Ireland's 2-party Government Strikes Fragile Deal

The two parties in Ireland's coalition government announced a hard-fought agreement on policies Friday night following more than a week of negotiations _ but the deal faces an immediate test that, if it fails, could trigger the government's collapse.

Negotiators from Prime Minister Brian Cowen's Fianna Fail and the much smaller Green Party _ left-wing environmentalists who give Cowen a precarious majority in parliament _ announced they had forged a new common platform. Both sides said they were exhausted following talks that ran much longer than expected.

The agreement will prove illusory if the Greens' approximately 800 grass-roots members fail to endorse the agreement at a special party conference Saturday in Dublin.

Green leaders say they will be obliged to withdraw from Cowen's government, most likely triggering its collapse for early elections, if they cannot get at least two-thirds of party members to back the agreement with Fianna Fail. And many members say the Greens' only electoral hope is to break now with the deeply unpopular Fianna Fail in a time of economic crisis and surging unemployment.

Neither side revealed details of the new government policy platform before its presentation at the Green conference. But beforehand, Green leaders stressed they were determined to commit Fianna Fail to sharpen ethical practices in the parliament and to invest more in education despite the country's spiraling debt.

Transport Minister Noel Dempsey, a Fianna Fail lawmaker, said the agreement was aimed at "transforming society and tackling the challenges we face economically."

And Energy Minister Eamon Ryan, a Green, said they had agreed on a policy package designed "to turn the country around. We're going to have to get jobs back, get confidence back."

If Cowen can avoid losing key votes in parliament, he won't be obliged to call an election until 2012.

But if the Greens withdraw from government, he would be all but certain to lose either of two upcoming votes: to establish a government-run "bad bank" for managing euro80 billion ($115 billion) in dud property loans, and an emergency December budget seeking to cut billions from the deficit by raising taxes and slashing spending.

Losing either vote would force Cowen to seek a fresh mandate in an election that, according to all recent polls, he would be likely to lose.