in-four voters who backed the party - from the prospect of government.
Fine Gael yet again strongly rejected ever engaging in government with Sinn Fein.
Fine Gael's Junior Housing Minister Damien English said he believed Sinn Fein could gather enough TDs to form a left-leaning coalition in line with its statements during the election campaign.
This is despite senior Sinn Fein figures such as Eoin O Broin saying they did not think it was possible for the party to form a government without the support of Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.
Sinn Fein's Martin Kenny told RTE's The Week In Politics that he did not accept that his party had "thrown in the towel too early" on forming a left-leaning government.
He also said the voters did not want to see a government which included Fine Gael because the key message from last weekend's election was one of change.
Mr Kenny said Fianna Fail was hugely "out of step" with its own membership and grassroots supporters. He insisted these people would be happy to see the party talk to Sinn Fein about coalition formation.
The Fine Gael parliamentary party gathers at 2pm today in Leinster House for a meeting which will review serious losses in last week's general election. The party is now the third ranking in the Dail and its return of just 35 TDs is comparable with its electoral meltdown in 2002.
Some in the senior ranks would be prepared to discuss the prospect of putting together a coalition with Fianna Fail and the Green Party.
However, several TDs said the most they might eventually consider was talking about some kind of "Tallaght-strategy", which operated under party leader Alan Dukes in 1987-89, when it supported a minority Fianna Fail government.
Fianna Fail TD Stephen Donnelly said Sinn Fein must respect other parties' mandate.
Fine Gael TD Hildegarde Naughton said her party was happy to go into opposition because people voted for change and her party now needed to regroup.