It has been nearly a hundred years in the making but we still don’t all agree on what, exactly, Northern Ireland is.

The Province, the wee country, Ulster, the six counties: we find all sorts of euphemisms, sometimes even dysphemisms, when we try and describe “the north”.

And for good reasons. The nature of the place is contested by those who live there. For decades that dispute was violent.

Northern Ireland’s current peace is thanks to a multi-party international treaty. Signatories to that treaty – the Good Friday Agreement – are stakeholders. They, America, Ireland, the EU, really do get a say in what happens in Northern Ireland.

So we have lived with a bit of creative, diplomatic ambiguity about the north-eastern corner of our neighbouring island for a couple of decades. Until now.

As a trade dispute – the “sausage wars” – rages over complicated arrangements designed to keep Northern Ireland in both the EU and the UK markets – the very status of the territory is again in dispute.

Emmanuel Macron – in what sounds like a testy exchange at the G7 summit in Cornwall – appeared to suggest that Northern Ireland was not the same country as the UK.

According to press briefings, Boris Johnson asked the French president if he would be upset if Toulouse sausages were blocked from going to Paris by a foreign power.

Macron, the story goes, replied this was “not a good comparison because Paris and Toulouse are both part of the same country”. A shocked PM replied: “Northern Ireland and Britain are part of the same country as well.”

Read more: Row about anti-English Scottish nationalism is shamefully shallow

The telling little spat spilled in to Sunday morning TV politics show. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on both Sky and BBC refused to confirm or deny the exchange. (The Sunday Telegraph had said Mr Johnson was “infuriated” by Mr Macron.)

“I won’t divulge the detail of what was discussed behind closed doors,” Mr Raab told Andrew Marr after being quizzed about the incident. “Go on,” interrupted Mr Marr, with a cheesy grin.

Mr Raab, his back to a stunning view of St Ives, a warship anchored on a glistening azure sea above his left shoulder, stuck to the same script he had repeated on the earlier Trevor Phillips on Sunday show half an hour or so earlier on Sky.

"What I can tell you is various EU figures here but frankly for months now and years have characterised Northern Ireland as somehow a separate country and that is wrong,” he said.

“It is a failure to understand the facts, it is a failure to appreciate what speaking around Northern Ireland in those terms and approaching the issue of the Northern Ireland Protocol in those terms does.

"It causes damage to businesses from both communities in Northern Ireland, creates deep consternation, and we wouldn't talk about Catalonia or Corsica in France in those ways.”

Mr Marr did not interrupt to point out that neither Catalonia nor Corsica were subject to international treaties. Instead he asked Mr Raab if Macron’s remarks were “offensive”. The Foreign Secretary said they were.

A French view was not sought or reflected in either of the big broadcasts. It was left to wire agencies to confirm with Elysee Palace that Mr Macron was talking about a “single geographic area", not whether Northern Ireland was part of the UK.

A French spokesman added: "The president wants to highlight that the situation was quite different and that it wasn't right to draw this kind of comparison.”

One EU voice did get on British TV on Sunday morning. Irish premier Micheal Martin was on Sky saying, rather soberly, that there were solutions to the Northern Ireland protocols.

Read more: Why new Tory rhetoric on 'SNP corruption' fails us all

The Taoiseach was trying to move the discussion away from grand constitutional debates and on to the nitty-gritty of meat trade, and veterinary oversight. He said the protocols did not have to affect the peace deal.

“It doesn't in any way interfere with the constitutional status of Northern Ireland as defined and articulated in the Good Friday Agreement, we're very clear from the Irish government perspective on that," Mr Martin said. "But we do believe in seamless trade on the island of Ireland, it makes sense… and we believe in seamless trade, in so far as we possibly can, between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland."

Sky also moved away from the sunshine of Cornwall to talk to Gordon Brown in green and grey Fife. He too was asked about Northern Ireland.

His view? Mr Johnson needs to put in some hard graft on the place. “He’s got to spend time,” the former premier said. “This can only be solved by people getting around a table and talking about it.”

But it is not just Northern Ireland that requires attention. It is the whole of the UK – a union state, stressed Mr Brown. “You can’t assume the UK will hold together if you don’t work at it,” he told Mr Phillips. The consequences of failure, the unionist stalwart declared, were grave. “In this interdependent word,” he warned, "there is no future in nations that are neighbouring nations fighting each other and I fear 50 years of conflict between Scotland and England if we don’t get these problems sorted out.”

The centenary of Northern Ireland also marks the creation of the current United Kingdom. As Mr Brown’s remarks shows, we also don’t all agree on what the UK is either.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.