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Haughey-FitzGerald election standoff unsettles Ireland

Another inconclusive general election result in the Irish Republic has created a mood of pessimism and uncertainty.

There is the strong possibility that when the 166 members of the new parliament reassemble in Dublin on March 9, they will fail to elect a new prime minister.

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Political observers say another general election may have to be called to break the deadlock.

In the meantime, Garret FitzGerald remains the country's caretaker prime minister, heading a government unable to enforce the corrective economic measures so urgently required.

Dr. FitzGerald failed to win a mandate for a stiff package of budget measures when the results of the Feb. 18 election were counted over the weekend.

Dr. FitzGerald's coalition government of Fine Gael and Labour lost two seats, but the rival Fianna Fail Party led by Charles J. Haughey, ended up two seats short of a majority.

Both leaders have begun to seek support from the four independents and three members of a fringe left-wing party who will control the balance of power in the new Dail (parliament).

Mr. Haughey stands the better chance - but his position as leader as the Fianna Fail Party is under threat. Dissidents believe his abrasiveness and unpopularity lost the election for them.

On the other hand, Dr. FitzGerald cannot count on the unqualified support of his coalition partners in the Labour Party.

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Labour rebels believe their socialist cause would be served best by going into ''principled opposition.''

Dr. FitzGerald and Mr. Haughey are threatened with having to trim their budget proposals to court the support of independents.

Bankers and economists in Dublin regard the election result as a disaster. They believe unless a stable government committed to financial rectitude takes office, the country could drift into serious economic difficulties.

One possibility being discussed privately by supporters of Dr. FitzGerald and Mr. Haughey is a temporary truce to allow either leader to introduce a compromise budget.

They claim this would demonstrate to the international business community Ireland's determinination to come to grips with the country's economic problems.

Once the budget measures were enacted -- and government spending limits fixed for the coming year -- another general election date could be chosen in the summer.

One irrefutable result of the election is the rejection of the illegal wing of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and their supporters. The seven candidates supporting the IRA were soundly defeated.

Another Northern Ireland Republican activist, Bernadette McAliskey, failed to make an impact standing in Mr. Haughey's own constituency. And the well-heeled voters of south Dublin rejected the bellicose nationalism of Sile DeValera, granddaughter of the founder of the state.

But a small group of left-wing socialists have made considerable gains. Their alternative proposals to increase employment through state spending are proving attractive in run-down urban areas, where up to 8 in 10 are out of work.

The election result is being seen as a harsh verdict of Dr. FitzGerald's proposals to ammend the Irish Republic's Constitution. He wants to remove the claim to govern Northern Ireland and any traces of the republic's Roman Catholic ethos.

Dr. FitzGerald was the first Irish prime minister since the founding of the Irish Free State 60 years ago to set out the social cost of unifying the republic with Northern Ireland.

It seems the price of the shoes, clothing, and beer he proposed to tax more heavily was more important to the republic's electorate than the cost of Irish unity.

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