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'Charlie's Song' sings the praises of Ireland's election-bound premier

Forget about punk rock and traditional ballads. The Irish have begun to hum a new tune that has rocketed to No. 10 in the Dublin hit parade. Called "Charlie's Song," the lyric goes like this:

From the southern glens to the western shores

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The ancient cry of freedom roars,

From the northern hills to Leinster's door

We'll rise and follow Charlie. . . .

There's only one Charlie on the lips of most Irish people nowadays. Charles J. Haughey, the Irish prime minister who is preparing to announce a general election for early June.

An announcement, followed by the dissolution of the Irish parliament, the Dail, is expected any day now.

Election fever is gripping the country and Mr. Haughey's supporters in his Fianna Fail party are delighted his record has reached the charts.

Particularly as this time around, the electorate will be the youngest ever -- more than one-third of the country's 2.3 million eligible voters will be between the ages of 18 and 30.

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The next Dail, the 22nd, will be expanded by 18 more deputies to make it a 166-member house. The last election on June 16, 1977, returned Fianna Fail to government with 84 seats, giving the party a clear majority over the combined opposition of Fine Gael (43) and Labour (17). Independents took four seats.

Eighteen months ago Mr. Haughey succeeded Jack Lynch when he resigned as leader of Fianna Fail and prime minister.

But Mr. Haughey's brief stint has coincided with some nasty economic ill winds, and the opinion polls suggest Mr.Haughey started the election campaign 10 points behind the opposition parties.

To maintain his popularity Mr. Haughey has been borrowing heavily from abroad. A report by the prestigious Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin last week forecast a record balance-of-trade deficit in Irish pounds of L 1.36 billion ($2.16 billion) by the end of the year.

The economists say Ireland's dole queues will get longer during the year, and inflation is expected to rise above 20 percent.

"It is not immediately obvious where the solution to these problems lies," says the report.

Mr. Haughey's opponents say he is being forced to go to the country now rather than complete his term -- which runs until next June -- because he wants to tighten up his economic policy. That will probably mean a severe clamp on wages, rising unemployment, and more expensive domestic credit --all unpopular moves that had better wait until after an election.

Nonetheless Mr. Haughey has been emphasizing his government's stability and his promise to guide the nation through a difficult time. He has handed two sweeteners -- increased aid to home buyers and government relief for hard-pressed farmers.

Overshadowing an election in the Republic of Ireland is the volatile situation in Northern Ireland over the IRA hunger strike. Politicians here have put on a carefully orchestrated show of sympathy for the relatives, tinged with only minor criticism of Mrs. Thatcher's policy not to give in to their demands.

Their fear has been that any ill-chosen words could bring bring north's violence to Dublin.

Apart from some isolated incidents, there has been an uneasy calm in the republic over the hunger strike.

Mr. Haughey and the other party leaders are concerned the strike could distort election issues here and limit public appearances by party leaders. Irish politicians enjoy touring around the country villages -- but their travels may have to be curtailed on police advice.

Mr. Haughey is expected to emphasize the special relationship he says he has developed since the Dublin summit with Mrs. Thatcher last Dec. 8. They agreed to study the totality of relationships between the two islands -- Ireland and Great Britain.

In that sense Northern Ireland may become an election issue: It is certain to be raised by his Republican opponents and some members of his own party, such as the young European member of Parliament, Sile De Valera. Already there is talk here of her becoming a leader of Fianna Fail.

Miss De Valera, granddaughter of the founder of modern-day Ireland, Eamon De Valera, has condemned Mrs. Thatcher's "uncaring and callous" attitude toward Bobby Sands and the other hunger strikers.

Mr. Haughey must also be aware that his predecessor, Jack Lynch, was ousted after two disastrous election results.

As the words of "Charlie's Song" put it:

Young and old we all approve

He's kept the country on the move

He'll help the nation to improve

So rise and follow Charlie.

Pop song? Or the swan song his opponents hope for?

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