Tuesday 23 June 2009

Partition and repartition, part 6: some modest proposals

Previous blog posts in this series have looked at some proposals for the repartition of Northern Ireland, as well as at the difficulties in unscrambling the omelette that is Northern Ireland's ethno-religio-community makeup.

The issues of religion and politics are often conflated when discussing Northern Ireland, and hence many proposals on repartition assume that the new borders should be based on religious identity. This blog disagrees. While religion of course does play an important role in peoples political identity, only the expression of that political identity should inform public policy.

A point that needs to be made is that although to most people the word 'repartition' means re-setting the borders between two sovereign states, this does not have to be the case. All borders – internal or external – can be seen as a form of partition. Federal countries like Spain or Belgium have internal borders, which in many respects represent partition lines between linguistic or 'ethnic' groups. Discussion of repartition in the Northern Irish context can go hand-in-hand with discussion of a united Ireland, or even with discussions of continued union with Britain.

In other words, even in a united Ireland it is valid to examine whether some areas should have a different status, which areas those should be, and what nature of different status these areas might have. Although the present Republic is a unitary state with almost all power emanating from Dublin, this may not be the best model for a united Ireland. It may be appropriate, sensible and democratic to devolve some powers to lower level authorities. Some powers are highly territorial and would require defined boundaries within which to operate – taxation, regional policies, police divisions, etc; while others can non-territorial – education, or broadcasting. The example of Belgium, though complicated, is very interesting in this regard. Belgium has both geographically defined regions (three) and linguistically defined 'communities' (also three), but their borders are not the same. Brussels, a region for matters of taxation, administration, and so on, runs no schools. They are the responsibility of the communities (French-speaking and Flemish-speaking), who run separate parallel systems in Brussels. In the Northern Irish context such a system could allow, for instance, education, culture and broadcasting to be separated according to 'community' while roads, water supply, planning, etc, are handled by regional authorities defined by strict geographic boundaries. Thus, parallel to a small 'unionist' region in east Ulster, there could be a 'Protestant' education authority responsible for all the Protestant education in the whole of Ireland, a nation-wide Protestant/Unionist-tinted broadcaster, an Ulster-Scots cultural body with powers, grants, cultural centres, etc, across the whole of Ulster (and further?).

For reasons of security, community confidence, etc, it may be appropriate to have a separate police force in 'unionist' areas, while the Garda Síochána polices the rest of the country. For such a thing to happen, though, the limits of such a unionist area would need to be established.

There are several possible models for defining the boundaries of a 'unionist' region in a post-unification Ireland, including:

A. Cantonisation

Depending on the types of powers devolved to sub-regional areas, the semi-autonomous areas can be quite small. Clearly a small region cannot have responsibility for building motorways or railways, but it could run many of the personal services that are visible and important to the people. By entering into cooperation agreements with other similar areas it could achieve significant economies of scale.

Where areas display a clear preference for one or another political direction, this could be facilitated by the creation of a myriad of cantons or different sizes and shapes. These would not be hermetically sealed – quite the opposite – but they would allow the inhabitants of the areas to have certain services provided by authorities in whom they have confidence, and would allow certain rules and laws to reflect their ethos.

A cantonised Northern Ireland, based loosely on the outcome of the 2005 local elections, could look like this:

Anyone who thinks that this map is impractical should take a close look at our European neighbours, particularly Spain (the exclave of Llivia, which is entirely within France, and numerous other sub-national exclaves), Belgium (Baarle-Hertog, which comprises 22 separate micro-exclaves within the Netherlands), Germany (Bremerhaven), and so on. The map shown above would not be unusual in a European context.

B. Larger and more powerful regional bodies

If the powers to be devolved were of a wider nature, requiring more powerful local authorities (or simply a more numerous population to make them cost-effective), then Northern Ireland could be re-partitioned according to the 'colour' of the current local authorities as recorded in 2005:

This has the advantage of providing a single block for the semi-autonomous region of east Ulster, but may be blunter than it needs to be. Note, for example, how nationalist Crossmore and Toomebridge unnecessarily remain in 'unionist' territory, and Moyle is cut off from the rest of nationalist Ireland (but yet includes the strongly unionist area of Bushmills!)

