The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (APNI; ga, Páirtí Comhghuaillíochta Thuaisceart Éireann) is a liberal and
centrist Centrism is a political outlook or position that involves acceptance and/or support of a balance of social equality and a degree of social hierarchy, while opposing political changes which would result in a significant shift of society strong ...
political party in Northern Ireland. It is Northern Ireland's fifth-largest party, currently holding seven seats in the
Northern Ireland Assembly The Northern Ireland Assembly, frequently referred to by the metonym Metonymy () is a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is referred to by the name of something closely associated with that thing or concept. Etymology The words '' ...
, but has made recent breakthroughs to place third in first preference votes in the
2019 European Parliament election An Elections to the European Parliament, election to the European Parliament was held between 23 and 26 May 2019, the ninth parliamentary election since the 1979 European Parliament election, first direct elections in 1979. A total of 751 Member ...
and third highest-polling regionally at the 2019 UK general election. The party won one of the three Northern Ireland seats in the
European Parliament The European Parliament (EP) is one of three Legislature, legislative branches of the European Union and one of its seven Institutions of the European Union, institutions. Together with the Council of the European Union, it adopts European leg ...
, and one seat, North Down, in the House of Commons. 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 the consociational power-sharing mandated by the
Good Friday Agreement The Good Friday Agreement (GFA), or Belfast Agreement ( ga, Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta or ; Ulster-Scots: or ), is a pair of agreements signed on 10 April 1998 that ended most of the violence of the Troubles The Troubles ( ga, Na Trio ...
as deepening the Sectarianism, sectarian divide, and, in the Northern Ireland Assembly, it is Cross-community vote, designated as neither unionist nor Irish nationalism, Irish nationalist, but 'Other'. The Alliance Party won their first seat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, UK House of Commons in the 2010 United Kingdom general election, 2010 general election, unseating the former Belfast East (UK Parliament constituency), East Belfast MP Peter Robinson (Northern Ireland politician), Peter Robinson, First Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the Democratic 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 United Kingdom general election, 2015 general election following an electoral pact with the UUP. In the 2019 United Kingdom general election, 2019 general election, Alliance regained its presence in the House of Commons when Stephen Farry won the North Down seat vacated by the independent unionist, Sylvia Hermon. Earlier that year, the party's leader, Naomi Long, won the party's first seat in the European Parliament in the 2019 European Parliament election in the United Kingdom, last European election before Brexit. The Alliance Party is a member of the Liberal International and Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, and is aligned with the Liberal Democrats (UK), Liberal Democrats in Great Britain.


Early growth and the 1974 Northern Ireland Executive

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 and expressly aimed to act as a bridge between the Protestant and Catholic sections of the community and heal the divisions in Northern Ireland society. The Party's founding principles were expressly in favour of Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom, although in contrast to other Unionism in Ireland, unionist parties, this was expressed in socio-economic rather than ethnic group, ethnic terms. On 5 February 1973, prior to the 1973 Northern Ireland border poll, the party's Chairman, Jim Hendron, stated that "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. Either a Sinn Fein all-Ireland republic or a Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party, Vanguard-style Ulster republic would lead to disaster for all our people." The party's prominence increased in 1972 when three members of the Northern Ireland House of Commons defected to Alliance. The MPs were drawn from across Northern Ireland's political divide and included Bertie McConnell, an independent Unionism in the United Kingdom, Unionist, the Ulster Unionist Party, Ulster Unionist Phelim O'Neill, 2nd Baron Rathcavan, Phelim O’Neill and Tom Gormley (politician), Tom Gormley who sat as an independent Nationalist (Northern Ireland), Nationalist. In 1973 Charles Mulholland, 4th Baron Dunleath, Lord Dunleath joined the party in the House of Lords. Stratton Mills, who had been elected as an Ulster Unionist Party, Ulster Unionist/Conservative Party (UK), Conservative MP at Parliament of the United Kingdom, Westminster for Belfast North (UK Parliament constituency), North Belfast also joined that year, becoming the party's sole MP between 1973–74 and didn't have another MP until 2010. Its first electoral challenge was the 1973 Northern Ireland local elections, District Council elections of May 1973 when they managed to win 13.6% of the votes cast. In the elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly (1973), Northern Ireland Assembly which followed the Sunningdale Agreement the party polled 9.2% and won eight seats. After the elections Alliance entered the power sharing Executive of the 1974 Northern Ireland Assembly, Northern Ireland Executive. Oliver Napier became Legal Minister and Head of the Office of Law Reform and Bob Cooper (politician), Bob Cooper took the junior role of Minister for Manpower Services. Alliance's vote increased significantly in the 1977 Northern Ireland local elections, 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 (Northern Ireland politician), Peter Robinson's winning total in East Belfast (UK Parliament constituency), 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. Its new leader, John Alderdice, polled 32.0% of the vote in East Belfast (UK Parliament constituency), East Belfast, while Alliance came within 15,000 votes of both the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin across Northern Ireland. In 1996 Alderdice accepted a peerage, becoming the Alliance Party's only representation in Parliament. John Alderdice, Lord Alderdice took the Liberal Democrats (UK), Liberal Democrat whip on wider UK and European issues but remained free from the whip's control on issues impacting 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 Ulster loyalism, 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 The Good Friday Agreement (GFA), or Belfast Agreement ( ga, Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta or ; Ulster-Scots: or ), is a pair of agreements signed on 10 April 1998 that ended most of the violence of the Troubles The Troubles ( ga, Na Trio ...
, which it strongly supported. Alliance polled poorly in the 1996 elections for the Northern Ireland Forum, and the 1998 Northern Ireland Assembly election, 1998 election for the
Northern Ireland Assembly The Northern Ireland Assembly, frequently referred to by the metonym Metonymy () is a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is referred to by the name of something closely associated with that thing or concept. Etymology The words '' ...
winning 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 of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Presiding Officer. He was replaced by Seán Neeson, who himself resigned as party leader in September 2001. Neeson was replaced by David Ford, a member of the Assembly for South Antrim (Assembly constituency), 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 Northern Ireland Assembly election, 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 2004 European Parliament election in the United Kingdom, 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 of Ireland, 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. The 2006–2007 period saw some signs of an Alliance upturn, topping the poll and gaining a seat in a by-election for Coleraine Borough Council. 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. At the European Parliament election, 2009 (United Kingdom)#Northern Ireland, 2009 European elections, Alliance candidate Ian Parsley achieved the party's best European election vote share in 30 years with 5.5% of the vote. In the 2010 United Kingdom general election, 2010 general election, the party won its first seat in Westminster, with Naomi Long taking the seat of sitting First Minister Peter Robinson (Northern Ireland politician), Peter Robinson. The 2011 Northern Ireland Assembly Election resulted in eight Assembly members being returned with a gain in Belfast East (Assembly constituency), 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 Northern Ireland Assembly election, 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 Northern Ireland Assembly election, 2011 to 7.0%. Ultimately, its 8 MLAs from their original respective constituencies were returned to Stormont for the fifth Assembly term. Ford later resigned as Alliance Party leader on 6 October 2016, on his 15th anniversary as leader of the party.

