Alliance Party Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has several political parties. But one party that stands out is the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, which established itself during the height of a violent period in UK history called the Troubles. This article will discover more about this party and how it rose to become the third-largest political party in Northern Ireland.

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Table of contents

    Alliance Party of Northern Ireland meaning

    The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland is a centrist interdenominational political party (one of the oldest of its kind). The party's voter base consists of mainly middle-class voters and comprises both Catholics and Protestants. Due to its success in the 2019 General Election, the party is now the third-largest in Northern Ireland.

    Interdenominational political parties are those that advocate cooperation between different religious denominations. In the case of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, it sought to bridge the divide between Nationalists (Catholics) and Unionists (Protestants) in Northern Ireland during 30 years of violence, and civil unrest referred to as the Troubles.

    Alliance Party history

    The Alliance Party was established in 1970 as an alternative to other established parties in Northern Ireland, many of which were sectarian. In contrast to the sectarian parties, the Alliance Party served as a buffer between the Catholic and Protestant populations of Northern Ireland during the height of the Troubles, where Unionists and Nationalists fought a bloody conflict against one another on the streets.

    The Troubles refer to a turbulent period of UK history (1968–1998) that led to a violent sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland between Protestant unionists and Catholic nationalists. The former, also known as loyalists, believed that Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom. In contrast, the latter, known as republicans, supported Northern Ireland becoming part of the Republic of Ireland.

    Alliance Party Northern Ireland loyalist mural on a house StudySmarterFig. 1 - Loyalist mural in Belfast

    The 30-year sectarian conflict involved street fighting, shootings, intermittent bombings, assassinations, and a whole host of human rights abuses committed by actors on both sides of the conflict. A peace deal was finally agreed upon in 1998 through a power-sharing agreement negotiated between the UK government and Northern Ireland, but not before nearly 4,000 people lost their lives and thousands more were wounded or maimed.

    Alliance Party Northern Ireland principles

    When it was established in 1970, the Alliance Party was technically a unionist party, which means that it supported uniting Northern Ireland with Great Britain. However, whilst most unionist parties wanted Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom for ethnic reasons, the Alliance Party based its position on socio-economic factors.

    This party's position was articulated by the comments made by Alliance Party Chairman Jim Hendron in February 1973 when he declared:

    Support for the position of Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom is a fundamental principle of the Alliance Party, not only for economic reasons but also because we firmly believe that a peaceful solution to our present tragic problems is only possible within a United Kingdom context."

    Over the years, the Alliance Party's position on unification has softened. By the 1990s, the party had shifted its position concerning unification to neutral, campaigning instead on a broader liberal political platform.

    Alliance Party Northern Ireland ideology

    In its current form (2022), the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland is a moderate, centre-left, non-sectarian party that embraces a pro-European worldview (they strongly opposed the United Kingdom's exit [Brexit] from the European Union). Today the party campaigns in support of several centre-left issues, with increased social welfare spending, pro-environmental policies, and healthcare reform being the most prominent.

    On its official website, the party describes its current vision as:

    building a united community – a shared society, free from intimidation, discrimination, and fear, where everyone is safe, can play their part, and is treated fairly and with respect. We believe in a society for everyone.”

    Alliance Party Northern Ireland parliament building in Belfast StudySmarterFig. 2 - Parliament building in Belfast

    Alliance Party manifesto

    Below are some of the key positions taken by the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland in its 2019 manifesto.

    Brexit

    The Alliance Party stated firmly that Northern Ireland’s interests are best served as a member of the European Union. In their 2019 manifesto, the party declared that in the case that the UK does leave the European Union, they would campaign for the following:

    • A people's vote with the option to remain in the European Union

    • The entire United Kingdom remaining a part of the Single Market and Customs Union

    • A special deal for Northern Ireland

    Devolution

    The party's views on devolution were that Northern Ireland deserved a stable, functioning, and locally accountable Assembly (legislature) based on delivery, cooperation, and mutual respect. In its manifesto, the Alliance Party supported a new approach to devolution, one in which reform processed could be actively pursued even if other parties attempted to stall the process.

