Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
|Leader||David Ford MLA|
|Deputy Leader||Naomi Long MLA|
|President||Cllr Andrew Muir|
|Chairperson||Cllr Neil Kelly|
|Founded||21st April 1970|
|Merger of||Ulster Liberal Party
New Ulster Movement
|Headquarters||88 University Street
Belfast BT7 1HE
|Youth wing||Alliance Youth|
|LGBT wing||Alliance LGBT+|
|International affiliation||Liberal International|
|House of Commons
0 / 18
|House of Lords||
0 / 807
0 / 3
8 / 108
|NI Local Councils||
32 / 462
The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (APNI) (Irish: Páirtí Comhghuaillíochta Thuaisceart Éireann; Ulster Scots: Alliance Pairtie o Norlin Airlann) is a liberal and centrist political party in Northern Ireland. It is Northern Ireland’s fifth-largest party overall, with eight seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Founded in 1970 from the New Ulster Movement, the Alliance Party originally represented moderate and non-sectarian unionism. However, over time, particularly in the 1990s, it moved towards neutrality on the Union, and has come to represent wider liberal and non-sectarian concerns. It opposes theconsociational power-sharing mandated by the Good Friday Agreement as deepening the sectarian divide, and, in the Northern Ireland Assembly, it is designated as neither unionist nor Irish nationalist, but ‘Other’.
In general election in May 2010 the Alliance Party won their first House of Commons seat in a UK-wide general election, in the Belfast East constituency, unseating Peter Robinson, First Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of theDemocratic Unionist Party (DUP). Naomi Long was the first MP from the Alliance Party since Stratton Mills, who joined the party from the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) in 1973. However, the DUP regained the seat at the 2015 general election, leaving the Alliance Party with no representation in the House of Commons.
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It was formed in April 1970 as an alternative to the established parties. In the context of a rapidly worsening political crisis, the party aimed not only to present an alternative to what they perceived as sectarian parties, but to make sure that the primary policy of the party was in contrast to the Northern Ireland Labour Party and Ulster Liberal Party. Alliance expressly aimed, at first, to act as a bridge between the Protestant and Catholic sections of the community, with a secondary goal of attracting support from Northern Ireland’s Jewish community and its small but steadily growing Asian (Chinese, Indian, Pakistani) population, most of whom are neither Catholic nor Protestant. The Party’s founding principles were expressly in favour of Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom, although in contrast to other unionist parties, this was expressed in socio-economic rather than ethnic terms. It also placed great emphasis on the consent principle and therefore its support for Northern Ireland’s position within the UK was conditional on a majority wanting this.
The party was boosted in 1972 when three Members of the Parliament of Northern Ireland joined the party (one from theNationalist Party, one from the UUP and one Independent). Stratton Mills, an Ulster Unionist/Conservative member of theWestminster Parliament for North Belfast also joined, providing Alliance with its only House of Commons representation until 2010. Its first electoral challenge was the District Council elections of May 1973 when they managed to win a respectable 13.6% of the votes cast. In the elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly which followed the next month the party polled 9.2% and won eight seats. The then party leader, Oliver Napier and his deputy Bob Cooper became part of the short-lived power-sharing executive body. Alliance’s vote peaked in the 1977 local elections when it obtained 14.4% of the vote and had 74 Councillors elected. In 1979, Party Leader Oliver Napier came closer than Alliance had previously come to electing a Westminster MP, polling just 928 votes short of Peter Robinson‘s winning total in East Belfast, albeit placing third in a three-way marginal.
Stabilisation and decline
Alliance was seriously damaged by the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike, which deeply polarised Northern Ireland politics, and led to the emergence of Sinn Féin as a serious political force. The party supported the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, and despite claims that this would fatally damage its soft unionist support, Alliance rebounded to pick up 10.0% of the vote in the 1987 United Kingdom general election, with some voters rejecting the tacit mainstream unionist support for violence in the aftermath of the Agreement.
