The chief whip of the Irish Labour party has said Sinn Féin could have a role in a future 26-County coalition administration.
Emmet Stagg said his party could form a possible link-up with Sinn Féin some time in the future.
He is the first senior figure from any of the three other parties in the Dublin parliament to envisage such a role for Sinn Féin.
Responding to the comments, Sinn Féin said Labour should now pull out of the current coalition with Fine Gael.
Although his brother Frank Stagg was an IRA member who died on hunger strike in Wakefield Prison in England in 1976, Mr Stagg has always opposed armed struggle.
He said this week he had long believed that a normalisation of Irish politics would involve a distinction between groups on the right and the left, and described a link between his party and Sinn Féin as “a real possibility”.
“I am very happy that Sinn Féin has stopped killing people and taken up normal politics. They have done that, and they are entitled to the respect that their mandate gives them,” he said.
“I could foresee Sinn Féin and the Labour Party joining together in some form. There is no reason to believe that that would not be the case, particularly if the social democrats in Sinn Féin continue to hold the upper hand.
“They are a broad church (like any party but) I would see that as a real possibility in the future.”
Mr Stagg was speaking amid a low-level debate on a possible alliance between the two main right-wing parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.
The issue was raised earlier this month with a speech by former Fianna Fail Minister Mary O’Rourke. At the annual Michael Collins commemoration at Beal na mBlath on Sunday, RTE celebrity and former FG special advisor Bill O’Herlihy responded positively. He said he believed a coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail “has much to offer at a time of huge challenge for Ireland”.
The idea of a regrouping of the conservative parties has always been seen as coming in tandem with a realignment on the left.
In 1999 Labour merged with Democratic Left, a party which traces its origins to Official Sinn Féin, which split from (Provisional) Sinn Féin in 1970. The current Labour Party leader, Eamon Gilmore, and its current Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte, are former Democractic Left TDs.
Responding to Mr Stagg’s comments, Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty said if anyone in Labour was really seeking a new form of politics, they needed to pull out of the coalition with Fine Gael.
His party pointed to figures this week showing the number of people emigrating is continuing to rise. One person is said to be leaving the state every six minutes, with a harp increase this year in the numbers of Irish families with young children leaving the country.
“The Fine Gael/Labour Government is imposing an austerity regime on the Irish people that is causing mass unemployment, poverty, emigration, the erosion of public services and the worsening of pay and conditions for working people,” Mr Doherty said.
“As Labour Chief Whip, Deputy Stagg has ensured that Labour TDs have supported this austerity regime through thick and thin, despite the cost to the many people who voted for the Labour Party in the hope of real change.
“Let the Labour Party pull out of this Coalition and then the possibility of co-operation among parties of the left can be looked at realistically.”