If St. Patrick's Day ever needed a motto, the favorite might be this familiar saying: "There are only two kinds of people in the world: The Irish and those who wish they were." Those words have special meaning in the Philadelphia region, where people of Irish descent form the largest ethnic group.
Whether you wish were Irish or you are, all are invited to join in the merriment tonight. But if you later need something to sober you up, consider the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the northern part of the Emerald Isle these days. There, the historically sad motto might just as well be: "There are only two kinds of people in Northern Ireland - nationalists and loyalists - and each has no wish to be the other."
Northern Ireland is the geographic anomaly that comprises six of Ireland's 32 counties but is part of the United Kingdom. Born out of centuries of sectarian and political conflict, the province once again finds itself immobilized by its own deep divisions.
First there was the referendum last June in which 52 percent of U.K. voters opted to leave the European Union, but 56 percent of Northern Ireland voters - weighted by a heavy pro-EU vote by nationalists - voted otherwise. Brexit, as the vote is known, has raised fears of a new, "hard" border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, and of new trade barriers between the two governments.
Then came the so-called "Cash-for-Ash" scandal, a mismanaged green energy program supported by First Minister Arlene Foster of the loyalist Democratic Unionist Party. It cost the equivalent of about $600 million. This led to the protest resignation of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of the nationalist Sinn Fein Party and the collapse of the semi-autonomous power-sharing government, which was mandated by the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
All this led James Brokenshire, the Northern Ireland secretary of state, to call an election for March 2, in which Sinn Fein emerged in a virtual tie with the Democratic Unionists, who lost 10 seats in the 90-seat provincial assembly. Brokenshire has now given the two parties until March 27 to form a new government.
Complicating that process are demands by an emboldened Sinn Fein for a referendum on a united Ireland, which has long been its aim. The party also wants Foster to not serve as first minister as long as an official investigation of the failed energy program is ongoing.
Brokenshire now has three options. He could extend the deadline for an agreement beyond March 27. He could call a new election, which would void the results of March 2 and potentially interrupt public services. Or he could impose direct rule from London, a discredited measure tried in the era known as the Troubles, in which thousands in the 1.8 million-province were killed.
Another option would pre-empt all these: The two sides could hunker down and work out a new power-sharing plan in the next 10 days that would seek to respect the interests of both sides and restore the best intentions of the Good Friday Agreement.
To be sure, it would not make 400 years of distrust and division disappear, but it would be a positive step away from the zero-sum games that have been the rule in Northern Ireland politics.