The United Kingdom is made up of four countries: Scotland, Wales, England, and Northern Ireland. However, these four countries are sometimes not recognized as true countries, as they do not have individual representatives in international organizations such as the United Nations. While England, Wales, and Scotland have been independent countries in the past, Northern Ireland has never been a sovereign country. No legal definition explicitly states whether North Ireland is a state, country, or province. Furthermore, the list of countries provided by the International Organization for Standardization does not recognize Northern Ireland as a country.
Definition of a Country
The basic definition of a country is a distinct political entity and a sovereign state. The International Organization for Standardization is the body that is tasked with determining the number of internationally-accepted countries in the world. There are about 206 sovereign countries in the world, 193 of which are members of the United Nations. Northern Ireland is not among these internationally-accepted countries and is instead considered as a province of the United Kingdom.
Northern Ireland is the smallest of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom, with an area of 5,460 square miles. The population is estimated at over 1.876 million people, which translates to a population density of 344.5 persons per square mile. Belfast is Northern Ireland’s most populous city, as well as its capital. Northern Ireland was established after the division of the island of Ireland in 1921, as defined by the 1920 Government of Ireland Act. The act directed the island of Ireland to be partitioned into Northern and Southern Ireland, although Southern Ireland would later become known as the Republic of Ireland. Residents of Northern Ireland have divergent views on their identity, with studies showing that the majority of them identify themselves as either British or Irish (37% and 29% of the population, respectively).
Northern Ireland is governed under a consociational devolved legislature, which is under the unitary constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland Assembly is the legislative body in Northern Ireland and works within the confines of Northern Ireland Law. The use of Northern Ireland Law is exclusive to Northern Ireland since it has a separate legal judicial system from the other countries in the United Kingdom. The functions of the legislative assembly are restricted to devolved policy issues, while national matters are handled by the British Government. The Northern Ireland Executive holds the executive arm of the government. Unlike the other countries that make up the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland does not have an international flag. The former flag, the Ulster Banner, is no longer used in Northern Ireland but has limited use in certain sporting events.
International Sport Competitions
Northern Ireland is recognized as a separate entity in international competitions. An example is the Olympic Games, in which Northern Ireland participates independently and together with Great Britain. Northern Ireland also has an independent national football team that participates in international football competitions. However, Northern Ireland participates in international cricket and rugby tournaments as an All-Ireland team together with the Republic of Ireland.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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