Enda Kenny and Micheal Martin fail in latest bids to be elected taoiseach
Ireland remains without a new government seven weeks on from a general election after a third attempt to elect a premier failed.
Neither caretaker Taoiseach Enda Kenny nor Micheal Martin, leader of the second largest party Fianna Fail, could secure anywhere near enough backing from the Dail (parliament) to form an administration.
Apart from his own Fine Gael colleagues, drastically reduced in numbers since their drubbing at the polls, Mr Kenny could only get the backing of two Independents.
One was a former member of his party, the other an ex-senator who was nominated to the upper house by him.
He was defeated by 77 to 52 in the 158-seat parliament.
A potentially influential 14-strong block of Independents were among those who abstained from the vote.
They said they were stepping back from talks on the formation of a new government until the two largest parties Fine Gael and Fianna Fail hammer out a deal between them on a minority government.
"We require that they agree to a minimum of three Budgets in order to give stability to the Irish people," they said in a statement.
Mr Martin could not even muster any support from outside of his own parliamentary rank and file, losing 91 to 43.
Immediately after the vote - denounced as a charade by a number of politicians in smaller parties - Mr Kenny invited Mr Martin to re-engage in talks.
Their parties, bitter rivals who have swapped power for more than 80 years, have been locked in negotiations to find a way out of the political deadlock caused by their declining popularity.
Fine Gael has called for a "partnership" government but Fianna Fail rejected the advances from its old enemy.
In a signal of the distrust between them, Mr Martin said there would be no agreement "unless there is an abandonment of the manoeuvring and inflexibility we have seen in the last week alone".
"As the Taoiseach knows, meetings this week have been delayed a few times due to Fine Gael's requests and delays - yet the very first time this happens on the other side official statements were being made within minutes expressing annoyance and threatening a breakdown."
Mr Martin said his party would continue discussions about "the operation of a minority government".
The Dail is to resume next Wednesday.
Mary Lou McDonald, deputy leader of Sinn Fein, the third largest party, said the two main parties were involved in a long drawn out domestic row over who will come out on top.
"The two big beasts of Irish politics are throwing the rattle out of the pram because you don't have it your own way any more," she said.
Acting Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan, of the outgoing junior coalition partners Labour who were humbled in the election, said the refusal to strike a deal on forming a government is a farce which is doing no service to the people of Ireland.
In an impassioned maiden speech to the Dail, the Green Party's Catherine Martin also attacked the intransigence.
"No one party won the election but the people lost the election," she said, urging others to "put people before party hopes".
Independent Finian McGrath said it is "unacceptable" the Dail would not sit again until next week while so many day-to-day issues for the country needed to be resolved.