Election results in Irish Republic deal blow to peace process in Ulster
A dramatic election in the Irish Republic has signaled two setbacks for the one immediate peace process aimed at easing tensions in Northern Ireland -- the joint Anglo-Irish studies started last December to review "the totality of relationships in these islands."
* An almost 5 percent swing against the governing Fianna Fail Party of Charles J. Haughey, has ended strong, clear government here for the time being.Whoever is elected prime minister by the new Dail (parliament) June 30 will lack the firm political basis to push through controversial decisions that the joint studies might produce.
No party has a majority of seats. Both Mr. Haughey and former Foreign Minister Garret Fitzgerald of the Fine Gael Party are negotiating hard with smaller groups, which will hold the balance of power. Analysts are predicting a new election within a year.
* Long faces at party headquarters are in sharp contrast with jubilant smiles in a basement office on Mount Joy Square. There, H block Republican strategists claim a major success for the nine inmates of the Maze prison in Belfast they ran as absentee candidates.
Two were elected in border constituencies, thus denying Mr. Haughey's Fianna Fail two urgently needed seats. Almost 40,000 people gave their first-preference votes to the nine prisoners, many apparently young voters in a country where half the population of 3.4 million is under the age of 25.
Experts here argue about the extent of rock-solid Republican support outside the nine constituencies the prisoners contested. But the republican movement, and the Provisonal wing of the illegal Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the north, now claim a political coup in the wake of Bobby Sands's election to the British Parliament from Fermanagh-South Tyrone in the north. They say the unexpected success boosts its cause abroad, and puts new pressure on whatever new Irish government emerges to take a tougher line against the British on the issue of political status for H block prisoners.
The overall election results are disappointing for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who started the joint studies with Mr. Haughey.She had hoped for a strong leader to work with her to implement ideas in the studies as a way to persuade northern Protestants to accept changes in the current impasse.
Since dec. 8, when she and Mr. Haughey met here, civil servants in both capitals have held a number of meetings, studying possible institutional changes (perhaps a new Anglo-Irish Council consisting of members of Parliament from Westminster and the Dail), citizenship rights, security, economic cooperation (including a new electricity power line to the south from Wales), and ways of encouraging "mutual understanding."
If Mr. Haughey remains prime minister, he is due to review working papers on Northern Ireland with Mrs. Thatcher this summer. If Mr. Fitzgerald becomes leader, he would also meet her and continue the process, but he says he would involve northern Protestants as well. Yet northern Protestants have been alarmed at the size of the H-block vote in the south. A bitter Harold McCusker, deputy leader of the Official Uslter Unionist Party, and MP in Westminister for Armargh , said after the vote that it confirmed what Protestants already knew: "Murderers have their boltholes to return to in the south after killing my constituents."
And the election results here come at the start of what analysts see as yet another dangerous summer in the north that will test anew the restraint of the Portestants and the skill of British and Ulster security forces.
The next H-block hunger striker is expected to die in early July. Two more are expected to die by July 12, which is also the biggest day in the loyalists' calendar.Protestants take to the streets to celebrate the victory of William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
Another hunger striker is likely to die by July 19, just 10 days before the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, and several more at the rate of one a week after that.
Roman Catholics will demonstrate in Londonderry Aug. 9, the 10th anniversary of British internment of prisoners (since ended).
Meanwhile, Ireland is without a majority government.
Mr. Haughey's Fianna Fail had been expected to lose some ground. Its majority was unusually large in 1977. In the latest campaign, Mr. Haughey stressed the issue of the north, while Mr. Fitzgerald emphasized the dire state of the economy: high unemployment, rapid inflation, mushrooming foreign debt, and a balance-of-payments deficit.
The outcome saw Mr. Haughey slipping from 84 to 78 seats out of a possible 166.
The energetic, intellectual Mr. Fitzgerald jumped from 43 to 65 seats. He hopes for coalition with Labour's 15 seats, and support from four of the eight independents elected.Mr. Haughey would need six independents.
In fact, only six of the eight will take their seats. The other two are prisoners in the H-blocks in Belfast.
The are Paddy Agnew, who won in the border area of Louth, serving 16 years for possessing firearms and on 19 toher charges related to attacks on security forces, and Kieran Doherty, who won the border area of Cavan/Monaghan. He is serving 22 years for possessing firearms and explosives. He is also in the fourth week of a hunger strike.
"It is unprecedented," said an H-block spokeswoman in her damp basement office, "for nine absentee candidates to do so well. they won votes from all the other parties. We are opposed to the Anglo-Irish talks. If the hunger strikes aren't settled by the time of the election, we will certainly be a force to be reckoned with in other consti tuencies as well."