2016–present: Opposing Brexit

On 26 October 2016, Naomi Long officially became the new leader of the Alliance Party. In the snap 2017 Northern Ireland Assembly election, 2017 Assembly election, Alliance increased its vote share to 9.1% and retained all eight of their MLA seats in a reduced Assembly. For the 2017 United Kingdom general election, 2017 general election, the party advocated a confirmatory referendum on the Brexit withdrawal agreement and remaining in the European Single Market. In April 2018, the party joined the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party as an associate member. Alliance increased its vote share by 5 percentage points in the 2019 Northern Ireland local elections, 2019 local elections and broke out of its traditional Greater Belfast heartlands by taking seats on Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council and Derry City and Strabane District Council, Derry City & Strabane District Council where the party had not previously been represented. During the election campaign, the party had urged a break from "orange and green politics" and was vocal in its opposition to Brexit using the slogan "Demand Better". In the 2019 European Parliament election in the United Kingdom, 2019 European election, Naomi Long became the Alliance Party's first ever Member of the European Parliament, MEP, receiving the second of three seats allocated to Northern Ireland and securing the best ever result for Alliance with 18.5% of first-preference votes. The party greatly increased its vote share at the 2019 United Kingdom general election, 2019 general election, from 7.9% to 16.8% of Northern Ireland, over-taking the SDLP and Ulster Unionist Party, UUP to come third overall. The party re-gained a seat in the House of Commons ( North Down, previously held by the retiring independent Sylvia Hermon), and was second in another four constituencies.


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 The Good Friday Agreement (GFA), or Belfast Agreement ( ga, Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta or ; Ulster-Scots: or ), is a pair of agreements signed on 10 April 1998 that ended most of the violence of the Troubles The Troubles ( ga, Na Trio ...
has attempted to implement Consociational state, 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 East Asians in the United Kingdom, ethnically East Asian parliamentarian in Northern Ireland and the party promoting a number of openly gay spokespeople.

Electoral performance and the regionalisation of Alliance's vote

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 Brown 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. The 2019 Northern Ireland local elections saw a substantial increase in the Alliance vote and resulted in 53 councillors being elected, with the only council not having any Alliance representation being in Mid Ulster. The balance of power in the capital of Belfast, is held by the party after an increase to 10 seats and becoming the 3rd party, at Belfast City Hall.

Vote share by district council (1973–2011)

Vote share by district council (2014–present)

Devolved Legislature elections

Leaders of Alliance

Deputy leaders

Elected representatives and party spokespeople


* Stratton Mills — Belfast North, 1973–74 (defected from Ulster Unionists) * Naomi Long — Belfast East, 2010–2015 * Stephen Farry — North Down, 2019–present


Elected in the 2016 Northern Ireland Assembly election: *Blair was co-opted to replace David Ford in July 2018. Andrew Muir was co-opted to replace Stephen Farry in December 2019.

Alliance Youth

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. Young Liberals (UK), Young Liberals Northern Ireland does not organise 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 focused 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:

See also

*Contributions to liberal theory *Demographics and politics of Northern Ireland *Liberalism in the United Kingdom



External links

* * {{Navboxes , list= {{ELDR member parties {{British political parties {{Political parties in Northern Ireland {{European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party {{United Kingdom Alternative Vote referendum, 2011 Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, Liberal International 1970 establishments in Northern Ireland