Public could be heading back to the polls according to Fine Gael

By Daniel McConnell Political Editor

The first meeting of Fine Gael TDs and Senators since the General Election has been told they could be heading back to the polls within 18 months.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan made the comments at the private meeting of the parliamentary party at Leinster House today.

According to sources, Mr Noonan told those assembled that he expects an “early or mid-term election”.

The party met to contemplate and explore why Fine Gael had such a poor campaign, which saw them lose 26 seats on their 2011 results.

Under fire Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the meeting he will open talks with Independents and smaller parties tomorrow with a view to forming a Government.

In a clear sign of his weakened position, the Taoiseach also said he would be willing to change the Dáil rules to give greater speaking rights for smaller groupings.

Mr Kenny is desperately trying to cling on to power and is facing increasing pressure to relinquish the reins.

Also at the meeting, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney issued an apology for suggesting earlier this week that Fine Gael is open to discussions on the future of Irish Water and water charges.

On RTÉ’s Prime Time, the Cork South Central based minister suggested that Fine Gael would be willing to talk about water during negotiations on the formation of a new government.

He had said Fine Gael will “certainly be willing to talk about water”.

Less than 12 hours later, Mr Kenny later described water charges and a national water utility and water charges as a “fundamental” issue for Fine Gael.

At the meeting, Mr Coveney apologised for speaking too “loosely” and reaffirmed his commitment to Irish Water as an entity and to water charges.

At the meeting, Mr Kenny expressed regret that the Labour Party’s numbers have reduced so significantly forcing them to rule themselves out of participating in government.

Earlier, Galway West TD Sean Kyne said the national election campaign was poor, adding that some deputies had privately called it “atrocious”.

Mr Kyne said Fine Gael needed to acknowledge that fact and criticised the budget pension increase of €3.

The party posed for a family photograph on the plinth before the meeting and the gathering was devoid of much cheer and Mr Kenny looked decidedly uncomfortable.

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