New leader, John Alderdice, polled 32.0% of the vote in East Belfast, while Alliance came within 15,000 votes of both theDemocratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin across Northern Ireland. In 1988, in Alliance’s keynote post-Anglo Irish Agreement document, Governing with Consent, Alderdice called for a devolved power-sharing government. Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, Alliance’s vote stabilised at between 7% and 10%. After the IRA and loyalist ceasefires in 1994, Alliance became the first non-nationalist party to enter into talks with Sinn Féin, as an active participant in the Northern Ireland peace process negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement, which it strongly supported. Alliance polled poorly in the 1996 elections for the Northern Ireland Forum, and the 1998 election for the Northern Ireland Assemblywinning around 6.5% of the vote each time. This did enable the party to win six seats in the Assembly, although this was somewhat of a let-down given that it had been expected to do much better.
The Good Friday Agreement era
John Alderdice resigned as party leader in 1998 to take up the post of the Assembly’s Presiding Officer. He was replaced bySeán Neeson, who himself resigned as party leader in September 2001. Neeson was replaced by current party leaderDavid Ford, a member of the Assembly for South Antrim.
It was predicted that Alliance would suffer electorally as a new centrist challenger established itself in Northern Irish politics, the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition. Another problem for the APNI was that the rules of the Assembly require major votes (such as the election of the First Minister and deputy First Minister) to have the support of both a majority of unionist and nationalist MLAs, thus diminishing the importance of parties such as Alliance which are not aligned to either of these two blocs.
In the 2003 Assembly elections, Alliance held all their seats, while the Women’s Coalition lost both of theirs. Alliance’s vote fell to just 3.7%. In the European Parliament Elections in 2004, Alliance gave strong support to Independent candidate John Gilliland who polled 6.6% of the vote, the highest for a non-communal candidate in a European election since 1979. In the early years of the peace process, the centre ground was relentlessly squeezed in Northern Ireland politics. The support for Gilliland’s candidature, which was also supported by parties such as the Workers’ Party and Northern Ireland Conservatives, reflected a desire to reunite the fragmented and weakened non-communal bloc in Northern Ireland politics.
In the 5 May 2005 United Kingdom general election, they contested 12 seats and polled 3.9% of the vote. In the simultaneous elections to Northern Ireland’s local authorities, they polled 5.0% of first preference votes and had 30 Councillors elected, a gain of two seats relative to the previous elections.
In the 2007 Northern Ireland Assembly elections, Alliance put in a strong media campaign and polled 5.2%, up from 3.6% in the previous election and gaining a seat in Belfast South following the successful candidature of Anna Lo, the first ethnic Chinese public representative in a national assembly anywhere in Western Europe. In an election cycle where many pundits had predicted that the Alliance Party would struggle to hold on to the six seats it won in the 2003 election, the party pulled off a credible performance which included Deputy Leader Naomi Long doubling her share of the vote in Belfast East.
In 2008, during the deadlock between Sinn Féin and the DUP over the devolution of policing, the two parties came to an agreement that the Minister of Justice would not come from either party. The Alliance Party was the obvious choice but party leader David Ford said “it’s a very definite and a very emphatic no.” Ford further stated, “this executive is incompetent, it’s time they got on with doing the job that they were set up to do.” Following further negotiations, Ford assumed office on 12 April 2010.
In the 2010 general election, the party won its first seat in Westminster, with Naomi Long taking the seat of sitting First Minister Peter Robinson. The 2011 Northern Ireland Assembly Election resulted in eight Assembly members being returned with a gain in Belfast East. It overtook the UUP on Belfast City Council.
In a poll conducted in November 2012, Alliance (on 11.6%) overtook the UUP (11.4%) for the first time.
During the 2016 elections to the Assembly, in spite of initially confident predications from David Ford that Alliance would see a surplus of up to 11 seats, the party’s share of the popular vote stagnated somewhat, from 7.7% in 2011 to 7.0%. Ultimately, its 8 MLAs from their original respective constituencies were returned to Stormont for the fifth Assembly term.
