Oliver Napier

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The man who almost defeated Peter Robinson with the woman who did. Sir Oliver Napier with Naomi Long

It is sad news this morning that Northern Ireland learnt of the passing of Sir Oliver Napier.

He originally joined the Ulster Liberal Party in 1969 before becoming a founding member of the Alliance Party in 1970 he led the party from 1972-1984 as the first leader.

Indeed until last year had been the closest any Alliance candidate had come to getting elected to Westminster, when in 1979 he was came close to beating Peter Robinson in Belfast East: coming only 928 votes behind in third place in a three-way battle.  When Naomi Long took that seat off the same Peter Robinson in the 2010 General Election it could be seen as a breakthrough for the “alternative reform political programme to push through and continue reformation in Northern Ireland” that was what Napier said about the creation of the new party 40 years earlier.
In the 1973 Northern Ireland Assembly he also set a precedent for the current Assembly when he served as the Legal Minister and head of the Office of Law Reform. When the post was devolved again in 2010 it fell to the Alliance Party leader David Ford to be elected Minister of Justice.

Oliver Napier who stood here in North Down the only time I have able to vote in a Westminster election. Having stepped back up to the ballot box for the 1995 by-election to replace jim Kilfedder he stood again for the 1997 General Election, by which time I was back in Northern Ireland. So far he is the only Northern Irish politician I have voted for with an X.

As Alliance Party leader David Ford said today:

“This is an extremely sad day for Northern Ireland. Oliver embodied the spirit of Alliance and he was the man who inspired me to join the party.

“Sir Oliver was very highly respected and popular with everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him. His legacy can be seen right at the heart of the party to this day and he will very sadly missed.”

Like David, we in the Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats wish to pass on our regards, thoughts and prayers to his widow Briege, nine children and 23 grandchildren at this difficult time.

insult to injury

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Last week, I blogged about the lack of recognition of the Northern Ireland local party of the Liberal Democrats by the Federal Party website.

This evening, quite by chance, I noticed that there is a link at the bottom of the Federal Party‘s homepage for ‘N. Ireland’.

Where does this link go?

Liberal International includes both the Liberal Democrats and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland

It goes to the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland – a sister party within Liberal International. Now, there may have been plans, or indeed hopes, in the past that the Alliance Party would become a State Party of the Liberal Democrats. I am sure that what has happened in the House of Commons, where Naomi Long, Member of Parliament for Belfast East stated before the election that she would not take the Lib Dem whip, makes it clear that there is little chance of Alliance Party = Liberal Democrats in Northern Ireland.

Stephen blogged well over a year ago about making a formal link up*,

The Lib Dems in Northern Ireland have long taken the stance that they would not contest elections but lend support to the most prominent centrist party, which is the Alliance Party with their 7 Assembly Members and 32 councillors.

but this has not happened – nor is it likely to, according to discussions Stephen had with Alliance’s executive director, Gerry Lynch. It is a fact that former Alliance leader Lord Alderdice sits as a Liberal Democrat Peer in the House of Lords, but this looks like it will continue to have no effect upon forming a formal link up.

Unless and until the Alliance Party becomes the Liberal Democrats’ State Party in Northern Ireland, the Federal Party needs to recognise that they are not this. The local party needs to be publicised, and as chair of the local party, I will be writing (not emailing) to seek the fixing of this. I will update you on the progress.

* keen readers will notice that at the time there was a link to the Northern Ireland local party on the then Federal Party website.