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.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty