Northern Ireland and the EU Referendum: A Debate Too Soon?

Mary C. Murphy

A coherent and distinct Northern Ireland position on the upcoming UK referendum has not materialised. Individual politicians and political parties have begun to articulate views on whether the UK should leave or remain in the EU, but these expose varied opinions across the political divide. Along with the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland and the two largest nationalist political parties - Sinn Féin and the SDLP - have committed to campaign for the UK to remain in the EU. The two largest unionist parties - the DUP and UUP - are yet to decide on a position. Traditionally, nationalists have been more pro-European than their unionist counterparts and the smaller Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party is ardently eurosceptic, although mainstream unionism is typically less fervent in its opposition to the EU. The absence of clear party positions impacts on the quality and quantity of debate around the EU referendum in Northern Ireland. The conduct of the debate is what matters here, and this is where Northern Ireland politicians face difficulties. The need to discuss and consider the UK's European and constitutional future is set against the backdrop of a delicate peace process. The achievement of a definitive peace settlement and an improvement in relations between opposing political blocs remains a work in progress. The referendum involves discussions of sovereignty, identity, cross-border relations, and the unity of the UK - issues which expose fundamental differences between the two traditions. This paper examines the dynamics of the EU referendum debate in Northern and questions if the region has reached a point where political actors can maturely consider the EU referendum question without destabilising communal relations, or does the referendum constitute a debate too soon for a post-conflict society in transition.

The abstracts and papers on this website reflect the views and opinions of the author(s). UACES cannot be held responsible for the opinions of others. Conference papers are works-in-progress - they should not be cited without the author's permission.