The new Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey has altered the political targets of his government by defining Irish unity as- "the first priority." But that is unlikely to upset British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher or her ministers looking after Northern Ireland. for Mr. Haughey, in his choice of words, has shown he wants to be as ambiguous as his predecessors over "the national question."
Yet since he has elevated the Northern Ireland problem to his top priority, there is considerable interest in his approach. In essence it appears to support wholeheartedly the policy of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) -- the main Catholic Party in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Haughey has called for a declaration by the British government of their interest in encouraging the unity of Ireland, by agreement and in peace, which he says would open the way toward lasting peace becoming a reality.
That was the policy of Fianna Fail until 1975, when the policy was reshaped by Mr. Haughey and others who called on the British to announce an "ordered withdrawal" from Northern Ireland.
Now Mr. Haughey wants a "new free and open arrangement in which Irish men and women, on their own, without a British presence but with active British good will will manage the affairs of Ireland in a constructive partnership within the European Community."
The terms of such a "partnership" within the EC have never been spelled out by Fianna Fail or the SDLP, but the British government has been suspicious that it could mean pulling the Army out while agreeing to continue paying the bills.
Last year Ulster cost the British taxpayers $2 billion to administer.
Observers believe Mr. Haughey envisages Mrs. Thatcher launching a new Northern Ireland initiative later this year that could include a summit conference involving Dublin.
With that in mind, his moderate approach has been welcomed in London and seems to have been accepted within his own party.
But as some delegates who traveled from their farms in the country to Dublin for Fianna Fail's annual conference Feb. 16 said: "Why then was it necessary to get rid of Jack Lynch?"
The Irish call their prime minister the Taoiseach. It is an old Irish word meaning a tribal leader, or chieftain. In times past the succession of a new toaiseach was decided in battle.
Nowadays a new toaiseach has to prove his political machismo under the glare of television lights at the Fianna Fail conference.
Mr. Haughey had made it known his speech was to be seen as a new beginning -- a new start for a flagging party whose supporters are still bemused at the speed of the ousting of Jack Lynch by pro-Haughey men.
For a time it was difficult to believe Mr. Haughey had been a government minister for the past two years. He referred to the "unsatisfactory outcome" of last year's policies. "We have been living beyond our means." Mr. Haughey intoned. "We have been borrowing simply to keep going."