DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny's Fine Gael party will only seek to form a minority government if it can strike a deal that ensures smaller parties or its arch rival will not bring it down within months, a senior minister said on Friday.
Last week Ireland became the latest euro zone state to face a prolonged political stalemate after an election ousted the ruling coalition without producing a clear alternative, echoing recent inconclusive polls in Spain and Portugal.
Kenny's center-right party fell 30 seats short of the 80 needed to form a majority in parliament, just six seats more than resurgent, historic rival Fianna Fail.
Both Kenny and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin will seek to become the country's next prime minister when parliament returns on March 10 by garnering enough support among smaller parties and independent lawmakers to win a parliamentary vote.
But on Friday Health Minister Leo Varadkar, speaking about the conclusions reached at a five-hour party meeting held on Thursday, said his party would not form a minority government if it could cause short-term political instability.
"It would have to be based on some sort of agreement that would hold," Varadkar told national broadcaster RTE. "We can't have a government that might collapse in three months or six months - you can get nothing done that way."
Fine Gael argues that Ireland needs political stability to preserve and extend its economic recovery. Ireland's economy has been the fastest growing in Europe over the last two years after a deep financial crisis but many have yet to feel the upturn.
Any unlikely informal alliance that does not include Fianna Fail would have a razor-thin parliamentary majority and encompass parties across a broad political spectrum.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are both center-right parties, but they are divided by a rivalry that stretches back almost a century to the country's civil war.
Asked about the prospect of forming a minority government supported by Fianna Fail, Varadkar said: "It would be extremely difficult, we don't trust each other as parties.
"While the policy gaps might not be as big as they are with other parties, there are some very significant ones there."
He said any such agreement would likely need the backing of the party's membership. Varadkar also said working with Fianna Fail in a formal coalition was unlikely and that there was no willingness to do so on either side.
Varadkar, widely seen as the strongest contender to eventually succeed Kenny, said the party was fully united behind its leader.
(Reporting by William James and Padraic Halpin; Editing by Gareth Jones)