NI’s Waterloo destined to end in a (sectarian) draw?

Newt Emerson reckons Northern Ireland could destined to become Belgium on the Bann, if the DUP and Sinn Fein continue to follow their own base sectarian instincts and continue to seek quite separate local futures through the seven supercouncils. However hard they try however, they are also destined to be tied to each other for the foreseeable future.

That equally absurd and unhappy little country comprises two hostile peoples in two contiguous ethnic-majority laagers sharing an uneasily neutral capital city. It is held together by EU money and the resentful realisation that although neither half can stand alone, neither France nor Holland want their halves of it back.

A complex system of compulsory community representation backed by courts of arbitration keeps sectarian politics at bay. This is where a deal between Sinn Féin and the DUP could take us. Three council areas west of the Bann will be ‘greened’, three east of the Bann will become the land of the Ulster-Scots, and Belfast will be our Brussels. Like the Belgians, we will lead completely separate cultural lives within our little cultural cantons, while local and regional power-sharing arrangements keep sectarian politics at bay.

He concludes, that despite the unremitting appetite amongst some fundamentalists for ‘total victory’ there is no way out of it, Northern Ireland is going to have remain unto itself for the foreseeable:

Northern Ireland will never become an independent sovereign state – although if it did join the United Nations it would be more populous than 51 other members. But there are also no foreseeable circumstances under which it can ever be fully integrated into the United Kingdom, fully integrated into a united Ireland or successfully repartitioned between the two.

Hence we are locked in a Belgian limbo, unable to make our side of the Bann less ‘foreign’ without making the other side more ‘foreign’ and unable to secure enough common ground on either side to build a bridge over the Bann and hold the crossing open. It is an ugly prospect but it is a prospect that majorities in both communities have clearly voted for, whether they realised it or not.

Unionist or nationalist – our Waterloo will end in a draw.

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  • smcgiff

    A most excellent article!!!

  • whatdoyousay

    To be totally honest it sounds great. Belgium has plenty of strippers and loads of hash.

  • kensei

    “Northern Ireland will never become an independent sovereign state – although if it did join the United Nations it would be more populous than 51 other members. But there are also no foreseeable circumstances under which it can ever be fully integrated into the United Kingdom, fully integrated into a united Ireland or successfully repartitioned between the two.”

    Bollocks. While it would be difficult to integrate it into the UK in some Wales like fashion, both repartition and integration into a 32 county Irish state is entirely possible. Of course, either option would be hard and there’d be some trouble, but nothing worse than what has happen before.

    This is a spin on the “the Republic doesn’t want you argument”, that unlike Belgians, Nationalists do not accept, and you’d find few politicians in the South who do not at least pay lip service to a United Ireland by consent because it remains popular within the Republic.

  • páid

    Now THAT’S analysis.

    Best medium-term scenario outline I’ve read.

    The line between Gaul and Teuton is older, better-defined and more strongly rooted than our hotchpotch though.
    Many wars, including the worst one ever, hardly shifted their border.

    Longer-term, ethnically and linguistically, we’re closer than the Flemish and Walloons. It’s getting harder to tell us apart. That counts in the nite club.

  • lonely pint

    Excellent and insightful article-

    Would the UUP win more votes if it shifted position to a clearly integrationist party?

    At least, there would then be a discernible choice for unionist voters between devolution or full integration.

    At present, the perception of the electorate is that the DUP is strong and the UUP is weak.

  • willis

    It is a very good article because it some very reasonable questions.

    Why do the Flemish not just re-unite with Holland?

    Why bother?

    Belgium and Holland are both in the EU, they have a common currency and a common second language.

    The Belgians seem to have sorted out the politics thing. They have 6 main parties (Tory, Lib-Dem, Labour x2).

    How could we do that?

    The PD’s would need to organise here, someone would need to vote Labour, and the DUP and UUP would amalgamate.

    Yeah, I can see that!

    Sorted

    Thanks Newt.

  • Not for the first time, Emerson is on the money. But tell me this, why can he not get his finger out and get his collected articles published onto the web?

