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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Irish Leader Seeks Stable Coalition

DUBLIN -- Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, the savvy survivor of Irish politics, looked ahead to another five years in charge of Europe's most economically dynamic country -- but faced tough negotiations to produce a stable coalition government.

Following Thursday's election triumph, he faced coalition negotiations with both the Labour Party and the Greens.

Both are strident left-wing critics of Ahern's pro-business government which, for the past 10 years, has promoted Ireland as a low-tax magnet for U.S. investment and European immigration.

Now, Ireland faces two weeks of closed-doors negotiations to work out whether Ahern can combine policies with politicians who, just a few days ago, were seeking his political scalp.

When the newly elected Dail Eireann parliament convenes June 14, Ahern will need support from at least 83 lawmakers for a majority government.

Fianna Fail won 78 seats, better than expected, but five short of the mark needed to govern securely on its own. Fianna Fail's center-ground rival, Fine Gael, won 51 seats, too few to forge a viable majority with other parties.

Ahern's decade-old coalition partners, the Progressive Democrats, were almost wiped out. Analysts said the vote against them reflected frustration that Ireland's free-market boom since the mid-1990s has outpaced state-funded services, including the road network, schools and hospitals.

At stake is whether Ireland continues on its path toward a U.S.-style society of fierce competition and car dependency, or turns toward the continental European norm of better social safeguards, strong public transport and higher taxes.

Ireland has been the unquestioned economic success of Europe since the mid-1990s. A 12.5 percent rate of business tax -- one-third of the European norm -- has wooed hundreds of multinationals, particularly in computer technology and pharmaceuticals.

The Greens, who have propped up coalitions in several West European countries but never featured in national Irish politics before, are playing their cards close to their chest. Their six parliamentary seats would give Ahern a one-seat cushion.

Green leader Trevor Sargent said his party would only go into a government committed to abolishing business donations to political parties -- a platform that would hit Fianna Fail's coffers.

Former Prime Minister Garret Fitzgerald, an economist and expert political number-cruncher, said he was confident, nonetheless, that Ahern would turn to the Greens, who would demand a high price in return for their support.

He said the Greens would probably expect to receive either the environment or transport positions in the Cabinet, platforms for them to push their agenda of windfarms, carbon taxes, tougher punishments of polluters, and restrictions on vehicles and highway construction.