Another way of drawing a boundary could be to look at the expressed political preference by District Electoral Area (DEA), while striving to retain contiguity:

Here some compromises are necessary. The Glens of Antrim fall victim to the contiguity rule, but other imperfections are ironed out. In any case, if issues like education, culture, etc, are handled by higher-level non-territorial authorities then the nationalists of the Glens, like the unionists of Ballinamallard, would continue to enjoy lives that correspond to their wishes.

C. Belfast

In the options described above Belfast has been deliberately excluded. It is big enough to form a region in its own right, or, in a cantonised approach, several sub-regions. However, it makes no sense to try to sub-divide the running of a large city. Already Belfast is artificially limited for political reasons – it makes more sense to expand its boundaries to allow its services: transport, waste, housing, etc, to cover all of those living in its metropolitan area.

One way to do this, while correcting the anomalies of Loughside (in Craigavon) and Antrim North-West, both nationalist areas creeping around Lough Neagh to join up to Belfast, is to create a central 'neutral' region comprising Belfast, and these areas, which acts as a bridge between the 'unionist' areas to the south and north of Belfast, and to the larger 'nationalist' Ireland to the west. This neutral region could be governed either through power-sharing, or through a strictly balanced council, appointed by the two communities. It would include Belfast port and both airports, and could become a genuine city for all the people of east Ulster.

The map blow shows how a neutral Belfast region could fit into a cantonised model:
The models presented above could amount to a confederal Ireland. There are no practical difficulties in implementing such an outcome, and indeed very few political difficulties for nationalists. With the country at peace, and being a Member State of the EU with all of the freedoms of movement, trade and opinion that this ensures, a repartition into semi-autonomous areas could provide both security, opportunity, and pride to all of the people of Northern Ireland. Combining geographical repartition with non-territorial authorities for 'community' issues could ensure an even greater level of satisfaction.

Far from being a taboo subject, repartition is a subject that needs to be discussed. No realistic planning for a post-reunification Ireland can avoid it.


Anonymous said...


Food for thought. Well done, I would say that if and when a UI is achieved the peaceful co-existance of the population will be paramount in the new Ireland. How better to achieve this but by empowering the population at the local level with certain powers agreed. Even minorities on either side would have rights within these "Cantons." The boundaries and rules governing the operation of these units would be the subject of wide consultations and negotiations conducted and facilitated by the EU, the US, the UN and the expertise and experience gained in places like Switzerland and Belgium would be utilized.

"Far from being a taboo subject, --repartition-- is a subject that needs to be discussed. No realistic planning for a post-reunification Ireland can avoid it."

I do not think your solution amounts to repartition as such but what you say in your excellent work deserves the highest praise. If only a middle ground in Unionism could come around to this way of thinking, we would all be the better for it.

MPG .....

hoboroad said...

Everything should be discussed the Good Friday Agreement was only a start.How soon before a border poll as set out in the Good Friday Agreement?What do you think the question should be?Will we be offered only two options?Can the two Governments take sides or will they have to remain neutral?

Dazzler said...

The irish government cant remain neutral. FF (the republican party) or FG (the united ireland party) will be the largest party in whatever government is around at the time

hoboroad said...

Will we then see Irish Cabinet ministers holding public meetings in the North explaining the benefits of a United Ireland?

Anonymous said...

Too busy hanging on for dear life at the moment. The Economy and the Referendum.

But they will when the time is right!

MPG .....

Anonymous said...

Thought provoking. Of course new wards, electoral areas and councils will come into effect at the next Local Government elections and you'll need to update your proposals accordingly.

Fair play to you for picking up on the 'trick' on census maps whereby some equally balanced areas are colored orange.

Anonymous said...


Which areas are these, can you highlight them.

MPG .....

Horseman said...


Do you mean the 'false orange' areas? There are a few, but it would require enormous amounts of time to identify them all. I just picked one or two to highlight the issue.

THe map in question may well have been deliberately misleading, colouring all areas without a stated Catholic majority as orange. It would have been more honest to have left areas without any majority (P or C) as grey.

Plus, the stats date from 2001 and may already be out of date (we'll know more after the 2011 census).

And lastly, the map is based on NISRA's famous 'community identification' exercise, which is not beyond criticism. They 'allocated' people who expressed no religion according to their own methodology, which I am not fully in agreement with. But that's old history now.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for that.