    Come on Newt. It can’t be that difficult.

  • Chris Donnelly

    I’m afraid Newt’s fallen for the spin being given to the 7 Councils proposals.

    Let’s look at the facts.

    There are currently 26 District Council areas: 13 majority unionist, 11 majority nationalist and 2 evenly balanced (Belfast and Armagh.)

    All of the west of Bann councils are currently in the control of nationalist majorities. Similarly, except for Down, Belfast and Moyle, all the east of Bann councils are in the control of unionist majorities.

    None of that will change in the new 7 council model, or 11 Council model, or indeed 15 Council model.

    So why the hue and cry from the SDLP, DUP and UUP on this one?

    Let’s take the SDLP first. The party is currently reduced to holding the lead and dominant role in nationalism in only two nationalist majority councils: Down and Derry.

    Both councils would be subsumed into larger councils in the 7 council proposals, with Derry falling into a larger council which should see Sinn Fein as the dominant council, and Down falling into a largely unionist controlled council.

    In short, they stand to lose the status of top dogs in the last two surviving party fiefdoms. To top it all, a party already reduced in terms of elected membership to its lowest in a generation, the thought of losing even more councillors in a smaller local government set-up must be guiding the SDLP onjections on this one.

    Now, let’s look at the Unionist objections. Nationalists of all persuasions smiled wryly when the initial announcement of the 7 council model was proposed in the recommendations. Cries of ‘institutionalising sectarianism’ from parties which have become quite good at it on councils from Ballymoney and Ballymena to Lisburn and Castlereagh is a bit much to take.

    The real unionist objection was that the nationalist majority west of the Bann- and, in land mass terms, in 4 of the six counties- would become quite pronounced in a new local government scenario in which 3 of the 7 councils were nationalist controlled, 3 unionist controlled and Belfast evenly divided.

    But what real difference will it make if there are 3, or 11, nationalist majority councils, and 3- not 13- unionist majority councils?

    The only tangible difference will be in the financial savings and efficiency of services brought about by greater co-terminosity.

    Furthermore, all parties have agreed to proposals that would ensure the rotation of posts and existence of power-sharing mechanisms on any new proposed council framework.

  • Crataegus

    It once occurred to me, whilst standing in a queue of fish and chips in East Belfast, that the people there looked and sounded quite different from a queue I stood in some weeks earlier in lower Antrim Road. In East Belfast the women had short hair cuts and very sensible cloths whereas on the Newlodge it was hair does, sun tans and the weirdest dress sense. Now it may have been just the age groups that the two queues belonged to, but there did seem a very discernable differences. Also in Unionist areas men appear to play a greater role in the family and in Nationalist the mother daughter relationship seems very strong in the structure.

    Perhaps it is me being fanciful, and perhaps it is folly to read much into such superficial matters, but I do believe there is some fundamental difference between the various societies here. Fortunately there are also many similarities, but as Newt says there is little willingness to bridge the gap and good will is thin on the ground.

    Is this our fate. It about sums up politics in NI.

  • lonely pint

    Were the girls in the New Lodge still wearing their pyjamas , Crataegus?

  • Carson’s Cat

    Yet you get the feeling that if the Ulster Unionists were in any way involved in this that he would be hailing it as a breakthrough for peace.

    The one thing which some people really just cant stomach is that the DUP might actually achieve a settlement – particularly one which would be infinitely superior to the Belfast Agreement.

  • Greenflag

    Kensei ,

    ‘While it would be difficult to integrate it into the UK in some Wales like fashion’

    No it would’nt . It’s just that the UK is against the full integration of NI within the UK . Molyneaux beat his head off a wall at Westminster for 15 years or more on this one and all he had to show for his efforts was a stiff neck.

    Belgium is ‘relatively ‘ stable because there is ‘irreligious ‘ unity . Flemings and Walloons are both predominantly Catholic . Holland is about 50/50 RC & Protestant and France is nominally 90% RC .

    Belgium was also a minor imperial power in it’s own right .

