Belfast — Irishmen looking north and Ulstermen looking south today see some of the same things, thanks largely to two men -- Charles J. Haughey in the Irish Republic and the Rev. Ian Paisley in Northern Ireland.
Southerners recognize Mr. Paisley as an extreme hardliner -- just as northerners see Mr. Haughey as an extreme republican (i.e., pro Irish unity).
The impression is that two such hardliners have the best chance of hammering out some form of compromise -- because neither is outflanked by more extreme voices in his own ranks.
"Charlie Haughey didn't make his L3 million [$6.6 million] in business by being a gentleman," said a Northern Ireland civil servant, commenting on the Irish Republic's new Prime Minister. "If the IRA [illegal Irish Republican Army ] stands in his road, he'll move them out of it fast enough."
Traditionally hardheaded northern Protestant businessmen and politicians agree that Mr. Haughey's road for the south of Ireland is toward economic stability as a first priority.
Ulstermen feel Mr. Haughey, who made his name as an able and adventurous finance minister, will bring in tough measures to overcome the massive deficits, overseas borrowing, and public disillusionment that forced his predecessor Jack Lynch to resign as party leader and prime minister last December.
This is not to say that either northern Protestants or Catholics have forgotten Mr. Haughey's checkered political record -- referred to by Irish opposition leader Garret Fitzgerald recently as the "flawed pedigree" of the new Taoiseach (Prime Minister).
Mr. Haughey in 1970 was acquitted on all counts -- but he was forced out of the government and formally charged with involvement in an attempt to import guns for IRA use in Northern Ireland.
Despite the acquittal, in an island where history is never forgotten the impression remains among many Catholics that Mr. Haughey was "trying to do the right thing." And Ulster's one million Protestants remain convinced that the Irish Republic's new Prime Minister once had and probably still has links with the IRA terrorists.
Ironically, it is this Ulster Protestant view of Mr. Haughey as an IRA-sympathizer that encourages them today. They feel that Mr. Haughey's reputation as being strongly in favor of removing the border dividing Ireland will enable him to crack down on the IRA.
Southern Irishmen generally doubt that line of reasoning. They point out that former Irish Prime Minister and President Eamon de Valera had an even firmer reputation as pro Irish unity, having fought the British himself -- and yet never managed to solve the problem of IRA terrorism.
When it comes to today's most controversial Ulsterman, Ian Paisley, however, southern Irishmen argue along the same lines as northerners do about Mr. Haughey.
As leader of his own "Free Presbyterian Church," head of the vehemently anti-Irish-unity Democratic Unionist Party, a member of the British Parliament, and a man elected to the new European Parliament with a massive popular vote, the Rev. Mr. Paisley is seen as the chief voice of Ulster's Protestants.
Increasingly, the Irish Republic sees Ian Paisley as the man who must be dealt with in any negotiations about the future of this divided island.
John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), (which is the main voice of Northern Ireland's half million Roman Catholic minority), feels that the Paisley-Haughey argument repeats the mistake of the past -- trying to reach a settlement without consulting the people caught in the middle.