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Over the past 40 years and particularly since the mid-1990s, Alliance’s political philosophy has veered away from non-sectarian unionism towards a more liberal, neutral position on the question of either a united Ireland or continued Union with Great Britain. While the Good Friday Agreement has attempted to implement consociational power-sharing, Alliance continues to argue that such enforced coalition government in Northern Ireland entrenches division rather than providing a basis for overcoming it.
The Alliance Party was founded on the back of efforts by the New Ulster Movement (NUM), which was established as a moderating influence upon the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). After Irish nationalist politicians withdrew their role as official Opposition at Stormont, and the resignation of UUP Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Terence O’Neill in 1969, the NUM split between those who wished to remain a pressure group for the UUP and those who saw reform only through the establishment of a new political party. The latter broke off and formed the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland on 21 April 1970.
As Alliance viewed the situation, the major problem of Northern Ireland was the division between Protestant and Catholic. It contended that the turmoil had its origins in that division and not in the partition of Ireland. “Partition was the result of the divisions and not the cause of them.” (John Cushnahan, 1979) The party’s founding members resolved to change the “traditional mould” of sectarian politics in Northern Ireland, by launching a party deliberately set out to win support from both sections of the population. The party’s founding principles were an attempt to address the “fundamental fears” of Protestants being coerced into a united Ireland, and of Catholics being condemned to a second-class citizenship within Northern Ireland.
The distinguishing feature of Alliance is its belief in the legitimacy of a distinctive Northern Ireland community, one that has more in common than what divides it, with most inhabitants speaking a common language, sharing some form of Christianity, and not separated by distinguishable racial or physical characteristics. “Its people are one community living in what has been called a place apart, but sharing a great deal with the rest of this island, the rest of these islands, and the rest of the developed world.” (Alliance 1992) Alliance does not view unionism and nationalism as distinct communities, but as “political positions.” Furthermore, Alliance sees identity as an individual matter, originating in historical contexts, producing unionist and nationalist traditions. Alliance is at times seen as representing a “third tradition”. “In the context of Northern Ireland it includes those who, whether in politics, culture, religion, or in private life have refused to be categorised as Orange or Green.” (Alliance 1992)
As Alliance have moved to an ideologically liberal perspective, and Northern Ireland society has become more diverse, support for diversity has become a key Alliance platform, with Anna Lo MLA elected as the first ethnically Chineseparliamentarian in Western Europe and the party promoting a number of openly gay spokespeople.
Regionalisation of Alliance’s vote
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Northern Ireland Council Seats
|Antrim and Newtownabbey||
4 / 40
|Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon||
0 / 40
8 / 40
|Causeway Coast and Glens||
1 / 40
|Derry and Strabane||
0 / 40
|Fermanagh and Omagh||
0 / 40
|Lisburn and Castlereagh||
7 / 40
|Mid and East Antrim||
3 / 40
0 / 40
|Newry, Mourne and Down||
2 / 41
|North Down and Ards||
7 / 40
One trend over time with Alliance’s vote is that in contrast to 1973, when Alliance support was dispersed across Northern Ireland, Alliance has increasingly polled best in the Greater Belfast hinterland. For example, the 1977 elections, while representing an overall increase for Alliance, masked a sharp decline in vote share in many Western councils. In the 12 councils covering the former counties of Londonderry, Tyrone, Armagh and Fermanagh their vote only rose in Omagh, it remained static in Magherafelt and fell in the other ten councils (these being Fermanagh, Dungannon, Cookstown, Strabane, Londonderry, Limavady, Coleraine, Newry & Mourne, Armagh and Craigavon.) Overall in these 12 councils the number of Alliance councillors fell from 18 in 1973 to ten in 1977. In contrast, in the rest of the region Alliance increased their number of councillors from 45 to 60.
