Bruton to lead Irish coalition over 3 deckys

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John Bruton, leader of Fine Gael, Ireland's largest opposition party, is expected to be nominated as Taoiseach today in a new three-party coalition government ending a month-long political crisis.

The crisis led to the former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, being forced from office over allegations that he and other ministers in his Fianna Fail party misled the Dail over the handling of a scandal surrounding the failure to extradite the paedophile priest, Fr Brendan Smyth.

The division of the 15 Cabinet seats was last night still being negotiated between the three party leaders in the embryonic coalition. Mr Bruton insisted his party should have a majority reflecting its numerical superiority with 47 Dail seats against Labour's 32 and Democratic Left's six.

But Labour was last night holding out on its demand to retain the six Cabinet seats it held in the previous coalition with Fianna Fail.

Democratic Left was confident of securing two, the same number held by the Progressive Democrats, who entered a coalition, also with six TDs (MPs), in the 1989-1992 government.

The Democratic Left's requirement left Fine Gael and Labour in a battle over the remainder, which could be defused by horse-trading over the posts of Chief Whip and Attorney General.

Dick Spring, the Labour leader, is set to resume his position as Foreign Affairs minister in the incoming government, ensuring continuity in Northern Ireland policy.

Agreement on the coalition programme was reached last night after a week of intense negotiations. Differences emerged between the centre-right Fine Gael and its left-wing partners' demands on abolishing college fees, local employment inititiatives, and abortion information legislation.

But with no visible alternative political alliance available, all three parties recognised compromises were essential. Fine Gael is itself divided over abortion. The coalition document proposes a 1995 referendum on the introduction of divorce.