Reynolds faces no-confidence vote today

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The Independent Online
The Irish Prime Minister, Albert Reynolds, faces a motion of no confidence today after support from his coalition partners faded yesterday.

The main opposition party, Fine Gael, put down a no-confidence motion last night after Mr Reynolds failed to satisfy critics with a statement in the Dail on the row over a delay in processing an application to extradite a paedophile priest.

The motion to be debated today claims coalition cohesion has disintegrated ``so much so that ministers feel they can no longer attend cabinet meetings. No work can be done in those circumstances.'' The motion blames the Taoiseach for a breakdown of accountability.

In the Dail yesterday, Mr Reynolds offered regrets for the way his Attorney General's office had handled the case but failed to satisfy Labour concerns over the hasty manner in which he promoted the former Attorney General, Harry Whelehan, last Friday to the second-highest judicial position in the state.

Labour backbenchers were hardening in their opposition to staying in coalition with Mr Reynolds' Fianna Fail, increasing uncertainties over Dublin's future role in the Northern Ireland peace process.

Many Labour MPs left the Dail last night dissatisfied with Mr Reynolds' explanation of Mr Whelehan's handling of the case of Fr Brendan Smyth, and of Mr Reynolds' promotion of Mr Whelehan to the Presidency of the High Court.

They noted the absence of any clear apology for his handling of the affair. Labour MPs have given their leader, Dick Spring, the Foreign Minister, authority to decide whether to bail out or sink the two-year-old coalition. Mr Spring was said to be considering the decision overnight. Labour's chairman, Jim Kemmy, reflecting suspicion that the extradition was delayed because it involved a priest, cited the claim in Mr Whelehan explanation, quoted by Mr Reynolds, that the case had been ``dealt with as a normal extradition''. Mr Kemmy said: ``We're not going to swallow that.''

Progressive Democrat MP Michael McDowell asked Mr Reynolds: ``Why did you reward such incompetence with such high legal office?''

Labour MPs were also furious over an assumption by the official in the Attorney General's office handling the case that the priest would not reoffend because it was thought he was with his order at their abbey in Cavan.

The priest, jailed in Belfast in June, had been free while the extradition application was in the Attorney General's office. Authorities in the Republic are investigating further complaints against him.

Mr Reynolds admitted he had ``no really satisfactory or adequate explanation'' for the Attorney General's delay.

Reynolds statement, page 2