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Ireland's coalition government struggles to mend damage over premier's secret cash

Ireland's coalition government struggles to mend damage over premier's secret cash

The two parties in Ireland's 9-year-old government struggled to repair damaged relations Friday after Prime Minister Bertie Ahern repeatedly failed to give a full, clear account of the money he secretly got from 39 businessmen.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McDowell, who was incommunicado for 24 hours following Ahern's most recent effort to explain himself in parliament, broke silence Friday _ and stressed he expected Ahern to come up with a solution that would restore public confidence in the government's ethical standards.
"The government is safe if the damage to the government that has been done in recent times is repaired," said McDowell, who is leader of the Progressive Democrats, the small party that gives Ahern's long-dominant Fianna Fail its parliamentary majority.
McDowell said he would meet Ahern on Friday night and talk again Saturday. He said they would focus on "overcoming the difficulties which were not of my creation or my party's creation."
The Progressive Democrats are angered both by Ahern's repeated efforts to minimize the disclosure of details of his personal finances, and his claim Thursday that the previous Progressive Democrat leader, Mary Harney, knew he had received "loans" from businessmen in 1993 and 1994. Harney, the government's current health minister, immediately denied this.
The question is whether Ahern can survive as prime minister and whether the Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrat coalition, which has overseen nine years of strong economic growth, will remain in office until an expected mid-2007 election.
The previous two Fianna Fail prime ministers, Charles Haughey and Albert Reynolds, were ousted from office in 1992 and 1994, respectively, because of coalition breakdowns involving the ethics-emphasizing Progressive Democrats.
But unlike those two upheaveals, today's coalition is not entirely dependent on Progressive Democrat involvement to survive. Ahern could turn to a strong bank of Fianna Fail-leaning independent lawmakers, who propped up the government's majority during his 1997-2002 term but have been left out since then.
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On the Net:
http://www.fiannafail.ie
http://www.progressivedemocrats.ie


Updated : 2021-07-27 20:50 GMT+08:00