AN overwhelming majority of Ulster people want to stay within the EU, a News Letter street poll has indicated.
In an informal survey of opinions in Belfast city centre, we approached 42 people at random to canvas their views on whether the United Kingdom is better off inside the European Union.
Of the responses, 28 people said they thought the UK should stay, while 10 said they wanted to leave. Four people said they couldn’t make up their minds.
Whether they wanted to remain part of the EU or leave it, almost everybody cited the economy as their main concern. But far more people thought Britain would suffer economically if we left.
Among those quizzed on the EU was an influential bypasser – Stormont Finance Minister Sammy Wilson – who happily gave us his opinion.
Mr Wilson said that if the EU did not reform, Britain should leave.
“I certainly think we should be looking at a different relationship with Europe than we have at the moment, the kind of centralization, the attempts to undermine nation states, the attempts to impose economic policies which don’t always suit all regions and all countries of the EU,” he said.
“We are a net receiver but don’t forget the UK pays about £8bn a year into the EU – if that £8bn was available to the Exchequer, then that’s £8bn that would be available for spending on projects here in Northern Ireland. So it’s swings and roundabouts really, and I suppose the difference is, why should you give money to Europe to pay bureaucrats to then give it back to you? Cut out the middleman and just have the money paid directly.
“People’s lives are impacted by this every day – they might not realise it, but it is. It costs them a fortune as a result of EU regulation and it’s right that people should have a say.”
The DUP man continued: “If you can’t get the conditions then I would leave and have the same kind of relationship as Norway or some of the other countries who are not part of the EU, and do very well out of it.”
However, Lauren Brady, from Belfast, wasn’t so sure.
“I think we would lose out economically – other businesses just wouldn’t want to trade with us,” she said.
Now was no time to be destabilizing local finances, she added: “I don’t think we’d lose jobs but at the minute we’re possibly going into a triple-dip recession and we need all the business that we can get.”
Lisa Nelson agreed that the UK would suffer if we tried to go it alone.
“I think we’d just be separating ourselves really from the rest of the community,” she said. “We’d become more isolated and lose out in terms of jobs.”
Jobs and livelihoods would be put at risk if David Cameron led Britain out of Europe, Nadine Lay told us.
“The economy is already down anyway, so we don’t want to make it worse,” she said.
For Belfast man Stuart Lewis, the economy was the very reason he wanted to leave, and you only had to look south of the border to see the alternative.
“At the end of the day... the euro currency at the minute is so bad and our currency, we’re actually doing all right,” said Stuart.
“We’re not in that much of a recession, but down in the likes of Dublin they’re in that much recession people are losing their jobs left, right and centre – unemployment, people living out on the streets and all. Here, we haven’t got problems like that.”
Being in the EU was about more than the economy for Sara Cully. When asked why we should stay in it, she said: “Because Britain is multicultural, that’s one of our strengths, we’ve got lots of different cultures. Being part of Europe is kind of a part of that.”
Sara continued: “Our national identity is now multicultural. We should see ourselves now as global citizens rather than just a place, and embrace difference.”
However, economics seemed to be the biggest factor for most participants in the survey. Jim Morrison, from Glengormley, certainly thought so.
“Europe is in such a mess at the minute, why should we be paying into Europe when we don’t need to, when we don’t really get an awful lot back out of it?” said Jim.
Asked if the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, Jim replied: “To be honest, the people on the street don’t see the benefits at all.”