I am a little surprised at the relative lack of response to this particular blog. It is thought provoking to say the least and I would agree with its proposed solutions within a UI.

But.......no response from the "other side".

Can you speculate as to why/why not?

MPG .....

Horseman said...


Unionism simply refuses to enter into any discussion of post-UI possibilities for fear of giving the impression that that route is predetermined.

It's a pity, because their contribution would really open up the debate. But on one level they are right - it IS a nationalist project. It would be like expecting SF to contribute to a discussion on how to improve the system of MP's expenses.

By the time it becomes a live subject it may be too late for the unionist project, and they will be approaching it from a negative position, and will be feeling demoralised and resentful. It'll be a difficult debate. Much better to start it now, but they won't ...

hoboroad said...

The border will melt away slowly the EU will see to that.It will be Unionist business interests who will see the writing on the wall first.It will be to late for the Unionist political parties to dictate a deal to the rest of the Island of Ireland.

Anonymous said...

It is a terrible shame that the Unionist politicians can not recognize the importance of dialog in this instance especially as they could influence events from a position of relative strength.

Individuals are probably arriving at this frame of mind, so maybe enough moderate Unionists are revisiting their vision of Ireland and asking these questions of themselves.

The business community is said to be open minded. Is this so? and are there any other groups of Protestants that may be moderate?

The main Protestant churches are organized on an all Ireland basis and, if I am correct in saying, their leaders come from both sides of the border and are moderate men of dialog. What effect do these ministers have on their various congregations?

Difficult questions, I know, but can any one shed any light?

MPG .....

Anonymous said...

'False Orange' Wards (2001):

Belfast - Finaghy, Stranmillis, Windsor

Newtownabbey - none

Castlereagh - none

Ards - none

Lisburn - none

North Down - none

Carrickfergus - none

Antrim - Springfarm

Larne - none

Moyle - none

Ballymena - Dunclug

Ballymoney - none

Coleraine - none

Magherafelt - Knockloughrim, Town Parks West

Down - none

Newry & Mourne - none

Banbridge - Edenderry

Craigavon - none

Armagh - none

Dungannon - none

Cookstown - Killymoon

Fermanagh - Castlecoole

Omagh - Gortin, Camowen

Strabane - none

Limavady - Greystone

Derry - none

A total of thirteen wards.

There would be a lot more were it not for 'Community background' assignment performed by the Census office. I wonder how reliable their methodology is?

How would the maps look if these areas were shown as grey?


Horseman said...

Thanks for that, Picador! 13 is not a lot, but some of them are rural and thus noticable on the map, so they may give more of a 'patchwork' impression than is true. If they were 'greyed' then maybe the extent of 'non-unionist' territory would be more contiguous and thus more viable in terms of repartition. I suspect the map (and the methodology behind it) was designed to make it seem as if more of NI was unionist than is the case.

hoboroad said...

I wonder if they count Catholics living in majority Unionist areas as Unionists?If they do they could be in for a big shock come the time of a border poll!

Picador said...


One thing I noticed while going through the wards was that a large number were in the 50%, 51%, 52% Protestant bracket. In rural areas and west of the Bann these are liable to turn green next time around wheras in urban areas to the East they would be more likely to turn grey, or so I would imagine.

But will the old wards be used in 2011? It certainly would be interesting to see the comparative data.

Do you know what methodology is used to determine 'Community Background' where No Religion was stated? It would be interesting of you could provide the details.

Picador said...

I have contacted the Census Office and they say that the Community Background designation is determined by the distance between the respondents' eyes! Additionally in places such as Coleraine, Ballymena, Larne, Carrickfergus and Portadown they used the amount of fear shown in respondents' eyes when asked the religion question.

50% 'Protestant' Wards
Galwally (Castleragh), Binnian (Newry & Mourne), Castledawson (Magherafelt)

51% 'Protestant' Wards
Cairnshill (Castlereagh), Carryduff East (Castlereagh), Victoria Bridge (Strabane), Dunnamagh (Strabane), Eglinton (Derry)

52% 'Protestant' Wards
Carryduff West (Castlereagh), Caledon (Dungannon), Lecumpher (Magherafelt), Stiles (Antrim)

53% 'Protestant' Wards
Killeen (Armagh), Strand (Coleraine), Garvagh (Coleraine), Armoy (Moyle)

54% 'Protestant' Wards
Wynchurch (Castlereagh), Knockbracken (Castlereagh), Fairy Water (Omagh)

Horseman said...



