DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland's Labour Party is considering joining the minority government that acting prime minister Enda Kenny's Fine Gael party is trying to put together, a party spokesman said.
Labour, the junior partner in the last government, also led by Kenny, was left with just seven members of parliament after voters handed the center-left party its worst ever result at the Feb. 26 election.
It initially ruled itself out of the next government but, searching for the support of at least six other deputies to form a minority government, Fine Gael has appealed to Labour and other smaller parties to join talks with independent lawmakers.
"There are three options open to the Labour Party. One is perusing the option of going into government. The other is looking at supporting the government from outside and the third would be to go into opposition," the spokesman said.
"All of those three are being examined at the moment within the party."
Even if Labour agreed to back Fine Gael from opposition by abstaining in key votes, Kenny still needs nearest rival Fianna Fail to do the same. Talks between the two main parties on reaching such an agreement are due to resume on Monday.
Labour joined the 14 independent lawmakers that are in talks about joining the government in insisting that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael must agree to a detailed plan on the parameters of a minority government before it decides whether to sign up.
Should Labour lawmakers seek to re-enter government, they would need to win the support of party members scarred by the election hammering.
However, unlike in the past when it rebuilt its support from the opposition benches, Labour would no longer be a major force in opposition if it chose to do so this time and could be drowned out by the larger nationalist and leftist Sinn Fein party.
"I think it's way, way premature for anybody to be thinking that the Labour Party is preparing to go back into government," acting energy minister Alex White, one of 18 Labour lawmakers who failed to get re-elected, told national broadcaster RTE.
"Our instinct after the election was that we would go to the opposition benches and rebuild our party and I'd say it remains the instinct of many in the Labour Party... I have an open mind in relation to it."
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Mark Potter and Andrew Heavens