    Northern Ireland is more like the Balkans in terms of the divisions between both communities .
    Serbs and Croats would be a better comparison . They speak basically the same language however Croats are RC and Serbs are Orthodox . Both tribes were formerly part of the old British sorry Austro Hungarian Empire and later were forcibly ‘united’ in the artificial Yugoslav (Northern Ireland ) State after the treaty of Versailles .So while a Belgian solution is a possibility -the historical background to the whole Anglo -Irish conflict over the past 200 years plus what has happened in Northern Ireland since 1920 and more particularly since 1969 makes a Serbo -Croat solution ( Repartition ) even more of a possibility -IMO .

  • Quaysider

    Chris Donnelly – I don’t understand your point, you seem to be basically agreeing with what Emerson said.

  • abucs

    Chris,

    i think the thinking is that with those financial and efficiency savings and a bigger population base allowing possibe local taxing provisions, those councils MAY be in a position to have much more power devolved to them. (Like mini assemblies). 15 or 26 councils having the same powers devolved to them would be unviable and many of the administration costs would x15 or x26. x7 and the support of the two governments MIGHT be viable. Somewhere down the track, when it is politically acceptable, those costs might change again to x2 or x3 which would make the tranformation to a Belgium scenario complete.

  • abucs

    After that, it’s possible Greenflag MAY get his repartition. Hopefully everybody will be too content to make it much of an issue either way.

  • Crataegus

    Chris Donnelly

    The only tangible difference will be in the financial savings and efficiency of services brought about by greater co-terminosity.

    I will be very surprised if the new councils show any financial savings, indeed I can see the opportunity for massive extra spending due to reorganisation and considerable waste in terms of new council offices, signage and all the rest of it. In the end the grass still needs cut in parks and the bins collected and many of these core activities are done quite efficiently at present where the inefficiencies occur is when the councils get distracted and dabble in areas beyond their core remits.

    In my opinion this whole exercise illustrates what is wrong with politics. Decisions that are basically business decisions (how to run a service more efficiently given current structures and resources) are distorted by political myopia. Indeed I often wonder if the people who are elected and govern are fit for the purpose, have they any experience and real interest in what goes on beyond buttressing the tribes position? Do they have any management expertise? Yes they employ staff to do the management but you need to keep on top of staff and recognise nonsense when it is presented.

    About 8 months ago I was talking to a long standing councillor and was asking why he did it, hoping to get some spark of idealism, but no, and credit to him, he admitted that he hated it and was only there because it was expected of him. You then look around and you see councillors who have died, or hit the bottle, being replaced by sons, daughters or wives? A name may be inherited but is ability. If Mrs wonderful is elected does it mean that Mr Wonderful is as able or as dedicated? Running the country like a family business utter madness.

    I personally think it is folly to open up another front beyond the Assembly, I would be more inclined to offer a barren waste as the alternative. Agree get reward, don’t agree eat dust. Don’t give any of them any hope whatsoever.

    Savings you got to be kidding.

  • dodrade

    Surely Newton Emerson is the most astute commentator on Northern Ireland affairs working today.

    Dare I ask though, do Flemings and Walloons both support their national football team?

  • PaddyReilly

    Several fallacies in this argument:-

    1) Belgium is not held together by EU money. EU money plays a very small role in the GDP of all EU countries. Belgium is just a province of Schengenland, and so no different from Picardy or Nordrhein-Westfalen;

    2) The Bann is a very inaccurate marker of Catholic/Protestant predominance;

    3) The so-called ‘super-councils’ only partially follow this division;

    4) In Belgium there is a much greater segregation. The linguistic dividing line through the middle of the country ensures that everyone to the North speaks Flemish (or is ignored) and everyone to the South speaks French (or is not understood). Brussels in the centre, supposedly a bilingual region, is in my experience a Francophone island (though Moroccan Arabic is also widely spoken.)

    5) In NI on the contrary, where the dividing element is religion, not language, much greater mixing is possible. West Bannistan has only a small Catholic majority, and East Bannistan a rapidly declining Protestant majority. So obviously (re)partitioning the 6 counties would not be as effective as partitioning Belgium.