    Public services

    The Alliance Party demanded improvements to be made to the country's struggling public services, blaming a combination of political stagnation and austerity measures as the reason. Specifically, the party campaigned for educational reform, healthcare reform, and radically improving the country's infrastructure to help boost economic growth.

    Work and Welfare

    The Alliance Party supported an overhaul of the welfare system at Westminster to provide support for those who need it. Specifically, the party called for repealing unfair taxes that affected the country's most vulnerable and putting an end to the benefits cap. The party also campaigned in support of increased pay for carers, expanded childcare benefits, paid maternity leave, and minimum wage equality for young people.

    Leaders of Alliance Party Northern Ireland

    The current leader of the Alliance Party is Naomi Long. She has been the party's leader since 2016. In 2019, Long became the first from her party to become a Member of the European Parliament (MEP).

    Leadership history

    Let's look at a timeline of the leadership history.

    • 1970–1972: No official leader; Oliver Napier acted as de facto leader
    • 1972–1973: Phelim O’Neill
    • 1973–1984: Oliver Napier
    • 1984–1987: John Cushnahan
    • 1989–1998: Lord John Alderdice
    • 1998–2001: Sean Neeson
    • 2001–2016: David Ford
    • 2016–2022: Naomi Long

    2019 electoral breakthrough

    Traditionally lagging behind other Northern Irish political parties in popularity, in 2019, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland enjoyed a breakthrough year. In the 2019 European elections, the party reeled in the highest overall number of votes. Less than a month before that, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland recorded 11.5% of the vote in the local elections, which was almost double the share it received only five years previous to that election.

    The party's surging success in 2019 propelled the party more broadly into the consciousness of Northern Ireland's electorate, with some political experts predicting that the party will continue to be a solid fixture in Northern Irish politics in the years to come.

    Alliance Party Northern Ireland - Key takeaways

    • The Alliance Party was created in April 1970 and was considered an alternative to established parties.

    • It is an interdenominational/non-sectarian party.

    • In its early years, the party served as a buffer to mitigate the animosity between unionists and loyalists.

    • Technically unionist on its inception, today the party takes a neutral stance on the issue.

    • The party claims it is a party for all.

    • It is staunchly pro-European.

    • It opposed Brexit.

    • Their views on devolution were that Northern Ireland deserved a stable, functioning, and locally accountable legislature based on delivery, cooperation, and mutual respect.

    • They demand better work and welfare and support the overhaul of the welfare system at Westminster to deliver support for all those who need it.

    • The current leader of the Alliance Party is Naomi Long. She has been the leader since 2016.

    • In the last general election, support for the Alliance Party increased.

    • Support for the party doubled its share of the popular vote. Today, the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland’s third-largest political party.


    References

    1. Fig. 1: loyalist mural in Belfast (https://www.flickr.com/photos/solafer/31936080611) by Borja García de Sola Fernández (https://www.flickr.com/photos/solafer/), Licensed by CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/).
    2. Fig. 2: parliament building in Belfast (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Parliament_Buildings_Stormont.jpg), by Wknight94 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Wknight94), Licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/).
    Frequently Asked Questions about Alliance Party Northern Ireland

    What is the ideology of the alliance party northern Ireland?

    The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland is a centrist interdenominational political party. Interdenominational political parties are those that advocate cooperation between different religious denominations.  

    Is the Alliance Party liberal or conservative?

    It is a liberal and centrist party.

    When was the Alliance Party established?

    The Alliance Party was established in 1970.

    What are the principles of the alliance party northern Ireland?

    In its current form (2022), the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland is a moderate, centre-left, non-sectarian party that embraces a pro-European worldview (they strongly opposed the United Kingdom's exit [Brexit] from the European Union). Today the party campaigns in support of several centre-left issues, with increased social welfare spending, pro-environmental policies, and healthcare reform being the most prominent.   

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