Thu, Jun 14, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Irish political parties form unprecedented coalition


Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern's long-ruling Fianna Fail party and the left-wing Greens announced an agreement on Tuesday to forge a coalition unprecedented in Irish political history.

The deal, after eight days and nights of negotiations, could pave the way for Ahern's re-election as prime minister when the parliament convenes today -- and, analysts agreed, alter the rampant course of Ireland's Celtic Tiger economy.

Since rising to power in 1997, Ahern has driven a center-right government that promoted tax breaks for big business, the biggest roads-building program in history and Europe's most dramatic property boom.

The Greens criticize all three developments as environmentally destructive and say the next government must tax polluters, favor public transport and make housing affordable again.

Critically, the coalition pact must be ratified by at least two-thirds of Green members at an emergency party convention yesterday. If Green leaders lose the vote, their party constitution will bar them from entering government with Fianna Fail.

But analysts and Green leaders forecast likely acceptance.

"It would be quite a crisis for the Green Party if they do not get this through tomorrow and I suspect that they will," analyst Noel Whelan said.

"These negotiations have been complex and painstaking, and I believe we have a deal we can sell to our members now," Green party chairman John Gormley said.

The Greens sent out e-mails and telephone text messages to about 1,000 grassroots members to summon them to a Dublin conference center to vote on the terms of the pact.

Fianna Fail negotiators said the Greens had driven a hard bargain and secured key elements of their agenda for promoting wind, solar and tidal energy and boosting Ireland's public transport in this traditionally car-dependent society.

The Greens -- who are derisively dismissed by some Fianna Fail activists as "tree huggers" and members of the "loony left" -- were expected to receive at least one Cabinet post, either environment or transportation and one junior post as part of the deal.

But both parties, citing the need to brief their own members first yesterday, refused to discuss any details.

"Of course there have been compromises in respect of aspects of policy," said Fianna Fail's chief negotiator, Brian Cowen.

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