From the archive: the end of Albert’s era

A selection of reports from November 1994 as the wheels came off the FF-Labour coalition

Bertie Ahern and Albert Reynolds pictured in November 1994 as the Reynolds era in Fianna Fáil came to and end and Ahern prepared to assume the leadership of the party.  Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

Bertie Ahern and Albert Reynolds pictured in November 1994 as the Reynolds era in Fianna Fáil came to and end and Ahern prepared to assume the leadership of the party. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

Thu, Aug 21, 2014, 12:17

By the middle of November, 1994 the wheels had well and truly come off the Fianna Fáil-Labour coalition led by taoiseach Albert Reynolds.

His appointment of Attorney General Harry Whelehan as president of the High Court was vehemently opposed by tánaiste Dick Spring and his colleagues - who viewed Whelehan as too conservative. This was because, in 1992, he successfully applied for a High Court injunction, later overturned, to prevent the girl at the centre of the X case leaving the country for an abortion.

Reynolds refused to budge - even if it meant an election - and then it emerged that no action had been taken in relation to an extradition application from Northern Ireland for the paedophile priest Brendan Smyth, which lay for seven months in the attorney general’s office.

Reynolds told the Dáil that he regretted having appointed Whelehan, who resigned after six days. But that was enough for Spring, who announced Labour’s withdrawal from government.

Reynolds stood down as party leader and was succeeded by Bertie Ahern. Labour joined with Fine Gael and Democratic left to form the Rainbow Coalition, with John Bruton as taoiseach.

Here are some articles from The Irish Times archive recording the demise of that coalition government in November 1994:

Wednesday, November 16th, 1994:

The Irish Times reports on its front page that the Fianna Fáil-Labour coalition was believed to be in its final hours. Fine Gael leader John Bruton had tabled a motion of no-confidence in the government over the handling of the Smyth case. Under precedent, this would normally be responded to by a motion of confidence from the government but the party whips couldn’t agree a procedure. Labour were unhappy.

Irish Times political correspondent Geraldine Kennedy reported: “There was a sombre acceptance at all levels in the /[LABOUR/]party last night that the partnership with Mr Reynolds was coming to an end.”

Thursday, November 17th, 1994:

Geraldine Kennedy reports that Fianna Fáil TDs were counting heads in advance of the confidence vote. Reynolds was coming under “overwhelming pressure” at the time to resign after he revealed he had withheld information on the Brendan Smyth paedophile case. Spring said his party could not vote confidence in the government and would be resigning their ministerial posts. Fianna Fáil TDs felt it was time for Reynolds to make way for the election of a new party leader.

Saturday, November 19th, 1994:

With Reynolds having announced his decision to step down, focus shifted to his successor. Political reporter Maol Muire Tynan reported that Bertie Ahern looked set to become the new leader of the party, having secured 48 out of 67 parliamentary party votes, leaving him well ahead of the other contestant, Maire Geoghan-Quinn. At 43, Ahern would become the youngest ever leader of Fianna Fáil and ultimately he would lead the party to an unprecedented three successive general election victories.