The New Face of Ireland

January 27, 1993

Ireland's new government is committed to job creation in ways that are new to the Irish tradition, and to nonsectarian civil measures that are alien to that tradition. Ireland is changing, and the Nov. 25 election reflected and hastened that change. So stalemated was the outcome that the politicians needed from then till mid-January to forge a coalition, which sounds more like Israeli or Italian than Irish politics.

The unpopular Albert Reynolds remains prime minister. But his Fianna Fail party, which normally rules alone or with very junior partners, is sharing power with the Labor Party, which claims a whopping third of the cabinet seats. Labor is the least nationalistic of the major Irish parties and made the biggest gains in the vote, coming in a respectable third place. Usually, Labor has participated in coalitions with the second party, Fine Gael. This time the numbers offered a majority only to the first and third parties in coalition.

There will be new departments to boost business, a promise to create 30,000 jobs through European Community funds, a promise to defend the punt (which is Irish for pound) against speculation (which may fail), plans to reduce school class size, improve roads, decriminalize homosexuality and hold a referendum to repeal the constitutional prohibition of divorce.

Heady stuff. If it succeeds, the Irish Republic will appear a less hostile environment to those Protestants in Northern Ireland who cling to that province's British link. More to the point, the popular head of the Labor Party, Dick Spring, will be foreign minister, the official dealing with Ireland's two biggest concerns, Northern Ireland and the European Community.

To normally intransigent and often pig-headed Northern Protestant politicians, Mr. Spring is the least-threatening Irish minister they ever faced. That makes him the one with the best chance to strike a deal with them for the benefit of everyone on the island.

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