Tasked with explaining the Northern Ireland conflict/division in a paragraph to American visitors last week, I came up with this:
“The British Isles consist of three main nations: the English who are religiously Anglican and ethnically Anglo-Saxon at home in the Kingdom of England; the Scots who are religiously Presbyterian and ethnically Anglo-Gaelic at home in the Kingdom of Scotland; and the Irish who are religiously Catholic and ethnically Gaelic at home in the Republic of Ireland. Essentially, Northern Ireland is where the three meet.”
It’s a gross simplification of course, but it’s a good start. If you insist that Northern Ireland belongs to just one, or even just two, of these groups you are not dealing with reality. Once you recognise that Northern Ireland is fundamentally a place of convergence – in a way in which England, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland are not – then you can begin to build a Northern Ireland which works.