Ireland’s two biggest political parties have taken the first steps towards forming a new coalition government.
Negotiators from the centre-right Fine Gael party are to sit down with Labour representatives in round one of the complex talks.
Both sides accept they are under pressure from Europe to strike a deal by the end of the week.
Enda Kenny, who led Fine Gael to an historic success at the polls at the weekend, is to finalise his negotiation team mid-morning.
He has already made contact with Labour leader Eamon Gilmore to tee up what could be several days of tough discussions. Depending on the numbers, Mr Kenny may also have the option of forming a coalition with like-minded independents.
A spokesman for Fine Gael said initial contacts have been made to open negotiations on a programme for government.
“There was initial contact between Mr Kenny and Eamon Gilmore but no negotiations have started, it was just a phone call.”
The parties are under intense pressure to strike a deal on a new coalition before the week is out with the Dail (parliament) due to sit again on March 9.
Before any calls were made, all sides accepted a quick deal is needed as Ireland faces a series of challenging hurdles linked to its multibillion-euro bailout and banking crisis.
Mr Kenny is due to travel to Helsinki on Friday for a meeting of the European People’s Party, with which Fine Gael is affiliated. The contacts are intended to open the door for a charm offensive and garner support to renegotiate Ireland’s 85 billion euro (£73 billion) loan from the International Monetary Fund and Europe.