Northern Ireland will be watching closely for the outcome of next week's election in the Irish Republic.
If Charles Haughey and his opposition Republican Party win Feb. 18, and if his harder-line on the north prevails, he will be met with equally hard resistance from northern Protestants.
If Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald retains leadership there are some hopes that his cautious policy of trying to get to know northerners and to make basic changes in his own backyard might encourage a more reasonable line from the north on many kinds of cross-border relations.
At the moment the polls have the two parties neck and neck, although FitzGerald is personally far more popular than Haughey.
Prime Minister FitzGerald, who is also the leader of the coalition party which was toppled from power by a vote of no-confidence in its harsh budget, is regarded in Ulster as less threatening than the opposition leader Charles Haughey, who heads the Republican Party.
Northern Unionists, who wish to retain the link with Britain, know that both men are committed to a united Ireland. The difference lies in their aproach.
Mr. Haughey has said repeatedly that Northern Ireland is a failed political entity. He believes that no political solution can be achieved in a purely Northern Ireland context because most of the north's 500,000 Roman Catholics want a united Ireland.
The Haughey view is that the Dublin and British governments' should agree on an all-Ireland dimension to a settlement and that the Unionists would have no option but to agree. In such a context his government would be generous to Northern Unionists once they came to a conference table to discuss Irish unity. Such an approach is bitterly opposed by all shades of northern Unionism.
Dr. FitzGerald wants Irish unity in the long term, but he argues that there will have to be radical changes in the Irish Republic to make a united country more attractive to the north's one million Protestants. As prime minister he has embarked on a ''constitutional crusade'' to try to make the Irish public aware of the changes needed. Philip Whitfield reports from Dublin: