March 31, 2016 / 3:28 PM / in a year

Leaders of two main Irish parties to speak about political impasse next week

A man removes a campaign poster for Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin after polling stations closed in Dublin, Ireland February 26, 2016.Darren Staples

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland's two largest parties will talk next week about how to end a political impasse sparked by inconclusive elections though a new government is probably weeks away, the leader of the main opposition party said on Thursday.

Micheal Martin, head of the second-largest party Fianna Fail, told reporters he had spoken to acting prime minister Enda Kenny and they agreed to address the matter together after a sitting of parliament on Wednesday.

Both are expected to fall short of the votes in that session required to elect a premier for the second time.

"Just before lunchtime I rang the Taoiseach (prime minister) and we agreed that we would engage in the aftermath of that (Wednesday's vote for prime minister). I told him we were in negotiations with independents, just as he is, and when that process had concluded, we'd engage after that," Martin said.

Fianna Fail and Kenny's Fine Gael are vying to secure the support of 15 independent lawmakers who have said they may back a minority government. But whoever wins the most support would remain dependent on the cooperation of the other main party.

"We didn't get into that detail" about whether Fianna Fail would support a Fine Gael minority, Martin said. "I know people are anxious to know when a government is going to be formed and all of that, but I think we're some weeks away from that yet."

Ireland became one of several euro zone countries with deeply fractured parliaments as voters angry that they were not benefiting from an economic recovery ousted Kenny's coalition from power without opting for a clear alternative.

Fine Gael secured 50 deputies in the Feb. 26 election compared to Fianna Fail's 43, both well short of the 79 needed for a majority. All of the other parties in parliament have ruled out supporting a minority government led by either.

The two historic rivals are strongly resistant to a formal tie-up and Martin again ruled out the prospect of a "grand coalition". He would not rule out the possibility of Fianna Fail backing a minority Fine Gael government from opposition.

A senior Fine Gael minister said on Wednesday his party would not support a minority Fianna Fail-led government.

The new government will be tasked with making sure the euro zone's fastest growing economy is more widely felt. Talks between the parties and independents have focused on how to tackle a severe shortage of housing supply, a struggling health service and how to revive economic activity in rural areas.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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