Political leaders in Northern Ireland have given a predictably mixed welcome to Charles Haughey, the newly elected premier of the Irish Republic. Northern Ireland's ``unionists,'' who represent most of the province's Protestants and favor keeping its link with Britain, are deeply suspicious of Mr. Haughey, whom they regard as a hard-liner on Irish unity. The Rev. Ian Paisley, outspoken leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, branded Haughey as ``the well-known enemy of Northern Ireland.''
But the Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP), which favors Irish unity and represents most of the province's Roman Catholics, has given Haughey and his new government a qualified welcome. ``I hope that it will be a strong and stable government which will ensure that the problems are dealt with adequately,'' said Seamus Mallon, the SDLP's deputy leader.
The Irish election was fought mainly on the issue of the ailing economy. Ireland has 20 percent unemployment and a huge debt. In Northern Ireland, the interest has focused on the election's likely effect on the Anglo-Irish agreement. The agreement, signed in November 1985 by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Irish Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald, gave the Irish government a limited advisory role in running Northern Ireland. In return, the Irish government recognized the legitimacy of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.
The agreement was bitterly opposed by Protestants in the North, who saw it as the first step toward Irish unity. Ironically, it was also opposed by Haughey, who argued that it strengthened the republic's link with Britain. He once threatened to renegotiate the agreement if his party returned to power. Haughey later backtracked, mainly because the agreement gained widespread support among Irish voters. They believed it gave the Irish government a protective role over Catholics in the North.
Within hours of winning the premiership, Haughey said about the agreement that he would ``wait and see.'' Seasoned observers believe he will follow the example of his predecessor and work with the British to try to carry out some of the agreement's less-controversial aspects.
Both governments are working continually to improve security. One problem facing the republic's government is the steady flow of Irish currency into the North, where many consumer goods are much less expensive.
However, Haughey's Fianna Fail party lacks an overall majority in the Irish Parliament. To stay in power, he will have to depend on the volatile support of a small number of independent members. One of them, Neil Blaney, has already warned that Haughey will not get his support unless he repudiates the agreement. To placate such hard-liners, Haughey may have to declare his reservations about the agreement, yet he cannot afford to alienate the majority of the voters who back it.
But political analysts say that the republic's economy is now a bigger issue. Haughey's eyes are on political survival and on finance, rather than on the unionists of Northern Ireland.