Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Following Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage, now Northern Ireland needs a debate on EU future #eudebate

Preparations ahead of the second televised debate between UKIP leader Nigel Farage and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg
Preparations ahead of the second televised debate between UKIP leader Nigel Farage and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg

Last week, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg debated the UK's future in the EU with my colleague and Ukip leader Nigel Farage.

In spite of the apathy which sometimes typifies the relationship between the electorate and politicians in both Westminster and Brussels, it was a debate which genuinely captured the public's imagination.

Nigel passionately put forward the argument why we need to unburden ourselves from the EU. In an age of soundbite politics, it was an argument from the heart.

Nick argued why we should stick with the EU and why we should remain apathetically dependent upon our masters in Brussels. At the debate's conclusion, Nigel's message resonated more with the public than Nick's. YouGov awarded victory to Nigel with a 21% majority.

But the result is less important than the fact that the debate took place in the first instance. The EU is having an ever-greater impact upon the lives of all of us and both men, in presenting their arguments, raised important issues. Nowhere is that more true than in Northern Ireland.

Traditionally, we've done better from the EU in financial terms than many other UK regions. Yet even here, we pay in more than we get back.

To make matters worse, much of what we do get back is wasted on projects to benefit the few, rather than the many.

And that's before we count the cost of open-door immigration, unnecessary bureaucracy, red tape and downright fraud.

That's why today we need a similar debate in Northern Ireland. Admittedly, you'd struggle to place a cigarette paper between the usual political suspects here and their policies on Europe. But Alliance is the most pro-EU party locally.

So, last week, I contacted Anna Lo and invited her to a public debate on the EU. I've yet to receive an acknowledgement of my invitation.

It's now a matter of when – not if – a referendum is held on EU membership.

It's important to have a local, as well as a national, debate.

Henry Reilly is the UK Independence Party's European election candidate

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