Ireland's next leader Enda Kenny faces crucial 30 days

By Mark Simpson
BBC Ireland Correspondent

Image caption, The election arithmetic has still to be completed

Waiting in the in-tray of Enda Kenny when he becomes Irish prime minister will be a mountain of debt.

It is so big that he will hardly have room on his desk for his laptop. No wonder he has already started trying to negotiate more generous terms for Ireland's international bail-out.

"There isn't an hour to be lost or any time to be wasted," said a breathless Mr Kenny, as soon as it became clear he had won the election.

The leader of Fine Gael will not take over running the Irish Republic until the new Irish parliament meets next month.

However, he has already begun preparations by signalling to European leaders that he is hoping to reduce the interest rate that Ireland has to pay on its 85bn Euro international bail-out.

A difficult set of negotiations in Brussels is looming. Just as tricky could be the negotiations back home in Dublin this week, as he tries to form a partnership government.

Keen, not desperate

Although some Fine Gael politicians are flirting with the idea of sharing power with a group of like-minded independents, a coalition with the Irish Labour Party seems the only viable option.

Labour will make not make life easy for Fine Gael. They are keen on power, but not desperate. They know that if they jump into government with a centre-right party, other left-wing parties in the Irish parliament will be snapping at their heels on a daily basis.

Image caption, Bruton (l) believes Kenny will find realism in Labour, as well as Fine Gael

With a strong Sinn Fein contingent in parliament, plus a number of hard-left independents, Labour ministers will need thick skins.

So could Fine Gael and Labour work together?

They have worked together in previous coalitions.

"There are personal relationships and political realism in both parties," says Fine Gael's Richard Bruton.

Full diary

However, realism sometimes goes out the window when coalition horse-trading begins. Fine Gael will want the next government to focus on spending cuts rather than tax rises; Labour will want a more balanced approach.

Fine Gael are in favour of water charges; Labour are not.

Image caption, Kenny faces some tough choices on whom to pick

Then there is thorny issue of cabinet positions, with both parties adamant that they should gain the key position of finance minister.

Ideally, Enda Kenny wants the coalition negotiations concluded by the end of this week. If he manages to create a stable government, he could then concentrate on trying to produce a stable economy.

Fundamental to that will be deciding how to deal with Ireland's crisis-hit banking sector.

The next 30 days will be crucial for Mr Kenny. Just look at the dates in his diary:

  • a meeting of the European People's Party in Helsinki on Friday
  • the first meeting of the new Irish Parliament on 9 March
  • a summit involving Euro-zone leaders on 11 March
  • a reception at the White House with President Barack Obama on 17 March
  • a European Union leaders summit on 24 March

Mr Kenny's government may not have much money, but they are assured plenty of publicity. The Queen is expected to visit Ireland before the end of this year, and there is talk of a visit to Dublin by President Obama at the end of May.

It seems Mr Kenny, 59, will not have much time time to relax in his native Co Mayo in the west of Ireland. However, he is known as a hard worker.

One of his favourite political quotes is the old cycling adage: "Once you stop pedalling, you're dead."

He firmly believes he can steer Ireland out of political turmoil, but there are bound to be a few wobbles along the way.