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Alliance Party of Northern Ireland

The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, or APNI, is a political party operating in Northern Ireland. They were formed in April, 1970 as an alternative to the established parties, particularly the Ulster Unionist Party. 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 that the primary policy of the party in contrast to the Northern Ireland Labour Party and Ulster Liberal Party. Alliance expressly aimed 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, the vast majority of which 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 the Unionist parties, this was expressed in socio-economic rather than ethnic terms.

The party was boosted in 1972 when three Members of the Parliament of Northern Ireland joined the party (one from the Nationalist Party, one from the Ulster Unionist Party and one Independent). Stratton Mills , an Ulster Unionist/Conservative member of the Westminster Parliament for North Belfast also joined, providing Alliance with its only House of Commons representation to date. 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 Stormont 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 District Council elections when it obtained 14.4% of the vote and elected 74 Councillors. In 1979 Party Leader Oliver Napier came closer than Alliance have come before or since 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.

Alliance was seriously damaged by the IRA Hunger Strike of 1981, which deeply polarised Northern Ireland politics, and indirectly 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 British General Election, partly on the back of 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, the highest percentage every achieved in an individual seat in a Westminster election, while Alliance came within 15,000 votes of both the 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 consociational 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, was an active participant in the talks which lead to the Good Friday Agreement, which it supported strongly.

The Alliance Party polled fairly poorly for the 1996 elections for the Northern Ireland Forum, and the 1998 election for the Northern Ireland Assembly winning around 6.5% of the vote each time. This did enable the party to win six seats in the Assembly.

John Alderdice resigned as party leader in 1998 to take up the post of the Assembly's Presiding Officer. He was replaced by Séan Neeson, who himself resigned as party leader in September, 2001. Neeson was replaced by current party leader, David 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, whilst the main Unionist and Nationalist parties both moderated their position on cross-community co-operation. Another problem for the APNI was that the rules of the Northern Ireland Assembly require major votes (such as the election of a First Minister) to have the support of both a majority of Unionist assembly members and a majority of Nationalist assembly members, thus diminishing the importance of parties such as Alliance which are not aligned to either of these two blocs.

Nevertheless, in the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections, 2003, Alliance held all their seats, while the Women's Coalition lost both of theirs. However Alliance's vote fell to just 3.7%. In the European Elections of 2004, Alliance gave strong support to Independent candidate John Gilliland who polled 6.6% of the vote, the highest for an non-communal candidate in a European election since 1979. Since the beginning of the Northern Ireland peace process, the centre ground has been 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.

Over the past 30 years, and particularly since the mid-1990s Alliance's political philiosophy has veered away from non-sectarian Unionism towards a more liberal, anti-ethnic position. Since the Good Friday Agreement, the sacred cow of consociational power sharing has also been increasingly questioned from within Alliance's ranks.

Alliance are linked with the British Liberal Democrats and are members of Liberal International.

Leaders of Alliance

See also

External link

Last updated: 09-01-2005 08:35:16
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13