Government formation is often a marathon. But now the pace had quickened with pressure mounting on parties to come together in the national interest as the country grapples with the Covid-19 emergency.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have been working on a joint policy document. The two parties have a combined 72 seats which is eight short of a majority.

Now attention is turning to the Labour Party, The Greens, the Social Democrats and groups of Independent TDs. The question is which if any will jump on board the government formation bandwagon?

But even if there is enough support to form a new administration there will also be a challenge for parties to get their members to back an agreement in the era of social distancing.

Rebuilding economy is main focus of FG-FF framework for government document

As talks continue, party officials are now looking at alternatives to large gatherings usually used to vote on coalition deals.

In normal circumstances the rules require Fianna Fáil to hold a special Ard Fheis where each member gets a vote.

There are around 20,000 members in the party and over 50% have to vote in favour of a programme for government.

Fine Gael requires a special delegate conference and the votes are carried out based on the electoral college system.

This means the Parliamentary Party makes up 50% of the vote, constituency electors representing the party comprise of 25%, city and county councillors make up 15% of the vote and the party's Executive Council makes up the final 10%.

Looking to the Labour Party, it also requires a special delegate conference to be called by new Party leader Alan Kelly.

The only item on the agenda would be whether to accept the programme for government.

It's a one member one vote system and the party has an estimated 3,000 members.

The Green Party requires a special convention and a two thirds majority would have to support the programme for government.

There are an estimated 3,000 members in the Green Party and it's also a one member - one vote system, however probationary members do not get a vote.

Given the Covid-19 restrictions the regular channels that parties go through to get a mandate from their members cannot happen.

Party officials are now looking at the possibility of a postal vote or using online platforms like Zoom to connect with members.

A Fine Gael source said if the party has to put something to its members it will find a way to do it.

Another TD, speaking anonymously, said the parliamentary party will play a significant role in terms of weight but any decision must be done in unison with all members of the party.

The Seanad election was carried out through postal ballot this year, as was the vote for the Labour leadership contest.

But with thousands of members in each political party is it really practical for a vote on a programme for government to take place this way?

Mary Murphy, Associate professor in Politics at NUI Maynooth, said she is not sure if a postal vote is the best option because, she said, it doesn't allow members to discuss and have dialogue.

"Just a postal vote alone is not satisfactory, what you want is for people to be able to bounce ideas off each other and come to an informed decision."

She continued: "There is nothing to say though that you couldn't have a debate online and then organise a postal vote."

Many TDs who are used to walking the corridors of Leinster House chatting to colleagues are missing that face-to-face interaction.

"Independents would be an easier target for two reasons, they don't have to go through party members which can be more ideological than the party leaderships"

Gerard Howlin, Public Affairs Consultant and Irish Examiner columnist, said politics has never been done remotely and is a close contact sport.

"There is little personal interaction between members of the parliamentary parties and ultimately no national party conferences and I believe this is decision making in the absence of the usual dynamic of democracy."

Adrian Kavanagh, lecturer and political geographer at NUI Maynooth, said Independent TDs could be an easier option for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, should they reach an agreement, because they don't have to get a mandate from party members.

He said: "Independents would be an easier target for two reasons, they don't have to go through party members which can be more ideological than the party leaderships. Also if you do a deal with rural Independents they tend to stick to the deal."

Parties say no official decision has been made on how their membership would vote on a programme for government should agreement be reached on deal.

There is no doubt though that the voting process this time around will be very different to what party members are used to. But these are very different times too.