DUBLIN (Reuters) - Five independent members of Ireland's parliament have agreed to start talks with prime minister Enda Kenny's party on supporting a new government, increasing the party's lead over its main rival in the race to lead the next government.
Kenny's Fine Gael party won an election last month but lost its majority and was left without natural coalition partners in a fractured parliament. He is due to attempt to secure backing for a new government in parliament on April 6.
"Following discussions ... with both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, we believe that Fine Gael is seriously determined to form a government," the group of five parliamentarians said in a statement.
"As the party is in the driving seat ... we are now prepared to sit down and actively engage on a program for government."
Fine Gael holds 50 seats in the 158 seat parliament, well short of the 79 required for a majority.
To govern it will need at least the consent of second-placed Fianna Fail, which won 44 seats, but the two center-right parties are historic rivals and many members of both are strongly resistant to a coalition deal or other tie-up.
The two parties have not discussed the prospect of an alliance but have each sought support from smaller parties and independents who acknowledge they cannot put either into power alone but may be willing to support an eventual deal.
(Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Catherine Evans)