    One interesting fact is that the Dutch speaking area has already been partitioned between Protestants (Netherlands) and Catholics (Flanders). But for a number of reasons, chiefly that (Dutch –speaking) Protestants are greedy, undemocratic land-grabbers and (Dutch-speaking) Catholics are champion breeders (and converters) and represent the majority creed in Europe, the Protestant half of the Dutch speaking area is now around 50/50 Protestant/Catholic. Time to repartition the Netherlands? Who knows. Perhaps all will be revealed in 2011. (Slight tongue in cheek)

  • To the best of my knowledge they do, and the team has always been there-or-thereabouts.

    What would a good NI team do for integration..

  • smithsonian

    Carson’s Cat>
    The one thing which some people really just cant stomach is that the DUP might actually achieve a settlement – particularly one which would be infinitely superior to the Belfast Agreement.

    Well I suppose I agree that the DUP haven’t achieved much to date, but can you please explain why the St. Andrews agreement is “infinitely superior” to the Belfast Agreement?

    Surely there must be more to it than tinkering around the edges of accountability. The big question for the DUP is will SF ever be fit to share power with? What do you think?

  • Greenflag

    paddyreilly ,

    ‘the Protestant half of the Dutch speaking area is now around 50/50 Protestant/Catholic. ‘

    No it isn’t . The actual ‘religious ‘ statistics for the Netherlands are

    Roman Catholics 31% – Dutch Reformed church 13%-
    Calvinist 7% -Muslim 5.5% – No Religion 41% – Others 2.5%

    But full marks for your East Bannistan 🙂 for a new Unionist State post repartition . With Paisley as Ayatollah and all the protestant women folk happy to be submissive to the men and make the tea, it sounds like just the right kind of place for any christian minded -homophobic -conservative authoritarian -racist minded xenophobiacs to call home .

    West Bannistan won’t be needed . It’ll just be part of an enlarged Irish Republic

  • willow

    Paddyreilly is correct that the analogy doesn’t work.

    In Belgium the two linguistic regions are almost homogenous. That cannot be said for NI east or west of the Bann.

  • Quaysider

    So what does happen then in the medium term?
    The article is certainly correct on one point – there are no foreseeable circumstances for unification, repartition or UK integration. There’s no point in Shinners disputing this. They’re the ones claiming to be ‘pro agreement’ for an agreement that enshrines the consent principle (and therefore the territorial integrity of the north under any agreed settlement.)

  • Greenflag

    ‘there are no foreseeable circumstances for unification, repartition or UK integration’

    There were no forseeable circumstances for the collapse of the former East Germany-Soviet Union or Romania etc ? I’ll agree that ‘unification’ is not going to happen unless a Nationalist/Republican majority emerges in NI . I’ agree that UK integration is unlikely due to the opposition of HMG .

    That leaves Repartition which will be effected through the mechanism of the seven Super Councils . SF will accept it and the DUP will go through the motions of opposition to save Fermanagh, Derry , Tyrone and Armagh Unionists from the Fenian hordes but in the ened they’ll be ‘expendable ‘ just as their neighbours in Cavan , Monaghan and Donegal were in 1920 !

  • willowfield

    If the Assembly is restored, will it not be possible to increase the number of councils?

    Regardless, with relatively limited powers, how do the “super-councils” mean repartition?

  • Quaysider

    There’s just no way the supercouncils can bring about formal repartition. They do have a lot of powers that could be abused to bring about de facto repartition but that’s as likely to frighten the south off taking East Bannistan back as to result in a semi-united Ireland.
    I think we can quibble here over the exact nature of the end result but in general terms the Belgium scenario sounds highly plausible.

  • Quaysider

    Sorry – I mean ‘West Bannistan’.

  • Crataegus

    Quaysider

    There’s just no way the super councils can bring about formal repartition.

    Of course not just as a United Ireland is unlikely any time soon, but the myth acts as a distraction from reality for Republicans. There has to be hope!

  • Doctor Who

    Alex

    “What would a good NI team do for integration..”

