Irish coalition is agreed by Labour

IRELAND'S Labour Party last night voted to enter a coalition with Fianna Fail. Buoyed up by recent election success, delegates overwhelmingly backed the radical programme of reforms agreed by the two parties.

All but 50 of the 1,200 members at a special conference supported the agreement, enabling the new government to be be sworn in tomorrow. Albert Reynolds, the leader of Fianna Fail, will retain his job as Taoiseach. Dick Spring, the leader of the Labour party, is being strongly tipped to take the foreign affairs post carrying much of the responsibility for any resumed Northern Ireland inter- party dialogue.

With a combined total of 101 MPs in the Dail, the new coalition will have a secure majority in the 166-seat chamber.

The delegates' endorsement came after an impassioned debate that saw some speakers denounce the idea of alliance with Fianna Fail because of its alleged past record of dishonesty.

'The first thing people voted for in November was to get rid of Albert Reynolds as Taoiseach, to get rid of corruption in the Irish political system,' Joe French, the Co Clare delegate, said. 'Fianna Fail are a party with a culture of corruption.' He cited 'the appointment of 200 Fianna Fail activists' to the boards of state companies since the general election by the caretaker government.

He asked Labour leaders, why, if coalition with Fianna Fail was acceptable, 'did we distribute election leaflets saying 'you've been lied to by Fianna Fail for too long' '.

Strong suspicion of a perceived unprincipled side to Fianna Fail came also from many speaking for coalition.

Noel Clifford, of North Tipperary, said: 'We're entering a business partnership not a marriage. Leopards never change their spots, but we must make sure they don't grow any new ones.'

But Mr Spring told the conference that the government would 'stand or fall on the issue of trust'.

'If it does not conform to the highest standards of accountability it will cease to exist,' he said. Labour was not in the business of 'propping up any cosy arrangement with Fianna Fail'.