By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland's government will step up its support for Britain to remain in the European Union if it is re-elected, Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan said on Saturday.
However, an inconclusive result in elections expected next month could endanger a consistent response to a possible "Brexit," he said.
Ireland has more to lose than other EU members if its larger neighbor, a key trading partner, votes to leave the union at a referendum due to be held by 2017 and the Irish government has been a vocal opponent of a British exit, or "Brexit".
With Ireland's ruling coalition short of a majority in opinion polls and no obvious alternatives in sight ahead of elections, parties may struggle to form a new administration just as Britain finishes negotiations with the EU on winning better membership terms.
"The prospect of instability is a real danger on the Brexit question but also in terms of our domestic politics," Flanagan told Reuters after a 90-minute discussion on "Brexit" with members of his Fine Gael party at its annual conference.
"It is expected that a (renegotiation) text will be agreed over the next couple of months, maybe earlier and I believe it is important that the consistency of approach here in Ireland is not endangered, which it would be by an unclear election result."
Addressing party members, Flanagan said a "Brexit" would be "a leap into the unknown" and that Dublin did not know what the consequences would be for trade, political relations, Britain's border along Northern Ireland or the sizable number of Irish citizens living in Britain.
The government has identified a "Brexit" as a major strategic risk to the recovering economy and Ireland's Central Bank warned that withdrawal would hurt Irish exports, employment, economic growth and significantly impact the country's financial sector.
A government-commissioned report estimated that trade between the two countries could fall by at least 20 percent if Britain left the 28-member bloc.
Flanagan said the government would intensify its support for the 'In' campaign if re-elected, including encouraging British citizens living in Ireland to vote.
"We believe we have an obligation to speak out and a duty to speak out," he said. "Should we be favored with re-election, that will become intensified in terms of people here who will be voting, we will encourage them to become registered and become involved in the debate."
(Editing by Digby Lidstone)