A system of cantons might work for NI

Letter to the editor
Letter to the editor

I read Arnold Carton’s letter (‘NI is in an arrange marriage and we have to work at it’, March 14) with interest.

He is correct in his assessment that the Stormont set-up is in political terms, a dysfunctional marriage.

A marriage where each side has a mutual veto to protect it from actual or perceived domination by the other side is a sure-fire road to deadlock and governmental stasis.

Is there any way in which we can share our country without being unwilling partners in a dysfunctional political marriage? There is.

People do not have to be married to share a house. In many cases they occupy separate rooms and only share common areas like the kitchen, bathrooms and hall ways etc. How could such an arrangement work for Northern Ireland?

Firstly, every elector would be given the free choice to belong to either a unionist or nationalist area of control (Canton). Finance for each canton would be on the basis of a fixed sum for every person belonging to that canton. Having made their choice, the elector and their property would be under the control of their chosen canton. The electorate of each canton would elect members to a (numerically much smaller) canton assembly which would sit at Stormont.

Each canton assembly would make arrangements for the governance of their canton. They would also endeavour to reach agreement with the other canton on as many issues as possible eg roads, utilities etc. However, if this is not achievable, then each canton can make arrangements for the areas they control without interference from the other canton, using their own budget.

Such a scheme would allow the Province to move forward on areas where there is deadlock, eg the definition of victims etc, the Irish language, grammar school selection and the legacy of the past. Each canton can go their own way using their own budget.

In addition, if everyone in a particular canton is in constitutional agreement, then the only differences would be on ‘bread and butter’ politics, and society would become more ‘normal’.

In conclusion, perhaps a canton system which allows both parties to co-operate at a certain distance would be more stable than the present dysfunctional political marriage.

After all, Switzerland has a canton system, and despite its religious and linguistic differences, it is an extremely stable society. Could this be the way forward for Northern Ireland?

Tom Ferguson, Ballymoney