A dreary European election campaign will come to a climax next week with two televised election debates between the major candidates.
UTV’s debate, to be broadcast at 10.30pm on Monday, will feature all 10 candidates — the DUP, Sinn Fein, UUP, SDLP, Alliance, TUV, NI21, Greens, UKIP and the Conservatives.
UTV says that the hour-long programme, to be hosted by former BBC journalist Yvette Shapiro, will focus on “the major issues dominating the European Election campaign, including: immigration, David Cameron’s pledge on treaty renegotiation and an ‘in-out’ referendum, farming subsidies, energy costs and structural funds”.
The programme will also feature “targeted questions from a range of interest groups, including the Ulster Farmers’ Union; Friends of the Earth and the CBI”.
On Tuesday at 10.25pm, the BBC will broadcast a Spotlight Special election debate.
The BBC said that it had invited the six major parties — the DUP, Sinn Fein, UUP, SDLP, Alliance and TUV.
The choice of parties is understood to be based on BBC guidelines, which include a consideration of each’s performance in the last election.
The debate, hosted by veteran BBC journalist Noel Thompson, will come just two days before voters go to the polls on Thursday.
Both the UTV and BBC debates will be pre-recorded earlier in the day to be broadcast ‘as live’.
l Members of the public wanting to attend the BBC debate can email firstname.lastname@example.org
Increase in number registered to vote
There has been a slight increase in the number of people registered to vote in Northern Ireland.
Final figures published by the Electoral Office show that there are 1,249,203 people in Northern Ireland eligible to vote in next Thursday’s European and local council elections.
That is an increase from the last election three years ago, when there were 1,227,121 people registered to vote in the Assembly election.
It is impossible to state with certainty why there has been the 1.7 per cent increase. Unionists and loyalists have worked to encourage people onto the register as a reaction to the Union Flag vote in Belfast.
Tens of thousands of new voters were added to the register last year as part of an Electoral Office canvass, although some of those would simply be young voters coming onto the register for the first time rather than the previously apathetic suddenly deciding to register.
The Electoral Office has also been able to use other records to retain people on the register even if they have not actively re-registered to vote.
And the population has slightly increased since 2011, meaning that a slight increase would have been expected.
Political parties suggest that many potential voters are indifferent on the doorsteps, but in some areas, particularly in Tyrone and Fermanagh, there are reports of increased interest.
Labour members blast leadership
The Labour Party in Northern Ireland has condemned the party’s leadership for refusing to allow candidates to stand in the Province.
In a statement, local Labour members said that they were being “disenfranchised” in the forthcoming elections, “as the Labour Party refuses to put up candidates to represent our views”.
“As a result of the suppression of Labour Party electoral politics in Northern Ireland, we consider the electoral process here to be essentially artificial and also deeply undemocratic...As a result, the Labour Party is giving the Tories and UKIP, as well as the local sectarian parties, a free run.”