November 13, 1994
DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) -- The coalition government that promoted peace in Northern Ireland is on the brink of collapse in a dispute over the appointment of a conservative to the High Court.
The Labor Party, a coalition partner, demanded Sunday that Prime Minister Albert Reynolds explain the appointee's handling of an extradition request for a priest accused of child sexual abuse.
Reynolds is to speak in Parliament on Tuesday.
If Labor withdraws from the coalition with Reynolds' Fianna Fail party, it could force an early election, or Labor could try to form a government with another party. Fianna Fail, the largest party in Parliament, might lead a minority government.
The government crisis has alarmed Sinn Fein, the political party allied with the Irish Republican Army.
Reynolds has prodded Britain to move faster in the peace process, but Labor Party leader Dick Spring has taken a harder line toward the IRA.
"The removal of Albert Reynolds ... at such a critical stage of the peace process would, I am convinced, very seriously damage the process,"
said Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein's second-ranking leader.
The crisis also has bared the political tensions boiling beneath the pride and relief inspired by the government's efforts to bring about the IRA cease-fire declared on Sept. 1.
A recent poll found that 80 percent of those surveyed thought the government was out of touch with the public mood. One gripe involves pay raises for government officials. Cabinet ministers got a 17.1 percent raise the day the IRA declared its cease-fire.
The extradition request last year from Northern Ireland for a child abuser was handled by Attorney General Harry Whelehan, whose appointment as president of the High Court was strongly opposed by Spring.
After a seven-month delay, the request was withdrawn when the Rev. Brendan Smyth voluntarily returned to Northern Ireland late last year. He is serving a four-year prison sentence.
Spring has questioned the integrity and the accountability of the government.
"We have allowed a child abuser to remain at large in our community when we had it in our power to ensure that he was given up to justice," he said.
As attorney general, Whelehan tried to prevent a 14-year-old rape victim from leaving Ireland, a Roman Catholic country that bans abortion, to have an abortion in Britain. The highly publicized case led to a referendum which affirmed a woman's right to travel and to receive information about abortion elsewhere.
Whelehan's appointment was pushed through on Friday after Labor walked out of a Cabinet meeting.
- END QUOTE -