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A standoff in Ireland

THE results of the Irish election have been disappointingly indecisive. With the ballots finally tallied - by hand - Charles J. Haughey's Fianna Fail came up three seats short of an absolute majority. Having ruled out a coalition government, Mr. Haughey will depend for his political survival on cooperation from independents. Doubts that he will be able to serve out his full five-year term are widespread. And he faces a seriously troubled economy.

For all the indecisiveness of the situation, there are still some relative bright spots: The new Progressive Democrats - conservative on economics and liberal on social issues - have emerged as a third force in Irish politics, with 14 seats in the D'ail, or Parliament. They have helped move the national debate beyond the irredentist concerns that have motivated Fianna Fail and Fine Gael over the years. And indeed, even two traditional parties have focused less on ``the national question'' and more on the economy of late.

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Another sign of moderation and good sense on the Emerald Isle was the failure of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, to win any seats at all. Sinn Fein, adamantly opposed to the partition of Ireland, had suspended its 65-year-old policy of refusing to take whatever seats it might win - which made its drubbing all the more pointed.

And finally there is the question of the 15-month-old Anglo-Irish accord, giving the Republic of Ireland a consultative role in the governance of the six counties of the North. The accord has stirred vehement protests from unionists in the North, who see it as a sellout to Dublin by Westminster. But because the accord also legitimizes the British presence in Ulster, nationalists in the South, notably Haughey himself, have deplored the accord as a sellout in the opposite direction.

Still, Haughey has played down his criticism of the accord of late, and there is optimism that he will at least not stage a direct assault on it. The moderate nationalists in the North, leading beneficiaries of the accord, have welcomed the Haughey government. Haughey will depend in Parliament on the support of some fervent opponents of the accord. Any urges to renegotiate the agreement should be resisted. Haughey's focus should be on the economy.

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