    Problem being, the people who want to see the demise of Northern Ireland hate the word integration….they hate the idea of Prods and Catholic sharing a football pitch or a school, as they think it gives the state legitamacy.

    Instead we here proposals like repartition which any advocator of knows it opens a major can of worms and ultimately leads to ethnic cleansing. Greenflag said it in his post by using the Serbo – Croat example and we all know what happened in the Balkans.

  • kensei

    “Of course not just as a United Ireland is unlikely any time soon, but the myth acts as a distraction from reality for Republicans. There has to be hope!”

    Distractions from reality are unwanted. Bodies that can make progress, however incremental are.

    There is no doubt Super Councils could do a lot in de facto removing the border. And that’s a start see. Not to mention new powers could do a lot for the people in the new council areas, of course.

  • Crataegus

    Kensei

    Your being sold a pup.

  • Sounds food to me, if only to get rid of that shite Harp lager that Diageo is trying its damndest to associate with Belfast (since when has the ‘Welcome to Belfast’ sign at Aldergrove been sponsored by bloody Harp, and bring in some decent beer. ‘The beer we call our own.’ Fuck off. Dublin gets the Guinness; Belfast gets the pint of piss.

  • kensei

    “Your being sold a pup.”

    I’m being sold nothing. If the Super Councils happen, more power will be concetrated in the hands of those who want end the Union aroud the border. The obvious conclusion is that the combination of power and political will should lead to progress, however incremental. It will probably, even with all sorts of conditions imposed by the Biritsh Government, be less fun to be a Nationalist in the Unionist controlled councils.

    It isn’t rocket science, kids.

  • Little Eva

    Despite some people almost wetting themselves with excitement over this article, I’m not sure Newt is saying anything that a) hasn’t been blindingly obvious for years and b) hasn’t been said a hundred times before.
    The Belgium analogy, which works at a superficial level, is the only thing new in stating that religiously and politically we are deeply divided; this division is, very roughly indeed, physically evidenced by an east/west of the Bann split; our main parties feed off and into these divisions; and things look set to remain that way.

  • Professor JM Keynes

    I look forward to Shinner councillors in Ballygobackwards wasting their time on symbolic cross-border exercises that mean absolutely nothing without the cross-border funding that will never materialise.
    Still, at least they’ll have the likes of Kensei fooled, and that’s all that really matters.

  • Crataegus

    Still think the Super Councils should be seen as a safety valve for Republican opinion.

    Sorry ‘you’re’ not ‘your’ in 6 above I should go to bed at 1am.

    Little Eva

    I agree and until people here have the self confidence to cooperate with each other to mutual advantage rather than play silly games, posture and threaten and look to the neighbouring countries for support and justification we are going nowhere. The closest neighbour is across the peace line!

  • kensei

    ” I look forward to Shinner councillors in Ballygobackwards wasting their time on symbolic cross-border exercises that mean absolutely nothing without the cross-border funding that will never materialise. ”

    Of course, super councils will control considerable local authority funding. And symbols matter. It’s a long road, and every little bit of atrition on the border helps.

    “Still, at least they’ll have the likes of Kensei fooled, and that’s all that really matters.”

    And best of all, people like mr Keynes will be too stupid to care. Bonus.

    Getting rather tired of the sneering going on round here, too.

  • Little Eva

    Crataegus
    I agree entirely.
    Sometimes when I read the reaction on Slugger to pieces like Newt’s I wonder about some of the people who post here.
    The points he made are so basic, obvious and taken for granted that, even when wrapped up in a dodgy analogy with Belgium, they really are not worth wasting a column on, never mind praising.
    There is an old maxim in journalism I would respectfully suggest Newt should follow: Dog bites man is not a story, but man bites dog is.
    What next, a major revelation about the Pope being a closet Catholic.

