Spring expected to add impetus to Ulster talks

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The Independent Online
THE APPOINTMENT last night of Dick Spring, the Irish Labour leader, as Minister for Foreign Affairs is expected to lead to greater emphasis in Dublin on Anglo- Irish relations and, in particular, early moves to reopen the talks on Northern Ireland.

The Fianna Fail leader, Albert Reynolds, who in November led his party to its worst defeat in 65 years, was yesterday re-elected Taoiseach with the aid of Mr Spring's much-enlarged party.

While Mr Reynolds will head the new Fianna Fail-Labour coalition, the latter will hold six of the 15 cabinet seats, including key ministries such as employment, health and education. The party has dictated much of the new administration's programme.

Mr Reynolds, who was re- elected by 102 votes to 60, will be hoping that concessions of such magnitude will ensure a stable government. He broke up the last coalition by calling an election in the hope of re-establishing a single-party government. But his disastrous showing has forced him into yet another coalition with even fewer seats. His political skin was saved by the Labour decision not to enter a 'rainbow coalition' with two other parties.

After the lack of success in the last round of Northern Ireland talks his administration was criticised in some quarters for not being more conciliatory towards Unionist negotiators. Mr Spring, by contrast, is more enthusiastic about the talks process. His influence has already been seen in the programme agreed between Fianna Fail and Labour. This declared: 'We will seek an urgent resumption of political dialogue to address comprehensively all of the relationships involved in an open and innovative spirit, ready to discuss every issue and to incorporate all agreed changes.'

The British government will thus be hoping that the new Fianna Fail-Labour team will lend new impetus to the talks, though one logistical obstacle to be surmounted is the holding of the Northern Ireland local council elections, which are due in May.

Domestically, the complexion of the new government is one which few voters foresaw. In his campaign Mr Spring made the call for change his keynote, flaying Fianna Fail as lacking integrity and ethical standards.

The proposition which he has successfully sold to his party is that in the new government Labour will be able to control and indeed change those aspects of Fianna Fail which it dislikes. This may not be as difficult as it appears.

Fianna Fail is the chameleon of Irish politics, noted for pragmatism, but its most natural position is on the centre-left. This means its economic approach is not far removed from that of Labour.

Leading article, page 20