The Minister for Agriculture has told a Fine Gael meeting he regrets any upset caused to the party by his comments over a potential alliance with Fianna Fáil after the next election. 

Sources said Simon Coveney told his colleagues he had simply been too honest in answering questions in an interview for the Examiner newspaper.

Responding at tonight’s parliamentary party meeting, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said the priority should be maximising the number of seats after the election rather than speculating about possible alliances.

Ms Fitzgerald chairs the Fine Gael strategy committee.

Her comments are seen as a rebuke to Mr Coveney about his remarks, which were badly received by Fine Gael's Labour partners and a large number of backbenchers in the senior Coalition party. 

Earier, Mr Coveney said he was unhappy that his comments were interpreted as disloyalty to the current Coalition.

Speaking about a response by Minister Kathleen Lynch to the issue, he said he could understand why Minister Lynch was frustrated and made the remarks she did.

Ms Lynch criticised Mr Coveney after he said Fine Gael would consider a coalition with Fianna Fáil after the next election.

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly today agreed with Ms Lynch.

He said that while 2014 was a difficult year for the Government, these problems were not on the Labour side of the coalition.

Mr Kelly described Mr Coveney's comments as "strange to say the least."

However, Mr Coveney said he had been asked about a situation whereby it was not possible for Fine Gael to form a coalition with Labour.

He said in that context he said nothing new, and that he did not have any "civil war baggage".

He said a coalition with Labour would be his strong preference.

Limerick TD Patrick O'Donovan said that anyone who talked about putting Fianna Fáil back in government "needed their head examined".

Minister Coveney says article on Fianna Fáil coalition did not reflect conversation

Coveney showed 'poor political leadership'

Labour Senator Lorraine Higgins has said that Mr Coveney showed poor political leadership in his comments.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke, Ms Higgins said she believed Labour and Fine Gael should be getting on as a Government with the job of work they had to do.

She said perhaps Mr Coveney had panicked a little in light of polls showing that he is lagging behind in a possible leadership race within Fine Gael.

Ms Higgins said more worryingly she believed he was suffering from "selective amnesia" given that at the last election Fine Gael was asking Fianna Fáil supporters to lend them their votes.

She said it was also showing a disregard for party history and the grass roots.

Ms Higgins said Mr Coveney had said he had no ideological problem with going into coalition with Fianna Fáil but what she wanted to know is if he did have an ideological problem with the Labour Party.

She said it was his way of hankering for power at all costs.

Ms Higgins said Mr Coveney had also described Micheál Martin as competent and she said she took exception to that because Mr Martin had sat at a cabinet table for 14 years and said nothing while economic policies were pursued which brought the country to the brink.

Coveney comments 'pragmatic' - Doherty

Meanwhile, Fine Gael TD for Meath East Regina Doherty said she believes Minister Coveney was being "pragmatic" in his comments in relation to a potential coalition with Fianna Fáil.

But she said he has stated publicly, including at a local constituency meeting in Meath on Monday, that his preferred choice of Government, after the next election, would be to return the current Government partners.

She said in fairness to him, he was being pragmatic in his response; that if the numbers add up, he does not ideologically have any differences with Fianna Fáil.

She said that she is dealing with people in her constituency clinics who are suffering from the policies that Fianna Fáil pursued for the last ten years.

Ms Doherty said Fine Gael values the relationship it has with Labour in Government and that the parties have provided an extremely stable Government.

However, she said politicians are well aware that "the future of governing in this country is through party coalitions".