Spring pulls plug on Reynolds

Albert Reynolds, the Irish Prime Minister, was last night preparing to submit his resignation after the Dublin government collapsed.

Mr Reynolds, who played a key role in bringing about the ceasefire in Northern Ireland, was forced out when his Labour coalition partners pulled the plug on his two-year-old government in a confidence debate after it emerged he had given an inaccurate account to the Dail of the failure to extradite a Catholic priest, Fr Brendan Smyth, on child sex abuse charges.

The Fine Gael opposition leader, John Bruton, who is now in line to become the head of a new coalition if he can win support, accused Mr Reynolds of ``deliberately setting out to destroy everyone else so that he may save himself''.

Mr Reynolds is expected to submit his resignation today. It remains unclear whether an election will be held or whether President Mary Robinson will seek the formation of an alternative coalition. This could yet involve a role for Mr Reynolds' Fianna Fail party under a new leader. The President has absolute discretion under the constitution to refuse an election if a viable government can be found.

At the end of a day of high drama and shocks in the Dail, which adjourned the confidence debate twice, Dick Spring, the Labour leader, announced he and his colleagues were leaving the coalition. Mr Spring said he and the entire 32-strong Labour parliamentary party would oppose the confidence motion and Labour ministers would resign from the Cabinet ahead of the vote. He also told the Dail that Mr Reynolds had known of the misleading report submitted by the former Attorney General Harry Whelehan on the priest's case before the statement he made on the affair to Parliament on Tuesday.

Mr Reynolds faced calls from four backbenchers to quit as Fianna Fail leader last night. The issue is expected to come before a parliamentary party meeting today.

Three Opposition parties have declared Mr Whelehan's new position as High Court President untenable. He took legal advice last night.

Day of drama, page 2