March 15, 2016 / 3:29 PM / in a year

Government talks between Ireland's main parties premature: minister

DUBLIN (Reuters) - It is premature for Ireland's two main parties to discuss forming a government together, a senior minister said on Tuesday, as talks on the only option analysts say can break a political deadlock continue to be put off.

Ireland became one of several euro zone countries with deeply fractured parliaments on Feb. 26 as voters ousted caretaker prime minister Enda Kenny's coalition from power without opting for a clear alternative.

Kenny's Fine Gael party remained the biggest party but fell well short of a majority, leaving its historic rival Fianna Fail as its only realistic partner with which to form a government, but many in both parties strongly resist such an unprecedented tie-up.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, whose rivalry dates back almost a century to the civil war, have not discussed the prospect of any kind of alliance and have instead been trying to garner support from smaller parties and independent lawmakers.

"There is real talking happening at the moment and it is with the independents, the smaller parties, it's premature I think at this stage to be talking to Fianna Fail," Health Minister Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael told broadcaster RTE.

"The talks that are happening this week are to see if we can find enough common ground to put together a broad-based minority that could then get the support of the Dail (parliament)."

Kenny and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, whose party has seven fewer seats than Fine Gael's 50 in the 157-seat chamber, both lost parliamentary votes for prime minister by a wide margin last week. Another vote is expected on April 6.

Varadkar, who acknowledged a caretaker government could only operate for a few weeks, dismissed Fianna Fail's position that whichever party wins the most backing in that vote would have the right to lead any negotiations between the two parties.

"I know some people are suggesting some sort of Eurovision (Song Contest) style beauty contest. That's not how it works, that somehow the person that gets the highest number of votes, even if they lose, has some sort of moral authority to lead a minority government," he said.

"You either win it or you don't."

While the yield on Irish 10-year bonds remains near record lows, analysts have said a long stalemate or second election could add to Ireland's vulnerability to a possible exit by Britain from the European Union in a referendum in June.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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