The party won eight council seats across Belfast in 1985. Although that has now recovered to six (from three in 2001), the six are entirely from South and East Belfast. Both seats in the Falls Road area of West Belfast were lost after the death and resignation of their councillors there in 1987 while their seat in North Belfast was lost in 1993, regained four years later and lost again in 2001. In the neighbouring areas of Dunmurry Cross (Twinbrook/Dunmurry) and Macedon (Rathcoole) Alliance lost their councillors in 1989 and 1994 respectively; on the other hand, the party won three out of seven seats in Victoria in 2011, the first time since 1977 that the party had won three council seats in the same electoral area.
By 2005, the party had councillors in only half of Northern Ireland’s 18 constituencies. However, this rose to 13 in 2011 after gains in Coleraine, Craigavon, Down and elsewhere. Having had around 30 councillors for a decade, the party won 44 seats in 2011. In the 2010 elections, the Alliance gained the Westminster seat of Belfast East, and gained a 22.6% swing there; in 2011 it re-emphasised that result, winning two out of the six MLA seats available.
In 2014 the party gained one seat in the Belfast Council area, this coming in North Belfast when Nuala McAllister ousted Sinn Féin. Outside of the capital the party’s vote held up, and with the exception of Patrick Browne winning in Rowallen, there were no outstanding results.
In the 2015 Westminster elections the party directed their resources at retaining the East Belfast seat Naomi Long had gained from the DUP in 2010. The party lost the seat to the DUP by 2,500 votes, after a Unionist pact, whilst the Alliance vote increased by 6% across the constituency.
|Dungannon and South Tyrone||5.9||2.9||1.1||0.9|
|Newry and Mourne||13.5||8.3||3.6||1.0||2.0|
|Northern Ireland totals||13.7||14.4||8.9||7.0||6.9||7.6||6.6||5.1||5.0||7.4|
|Antrim and Newtownabbey||12.7|
|Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon||3.3|
|Causeway Coast and Glens||3.9|
|Derry and Strabane||1.6|
|Fermanagh and Omagh||1.7|
|Lisburn and Castlereagh||12|
|Mid and East Antrim||9.4|
|Newry, Mourne and Down||2.4|
|North Down and Ards||13.4|
|Northern Ireland totals||6.6|
Leaders of Alliance
|1||Oliver Napier and Bob Cooper||1970||1972|
- Stratton Mills — Belfast North, 1973–74 (defected from Ulster Unionists)
- Naomi Long — Belfast East, 2010–2015
Elected in the Northern Ireland Assembly election, 2016:
- Chris Lyttle – East Belfast
- Naomi Long – East Belfast
- David Ford – South Antrim
- Paula Bradshaw – Belfast South
- Trevor Lunn – Lagan Valley
- Stephen Farry – North Down
- Kellie Armstrong – Strangford
- Stewart Dickson – East Antrim
Alliance Youth is the youth and student movement of the Alliance Party. Alliance members who are under 31 years old automatically become members of Alliance Youth if they choose to share their details at registration. Alliance Youth is also responsible for overseeing Alliance Societies at Northern Ireland universities. Liberal Youth Northern Ireland does not organize in any of Northern Ireland’s Universities, encouraging members to become active within Alliance Youth societies.
Alliance Youth actively campaign on issues affecting young people, and aim to shape policy of the main party in these areas. Previous campaigns have focuesed on racism, child poverty, and human trafficking, as well as specific domestic issues facing young people, such as mental health care, tuition fees, sustainable transport, LGBT rights and homelessness.
The current executive is as follows:
|Chair||Cllr Patrick Brown|
|Vice Chair||Fia Cowan|
|Secretary & Treasurer||Néidín Hendron|
|Campaigns Officer||Jamie Woods|
|Equality Officer||Lizzie Daragh|
|Development Officer||Michael Nicholl|
|Media Officer||Craig Weir|
|QUB Alliance Chair (Joint)||Néidín Hendron|