I have a document from NISRA - The methodological approach to the 2001
Census (maybe available on the internet?) - in which they say (page 8):

"6. Achieving complete coverage of the population: Imputation of
response for missing values

[...] The basis for the Imputation component is to search for a single
“donor” person to supply all the missing variables for a recipient person. The method searched for a donor person who was similar using a number of other Census variables.

[...] For the Community
Background, Ethnicity, Language, Address one year ago and Country of birth variables, the system also considered the responses given by the rest of the
household. If there was still more than one suitable donor the person in the geographically closest household was picked."

In other words, if you didn't fill in your 'community background' you were counted as being the same as your neighbours! I have a very strong suspicion that this led to undercounting of Catholics, especially in 'loyalist' areas where the census enumerator may not have been fully trusted, or where there were issues of collusion, or even the simple confidentiality of the information supplied.

hoboroad said...

Thanks for clearing that up Horseman.I think most Northern Nationalists just do not trust anybody with a briefcase or a laptop computer!

picador said...


I'm not sure what they mean by a 'donor'. Any idea? Surely not a type of kebab!

If Community Background can be assigned on the basis of a neighbour's Community Background that would be absolutely scandalous. It means we cannot trust the Census results. More information is needed about this practice.

picador said...

Below I have listed all the 'false orange' - less then 50% Protestant by Community Background wards along with their Catholic by Community Background population. I have then made an judgement whether these would NOW appear green (majority Catholic), grey (no majority) or orange (majority Protestant) on the Census map.


Windsor (B) 43.4% grey
Springfarm (ANT) 43.7% grey
Finaghy (B) 44.6% grey
Edenderry (BB) 47.8% green
Stranmillis (B) 48.3% green
Knockloughrim (MF) 48.6% green
Killymoon (CK) 48.8% green
Castlecoole (F) 48.8% green
Dunclug (BMA) 48.9% green
Gortin (O) 48.9% green
Town Parks West (MF) 49.0% green
Camowen (O) 49.0% green
Greystone (LV) 49.4% green

I have then done the same for wards that had slim Protestant by Community Background majorities in 2001. These have been grouped by percentile from 50% up to 54%.

Galwally (CTR) 45.6% grey
Castledawson (MF) 48.0% green
Binian (N&M) 48.3% green

Cairnshill (CTR) 42.7% grey
Carryduff East (CTR) 44.8% grey
Eglinton (DY) 46.8% grey
Dunnamanagh (STR) 47.0% grey
Victoria Bridge (STR) 47.5% grey


Stiles (ANT) 40.6% grey
Carryduff West (CTR) 43.1% grey
Caledon (DG) 46.0% grey
Lecumpher (MF) 46.6% grey

Killeen (ARM) 46.0% orange
Strand (COL) 43.8% grey
Garvagh (COL) 45.6% orange
Armoy (MYL) 44.6% orange

Knockbracken (CTR) 39.1% grey
Wynchurch (CTR) 41.1% grey
Fairy Water (O) 44.6% orange

My basic assumption is that change is happening fastest in the suburbs of Belfast (up to 5% swing possible) while in traditional rural areas it is more likely to be in the region of 3%. Of course I am no export and may be wrong. Let me know. I'd be interested to see how the map changes as a result of such predictions.

picador said...

My conclusions from the exercise:

Great snakes! You're right. Ulster's doomed.

Huge changes afoot in south Belfast and Castlereagh. In Magherafelt four wards have changed colour, in Strabane and Omagh a pair apiece. The unionist enclaves proposed above are already turning green. The siege of Garvagh is being renewed.

The shores of Lough Neagh are green - the RAF base and hotels at Aldergrove mask this to some extent and, despite the best efforts of Davy Croket and co in Stoneyford, the area between the lough and the Belfast Hills, from Mallusk to Glenavy, is being greened as well.