  • Greenflag

    Dr Who,

    ‘Instead we here proposals like repartition which any advocator of knows it opens a major can of worms and ultimately leads to ethnic cleansing. Greenflag said it in his post by using the Serbo – Croat example and we all know what happened in the Balkans. ‘

    When I said that NI resembles more the Balkan situation than the Belgium I was not advocating a Balkan solution in the sense of a repeat of Serbo v Croat war . The ‘Yugoslav’ federation was an artificial entity from it’s inception and it’s constituent ‘nations’ Serbia , Bosnia, Croatia , Slovenia , Montenegro , etc etc were held together by the earlier Ottoman and Austro Hungarian Empires and later by the Communist ’empire’ . Once these peoples had the ’empire’ removed from their backs they took the same path as every other nation state in european history and demanded self government .

    Today -many of these countries are making progress as members of the EU and others soon will be .

    A better ‘model’ frr the repartition of Northern Ireland would be that of the Czech and Slovak ‘velvet’ separation .

    The East West division in NI has been strengthened in recent decades and this process looks set to continue . The Super Councils will expedite the process . Unionists will increasingly feel less comfortable west of the Bann and vice versa for Nationalists east of the Bann . The ‘carve up’ between SF and the DUP is testimony to the political reality on the ground .

    Those Nationalists and Republicans who cling to the ideal of a UI are kidding themselves if they believe Unionists can be persuaded to ‘willingly’ unite with the Republic . Likewise Unionists who cling to the idea of the 6 counties as a stable long term political entity of the Belgium ‘type’ are just as naive.

  • Quaysider

    I’m not sure how much big-picture speculation any columnist can engage in over Northern Ireland without a degree of repetition or stating the obvious.
    Personally, I think it is always useful to point out that there will never be an idealised united Ireland or United Kingdom, or repartition, as the number of people who refuse to accept this remains subbornly high. It is also interesting to see the consequences of this compared to Belgium rather than Bosnia, which was becoming a rather tired and hysterical analogy.
    Plus, it is always fun to be reminded that Ian Paisley is actually an Ulster nationalist 🙂

  • Crataegus

    Greenflag

    Unionists will increasingly feel less comfortable west of the Bann and vice versa for Nationalists east of the Bann.

    You know this isn’t good and is potentially destabilising. I have seen the effects of real ethnic violence in a few other countries and would strongly advise caution. Making people feel less comfortable is getting close to ethnic cleansing, there are enough people in NI who feel very uncomfortable as it is and the aim should be to reduce that number not increase it.

    With regards Unionists and a United Ireland I wouldn’t say anything is impossible, but first we have to normalise relations here. In that environment if the argument was put for a United Ireland, and it was clearly for everyone’s advantage a significant number may vote for change. The current concepts are threatening, involve domination and are portrayed in terms of engulfing. Indeed the aim has been pursued by murder, gun and bomb. Little wonder Unionists and others show little interest.

    A united Ireland, if it happens, will be a very different Ireland and will require change across this island and a period of increased cooperation and harmonisation or it really won’t happen. The two parts of the island have drifted apart and there is a mountain of differences and issues that need to be addressed and planned for.

  • Little Eva

    Quaysider
    “I’m not sure how much big-picture speculation any columnist can engage in over Northern Ireland without a degree of repetition or stating the obvious.”

    I’m not sure to what degree a column which does nothing else but state the blindingly obvious can even be classified as being “big-picture speculation”.

  • Quaysider

    You are clearly a man of high principle.
    When I read an opinion piece that strikes me as blindingly obvious, I enjoy it all the more.

  • Little Eva

    “When I read an opinion piece that strikes me as blindingly obvious, I enjoy it all the more.”

    A piece, such as the one we are discussing, that consists of nothing but oft-repeated, blindingly obvious, factual certainties is an awful lot different than an opinion piece that reinforces ones own existing views and prejudices.
    The first is a rip off and the second is comforting, hence your enjoyment of that type.

    Ultimately, though, the second is of far less value than one that genuinely challenges the readers viewpoint.

  • Beardyboy

    It is only common sense – 40 years ago unionist were about 70 per cent of votes, so obviously they had control, now they are roughly even with nationalist so power will have to be roughly equal – when/if nationalist start getting a greater majority then the ballance will tilt that way – this is realism

  • Briso

    Northern Ireland like Belgium? IN YOUR DREAMS!!!!