February 19, 2016 / 6:43 PM / in 2 years

Irish main opposition leader predicts stable government

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland has enough parties sharing the center ground to form a stable government after elections next week, the leader of the main opposition party said on Friday, rejecting any comparison with Spain’s election deadlock.

Former Irish foreign minister, Micheal Martin, speaks to the media, in Dublin January 26, 2011. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

Ireland risks the prospect of a post-election stalemate with the two dominant parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, insisting they will not enter an unprecedented coalition that polls suggest would offer the only hope of a stable government.

Spain is still without a government following inconclusive national elections in December but a strong economic recovery similar to Ireland’s remains on track.

“Irish politics is different from (continental) European politics in that there is a very significant center ground,” Micheal Martin, whose Fianna Fail party lies second to Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael in most polls, told Reuters.

“In terms of our traditions and also ... the (economic) situation we’ve come out of, I think there is a lot of center ground opinion. Therefore I do believe that the next Dail (parliament) will have the capacity to form a government that will be good but also stable.”

Martin pointed to “center ground” among some smaller, new parties and a range of independent candidates set to perform strongly. He reiterated that he would not end a near century-old rivalry and join up with fellow center-right party Fine Gael.

The two parties, whom analysts say would have very few differences on fiscal policy, have “very profound differences” in health, housing and education, Martin said.

Having cut a 14 percentage point deficit between the parties to just seven in the most recent survey this week, Martin believes his party can outperform opinion polls as they did at local elections in 2014 and overtake Kenny.

“We can become the lead party in the aftermath of this election. ... This isn’t a coronation for Enda Kenny. Our message has struck a chord with the people,” Martin said in a telephone interview.

Martin said Fianna Fail would be fiscally responsible in government and confirmed that unlike Fine Gael, it would not use up the additional 1.5 billion euros ($1.7 billion) of budgetary space freed up if the European Commission deems Ireland’s budget to be balanced structurally by coming within half a percent of zero.

Fianna Fail will target a balanced budget in both structural terms, excluding the effects of the economic cycle, and headline terms, Martin said.

He also rejected the idea that it is just a matter of time before left-wing protest party Sinn Fein - vying with Fianna Fail for second place - enters government, as its leader Gerry Adams told Reuters this week.

“I don’t see it as inevitable,” Martin, a foreign minister in the last administration, said.

“Doubts will start emerging before the close of polling. They will gain seats but maybe not to the extent the polls are suggesting.”

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Ruth Pitchford

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