Handful of votes cost FF overall majority - Ahern


NEWS: A handful of votes in a handful of places cost Fianna Fáil an overall majority, the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, said last night.

He reiterated that, in the absence of an overall majority, his preferred coalition partners would be the Progressive Democrats. However, he said that if the stakes were raised too high, he would not go into government with them.

Asked what he meant by this when he arrived in the RDS last night for the completion of a recount in his own Dublin Central constituency, he said: "That's for me to look at but there are lots of options for Fianna Fáil. We are on 80 or 81, we've lots of options but our preferred option is the PDs."

Such a coalition would result in a more stable government, he said. "I think that's what this country needs." He added that he was happy with the overall result.

"We are very happy but a handful of votes in a handful of places would make the difference and that's what happened. Our colleagues the PDs, who I continually called on our people to transfer on, are doing very well on our transfers in those constituencies and have doubled their votes.

"My preference was always to try and get an overall majority for my party, which I didn't think it would do, and the second was to continue with the outgoing Government because it was my view that the Irish people would vote for a return of the Government and that's what they did.

"I know people could say people weren't canvassing on that, that's dancing on the top of a needle. The fact is that Fianna Fáil will end up with 80 or 81, the PDs will end up with 8 and that's a huge majority vote for the outgoing government."

It was too early, he said, to consider how many ministerial posts might be offered to the PDs in any new government of which they could be a part.

Earlier Mr Ahern said it was "likely" that Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats would form a coalition government.

He said he believed the most important outcome of this election was to establish a stable government and build on the economic success of the past 10 years.

"I think the Irish electorate will say that it makes a lot of sense to go back to the Progressive Democrats. We haven't had any talks yet but that is what I campaigned for in the last week to have Fianna Fáil transfers to help the Progressive Democrats, and they did."

The Progressive Democrats' leader, Ms Mary Harney, said her party would take time to consider its position.

"We're not going to make any quick decisions. We have to take stock of where we are now," she told RTÉ yesterday.

She said it was important for a country to have a strong government, but equally it was "unhealthy" in a democracy if there was no strong opposition.

She pointed out that some of the Independent candidates elected already had links to Fianna Fáil.

"It may well be that Fianna Fáil decide to do a deal with some of those Independents," she said.

The Progressive Democrats "wouldn't run away from government but we'd only be there if we felt we had a meaningful role and were genuinely in power having our policy agenda implemented".