The muddy outcome in Ireland's general election has dashed British hopes that for the next few years there would be a government in Dublin capable of taking a clear-cut line on the future of Northern Ireland.
Of the two alternative candidates as head of such a government - Charles J. Haughey or Garret FitzGerald -- the latter has been enjoying a slight edge with the British government as the kind of man with whom Britain would prefer to deal.
Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, with eyes on the goal of a phased reintroduction of self-rule for Ulster, had been hoping that the people of Ireland would resolve their hesitations and supply an Irish government with an undeniable mandate to govern.
The British prime minister and Northern Ireland secretary, James Prior, are already resigned to pressing ahead with their policies in Ulster knowing that Dublin will be too preoccupied with its own internal differences to be able to concentrate on events north of the border.
A new element of uncertainty has been added to the equation by suggestions that Mr. Haughey's claim to lead Fianna Fail may be challenged, whether or not he manages to form a government with the help of independent members of the Dail.
Mr. Prior has been taking enormous trouble to prepare the way for an Ulster assembly with limited powers. As well as attempting to get the British Parliament firmly in favor, he wanted to ensure that the Dublin government would play an active part in smoothing the way for an assembly in the mainly Protestant north.