As counting in the General Election comes to a close, Fianna Fáil has won 78 seats and is now seeking coalition partners to give Bertie Ahern a third term as Taoiseach.

Fine Gael finished with 51 seats, Labour took 20 seats, the Greens won six and Sinn Féin ended up with four.

A collapse in the Progressive Democrats' vote saw their seat total reduced to two, while Independent candidates took the remaining five seats.

That number represents a major reduction in the number of Independents, and is compounded by the spectacular the loss of the seat of the Socialist Party's Joe Higgins.

Moves towards the formation of the next Government have already begun - in an interview on RTÉ Radio today, the Taoiseach said Fianna Fáil had a 'lot of options' open to it, but that stability was number one on his agenda, and the biggest consideration when it came to forming a government.

That was a message hammered home by a succession of Fianna Fáil Ministers in media appearances today - stability, it seems, is the key.

The options include adding the two PD deputies and a number of Independents to the 78 Fianna Fáil seats to elect Mr Ahern when the Dáil resumes on the 14 June.

Another is to form a coalition with the six Green TDs, which numerically would be more stable, but might pose more policy challenges.

And then there is the possibility of a deal with Labour, which would give a very firm majority, but would cost more in terms of seats at the Cabinet table.

Young swing to FF, says Ahern

In the RTÉ interview, the Taoiseach declined to say whether he would approach the Labour Party to form a government.

He said Fianna Fáil had performed well in the general election because of an upsurge in support among young people, especially those under 25.

The Taoiseach also paid tribute to Michael McDowell, describing him as a tough and bright politician.

Mr McDowell retired from politics yesterday after he lost his seat in Dublin South-East.

General Secretary of the Progressive Democrats John Higgins has said his party's poor showing in the election highlighted the need for candidates to work 'on the ground'.

He also tipped Mary Harney to resume her leadership of the PDs, describing her as 'steadfast'.

Dissent in FG, Labour

Labour leader Pat Rabbitte has also suggested Ms Harney may retake control of the party following Mr McDowell's retirement from political life.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael Waterford TD John Deasy has criticised party leader Enda Kenny.

He said that the party needed 'an attitude change and a credible leader' after it failed to secure enough votes to form the next government with Labour.

The outgoing Dublin North-East Labour deputy, Tommy Broughan, has also criticised his party leader's election strategy.

He accused Fine Gael of cannibalising smaller parties, and said he never agreed with the agreement drawn up between the two parties in Mullingar in 2004.

Mr Rabbitte has reacted to Mr Broughan's criticism of his election strategy.

The Labour leader said he did 'what he thought was right'.