Fianna Fail rebels oppose coalition negotiations

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Albert Reynolds's bid to hold on to power in Dublin through an alliance with Labour will today face a concerted challenge from anti-coalition elements within his own party.

Meanwhile, formal negotiations aimed at agreeing a joint programme for government between Fianna Fail and Labour opened yesterday with a meeting between Mr Reynolds and the Labour leader, Dick Spring.

Fianna Fail's national executive meeting last night heard calls for a special Ard Fheis (conference) to decide whether the party should enter another coalition or reorganise in opposition.

The anti-coalition line is backed by senior figures in Fianna Fail including the former foreign minister, Gerry Collins, sacked from the cabinet when Mr Reynolds took office last February. Mary O'Rourke, the trade minister, who stood in the last leadership contest, has also spoken of the need for a 'brutal' appraisal of the party's poor election performance, widely seen as a call to remove the leader.

A meeting today of the Fianna Fail parliamentary party will consider a motion to block any coalition deal. The motion is proposed by a Cork backbencher, Ned O'Keeffe. He says he has the backing of a 'significant' number of TDs (MPs) and says his motion reflects rank-and-file discontent with Mr Reynolds.

Supporters of the leader say the anti-coalition motion is 'crazy'. Noel Dempsey, the chief whip, said Mr Reynolds had promised the parliamentary party that he would bring any coalition proposal back to it for consideration.

Mr Reynolds's standing has been reinforced by the return of the Irish delegation from the Edinburgh summit with commitments to a possible IR8bn (8.72bn) in EC aid, IR2bn more than Dublin had sought.