Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has set Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin a Halloween deadline to agree to a new confidence and supply deal until 2020 - or face a snap general election.
Mr Varadkar issued the subtle threat just hours after budget 2019 was revealed and after Mr Martin phoned him this evening to begin talks on a potential re-negotiation of the confidence and supply deal.
Speaking on RTE News tonight, Mr Varadkar confirmed "we had a phone call in the last couple of hours" with Mr Martin.
He said during the short phone call it was agreed that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil "are going to engage initially at advisor level and then into negotiating teams" in the coming days.
While not providing further details, Mr Varadkar noted Mr Martin has "talked about a review time-frame running up to Christmas", a schedule the Taoiseach appeared to reject.
Saying he does not understand why a deal could not be agreed "by the Halloween break", Mr Varadkar said he believes there is no need to delay the issue any further.
And adding an extra threat to the first shots in the post-budget confidence and supply deal re-negotiations battle, he added he would "prefer" a "new programme" between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil lasting up to summer 2020 - effectively saying other options cannot be considered.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he believes talks to renew the Confidence and Supply deal can be completed by the end of the Dáil’s Halloween break | Read more: https://t.co/n5JaNPmHdc pic.twitter.com/BWzch3aNUM— RTÉ News (@rtenews) October 9, 2018
The comment came after Mr Martin took the initiative in the high stakes poker game by calling Mr Varadkar just before 6pm this evening after confirming he would do so in an interview on RTE Radio earlier in the day.
Sources close to Mr Martin said during the short phone call the Fianna Fáil leader said he would like to begin re-negotiation talks and that he wants officials to begin discussions in the coming days before negotiating teams consisting of TDs enter talks.
It is widely expected the tense negotiations - which are crucial to causing or preventing a snap election in the middle of Brexit - will begin before the weekend as both Mr Varadkar and Mr Martin will be in Brussels next week for separate EU summit and Brexit discussions.
While the existing confidence and supply deal first struck in spring 2016 is due to run out after the third budget which was published on Tuesday, the parties disagree on whether this occurs once the budget is passed or when related social welfare and finance bills are passed in December and January.