A deal has been struck to pave the way for the formation of a minority government in the Republic of Ireland after two months of post-election stalemate.
After weeks of negotiations, a draft agreement was finally reached between the largest party Fine Gael and arch rivals Fianna Fail on Friday evening.
The parties have established the framework of a pact to enable a Fine Gael administration to govern for the period covering the next three budgets in the Irish parliament.
Fine Gael leader and acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin will now seek the backing of party colleagues.
A statement from both parties said: “Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have reached a political agreement to facilitate a Fine Gael led minority government.
“Both party leaders are now being briefed, extensive drafting has to be done and then both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael will hold separate parliamentary party meetings to outline the details of the confidence and supply arrangement.”
The agreement was eventually finalised after marathon exchanges between the parties’ negotiating teams at Trinity College in Dublin.
Fine Gael and Labour, its junior coalition partners in the last government, suffered major losses at the election in February after five years in power administering an austerity programme.
While Fine Gael retained its position as the largest party, it did not have the strength to form a workable majority coalition government.
With a so-called “grand coalition” with Fianna Fail proving a step too far for rivals whose enmities were forged in the Irish Civil War, a minority Fine Gael led administration, with the support of a number of independents, has been the only realistic option for a number of weeks.
But such an arrangement depended on a guarantee from main opposition party Fianna Fail not to oppose the government on key votes.
If Fine Gael manage to conclude negotiations with the independents in a short time frame, a new Taoiseach could be elected as early as next week.
Three previous attempts in the Dail to elect a Taoiseach in the wake of the election ended in failure.
The future of the last government’s controversial water company Irish Water was a key factor in negotiations between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.
The deal, the full contents of which have not been made public, now requires the endorsement of the respective parties’ parliamentary rank and file.
And even with that backing, Fine Gael will need to strike separate agreements with a range of independents before a workable government can be formed.
With a pact hammered out between the two bitter foes, focus will now turn to Mr Kenny’s attempts to woo potential coalition bedfellows from a disparate band of smaller parties and independents.
Fine Gael have previously held talks with the Green Party, the Social Democrats and a range of independent members of the Dail in a bid to find allies. It is expected some will have ambitions on ministerial office in return for propping up the administration.
Labour ruled out going back into power, opting instead to repair the damage suffered at the election on the opposition benches.
Speculation is already turning to how long any new minority government will last, with some observers predicting an early return to the polls.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams accused Fianna Fail of campaigning in the election to put Mr Kenny out of office but striking a deal to keep him there. The Louth TD claimed Fianna Fail had forfeited its right to lead the opposition.
“Whatever deal has been reached will I have no doubt fallen well short of delivering the change and investment required to tackle the housing and homelessness crises and fix our health service, and will not bring about a fairer, more equal society, as Fianna Fail claimed to want to deliver in their manifesto,” he said.
“It will also not deliver what citizens demanded on water – which is the outright abolition of water charges and the dismantling of Irish Water. .
“Sinn Fein are very clear in stating that we will hold Fianna Fail equally accountable for every decision taken, and those not taken, by an incoming government.”