In hitherto staunchly unionist towns such as Antrim, Ballymena, Larne and now Coleraine nationalist minorities are asserting their rights while Lurgan is a majority nationalist town that is only partly covered by the Loughside electoral area (it also includes part of the misnamed Lurgan electoral area and the Craigavon Central as well).

The two governments are surely cognescent of what is happening. But are they developing plans to deal with it?

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff. What about transferring just The West Side of The Foyle, Strabane and Newry/South Armagh out of Northern Ireland? Surely even that would kill a future Catholic majority stone dead, given the convergence of Catholic/Protestant birth rates in recent years? Although to be fair, there should be a vote first in those areas. It might be a bit embarrassing for Irish Nationalism if they voted to stay part of The UK!

Watcher said...

Horseman said:

"Unionism simply refuses to enter into any discussion of post-UI possibilities for fear of giving the impression that that route is predetermined.

It's a pity, because their contribution would really open up the debate. But on one level they are right - it IS a nationalist project. It would be like expecting SF to contribute to a discussion on how to improve the system of MP's expenses.

By the time it becomes a live subject it may be too late for the unionist project, and they will be approaching it from a negative position, and will be feeling demoralised and resentful. It'll be a difficult debate. Much better to start it now, but they won't ..."

I think the majority of Unionists recognise the total victory that has been achieved over Irish Nationalism through The Belfast Agreement as a reality. The PIRA surrendered and destroyed their weapons. Stormount has a double veto which suits those happy with the status quo. North/South bodies are answerable to Stormount. West/East bodies bring Ireland closer to The UK, not further away. The Irish Republic would need to tax each Irish family between £4000 and £8000 per annum to maintain Northern living standards as now. Many Ulster Catholics work for The UK state (including a British police force). The Republic has removed all claims to Northern Ireland from it's statutes. According to recent opinion polls almost half of Ulster's Catholics now oppose a United Ireland.

I could go on and on, but it's obvious to me that the likelihood of a United Ireland ever coming about is next to zero.

Unionism has no need to discuss any post UI scenarios with Irish Nationalists or their sympathisers, but you can rest assured that as a 'siege people' all possible doomsday scenarios are continuously reviewed by those with specialised knowledge and experience.

GB said...

Thanks for this extensive blog, which has impressed me as a non-Irish observer of political processes in Ireland. I have two observations. First, you are absolutely correct to analyze repartition in the context of election results rather than census data concerning religion, since only this will take into account the effect of protestant nationalists and catholic unionists. Second, a note of criticism. Your proposed cantonisation and consociationalism based on the Swiss or Belgian models is convincing. Alongside the three geographic regions of Belgium, there are the language communities whose position exemplifies the concept of "non-territorial federalism", with control over culture and education and with representation in the Belgian Senate. The problem, however, is that these ingenious solutions to the divisions in Belgian and Swiss society were generated from within those countries. Consociationalism is less successful when it is taken "off the peg" and applied elsewhere as in Cyprus (1960-74) or in Lebanon.

paul said...

don't listen to watcher, hes seriously deluded, and i think he maybe a little bit ill to be honest, andrew mc cann the internet stalker, with 20 names,

Anonymous said...

You Have to Really talk to the People not look at Polls Conducted by the English Imperialist Parliameent in London.
i cant wait until a United Ireland
but im moving to Scotland until then, better than having the DUP
And UUP-Tories In Stormount, good Marty and The Crow Margret Ritchie are there two to stop the Loyalist from walking over us, then again Marty is starting to look like the Queen Mother [or Peter Robinsons wife] and not the Head of Government and Margret Ritchie seems more Unionist than Peter Robinson imagine that, Peter has no Seats in Westminster, and Margret Ritchie hasnt Shutup about westminster, wee Reggie and Cameron hasnt Got a Seat at all teach him to Sell his Soul to Cameron both Unionist Leaders are Dead as far as Westminster is Conserned and thats just the Miniming and Sinn Fein is the Biggest Party [according to polls]
i guess 2016 a United Ireland is Coming or even Independence for the Big 6 if the Peoples views of us in Great Britain and the South is to go by both Unionism and Nationalism is Out, and Ulster Nationalism is in maybe wrong tho but dont think so,

well what even the future brings
as long as we get Plenty of Doe from the Brits for Killing Our People then we will reack it in forever they have to pay and pay and pay,