Bruton accused over Scott vote

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The Independent Online
ALAN MURDOCH

Dublin

The Taoiseach John Bruton will face stiff questioning in the Dail this week over allegations that he made a direct but unsuccessful attempt to help John Major in last Monday's vote on the Scott report.

It was claimed in Irish newspapers at the weekend that Mr Bruton, in an effort to sustain the Anglo-Irish all-party talks initiative unveiled last Wednesday, went as far as to ring the SDLP leader John Hume hours before the Commons vote to urge his party to abstain.

Mr Bruton, who was in Bangkok for the Europe-Asia summit, did not deny the allegation. A spokesman for the Taoiseach had had many confidential conversations in efforts to secure agreement on a date for all-party talks. But he insisted "the nature of these conversations remains confidential".

There was weekend speculation in Dublin that Mr Bruton had promised to help Mr Major during a series of lengthy telephone conversations in the days preceding the Scott vote. This was said to have come at a time when Ulster Unionist support for the Government was evaporating, and as London edged towards finally agreeing a firm date for all-party negotiations, strongly urged by Sinn Fein as the price required to reinstate the IRA ceasefire.

Yesterday, Bertie Ahern, leader of the Fianna Fail opposition in the Dail, said: "It is not the function of the Irish government to act as a party whip" in a vote on "an internal British matter." If the Taoiseach had done so, he had acted "improperly", Mr Ahern said.

While John Hume would neither confirm nor deny the report, SDLP sources indicated that despite the alleged Bruton move there was never any question that they would not oppose the Government on the Scott vote.

Asked if his silence might be taken as confirming the reports, Mr Hume reportedly replied: "So be it."

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