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Irish farmers may take their beefs to the polls

Coachloads of tourists, many from the United States, have been enjoying some unusual evening entertainment as the Irish go about their electioneering razzmatazz here.

Instead of the traditional ballad evenings in the hotels dotted around Killarney's famous lakes, they are enjoying the political campaigning in the streets of the town.

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All the big names have driven through town. Prime Minister Charles J. Haughey stopped off for a roadside rally.

The main opposition party leader, Garret Fitzgerald, bustled his way through the narrow streets, cheerily rallying the faithful with his message that Mr. Haughey's government had been a disaster and must be replaced.

And the man who might form a government in coalition with Dr. Fitzgerald, the leader of Ireland's Labor Party, Frank Cluskey, received a boost in Killarney when former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt dropped in for 24 hours to give "my friend Frank" a helping hand.

Over on the outskirts of town, Donal Coonihan, a dairy farmer, takes a jaundiced view of the election caravans as they roll through town.

"The farmers have had it rough for the past four years," he said. "The government says they got a good deal for farmers in the European Community negotiations. But if that deal gave farmers 8 or 9 percent more for their milk, it hardly matched the rising costs we are having to bear."

Inflation in Ireland is running at about 20 percent and Mr. Coonihan's cynicism seems to be common among farmers.

They are blaming Mr. Haughey's government for failing to control inflation. And an opinion poll just published says farmers are going to vote against Mr. Haughey and his Fianna Fail party in Thursday's general election.

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If that happens, Mr. Haughey may lose the election because the message coming from the big cities is that an antigovernment vote is gaining ground.

Mr. Haughey is beginning to look tired. One of the journalists who has been following him throughout the campaign said: "At the beginning he looked very fresh. Now he seems tetchy and his team sometimes looks despondent."

Increasingly Mr. Haughey's strategy to promote the Northern Ireland situation as an election issue appears to have misfired.

In the County Cork village of Sneem, Batt Burns, a community leader and teacher said: "What we all want around here is a policy from the government to bring employment to our young people.

"Of course we are concerned about Northern Ireland. But the government should be concentrating all their resources on revitalizing areas such as ours.

"There is no work for children leaving school. They don't want to emigrate as they did for 150 years. Even if they did go to Britain or America, would there be any jobs for them there?

"The government has got to get down to it and sort out our own problems here before worrying about Northern Ireland."

And in St. Brendan's College in Killarney that was the message from anxious school leavers.

Finian O'Hare said he was going into accountancy when he leaves school in a few weeks' time.

"I should be all right getting a job in Dublin. But you never know. It's quite clear there's no point in going to Britain nowadays. They have more problems than we have. Anyway, why should we leave? This is our country and I want to live and work here."

Ireland has the highest percentage of unemployed in the European Community. One in 10 of the employable population is out of work and within the next few years 1 million children now at school will be looking for jobs.

Mr. Haughey is having to defend a pledge made during the last election campaign by his party that they would virtually eradicate unemployment, but despite creating 60,000 new jobs the numbers of unemployed has more than doubled during the past four-year term of the Fianna Fail government.

Ministers say Ireland has been particularly badly hit by the effects of oil price rises and the international recession. And their defense of their economic policy has dominated the election campaign.

If Mr. Haughey loses the election, the Irish have been promised a stiff dose of deflation by Dr. Fitzgerald. As he beats his way through the lanes he tells people there will have to be an end to government profligacy.

"There are no easy solutions. What our party is proposing is an 18-month antiinflation package to reduce foreign borrowing and restore order to the public finances," he says.

And even Mr. Haughey's supporters seem to recognize Ireland is going to have to wear a hair shirt as soon as the new government takes over.

Up on his farm across from Killarney's Gap of Dunloe, Donal Coonihan puts it this way: "A few years ago we believed politicians had the answers. Now we know better. We always voted according to tradition. Families were either Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, or Labour. Now we want efficient management from the government in Dublin and we are not going to be taken in by gimmicks and promises."

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