What everyone has suspected has been confirmed. Seven weeks after the 5 May elections – for devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales; English local government; the London Assembly and the London Mayor – UK voters will return to the polls for the European Union on Thursday 23 June.
The Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas & Politics programme in March and groups like EU Debate NI are running events to help make sense of the advantages and disadvantages of leaving or remaining in the European Union. Some political parties are also arranging meetings on the topic.
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers is among the Conservative cabinet ministers actively campaigning to leave.
- Will the debate over Europe provide a welcome distraction from the normal politicking during Assembly elections?
- Will it lift public and political heads out of purely local issues to think about the bigger picture and how Northern Ireland sees itself within Europe?
- Or will it heighten our identity politics?