QUESTION marks hang over the future of the Fianna Fáil/PD coalition this weekend amid reports that the French President is urging Bertie Ahern to become head of the EU Commission and that Tanaiste Mary Harney threatened to bring down the government if she did not get her way over Aer Rianta.

A major speech today by communications minister Dermot Ahern ? a close ally of the Taoiseach ? in which he will endorse Fianna Fáil backbench demands to re-assert its traditional left-of-centre ethos may also add to the tensions between the parties.

The Taoiseach remained ambiguous about his future plans this weekend however reports from Brussels suggested that French President Jacques Chirac will renew tentative approaches to Bertie Ahern about the Commission presidency post in the days ahead.

The Sunday Tribune has learned that tensions within the cabinet, already strained by last weekend's election drubbing, reached boiling point in mid week over negotiations about the break-up of Aer Rianta.

Harney intervened in the talks to support embattled transport minister Seamus Brennan over his reforms and demand that concessions to the trade unions on the airport company and on the proposed second terminal in Dublin be watered down.

Highly placed sources said that finance minister Charlie McCreevy told union leaders that without compromise that Harney would bring down the government.

In a speech today, Dermot Ahern will emphasise the need to "improve the welfare state" and "drive real social improvement".

Ahern's comments come as ministers consider plans to roll out a number of big spending initiatives designed to counteract criticism of the government's performance on health and crime.

Among items on the agenda are the investment of hundreds of millions to tackle lengthy delays in hospital accident and emergency units and the implementation of the preelection promise to recruit 2,000 additional gardai.

In its electoral post mortem last Tuesday, ministers concluded that a perception of arrogance, the controversy over the ?50m blown on electronic voting and the failure to open new hospital units worth ?400m as the key issues in the collapse in the government's support.

"You will see a more perceptive, sensitive and touchyfeely government over the next three years, " one senior government source said.

But there is speculation that the government cannot go a full term and that its breakup, while not imminent, is ultimately inevitable. The belief is that the PDs, in particular, will seek to find an issue over which it can exit the government.