Great result for Alliance as majority of Northern Ireland votes against Brexit

The Northern Ireland election results are now  in and they show some very encouraging trends for those of us with a liberal outlook. Our sister party, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, won 8 seats and got its highest vote share in 28 years. Although their number of seats stays the same at 8, in an Assembly that is 18 seats smaller, that is a major achievement. It also increased its first preference vote share by over 2%.

Voters also sent a message that they were opposed to Brexit with the biggest losers being the unionist parties, who lost 16 of the 18 seats. The DUP famously gave more than £400,000 to the Leave campaign. The impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland, particularly on the border with the Irish Republic, would be devastating as Nick Clegg wrote recently.

On her Facebook page, Alliance leader Naomi Long summed up a good night for the party:

Liberal Democrat Northern Ireland spokesperson Alison Suttie had this to say about the election result:

This is a very strong result for Naomi Long and the Alliance Party. It is clear that an increasing number of people in Northern Ireland want to see a progressive, liberal and vibrant community which celebrates diversity as a strength.

With the Conservative government determined to pull Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole towards a hard Brexit, it has never been more important for Northern Ireland to have a strong, stable Executive, working in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland and the whole community. The interests of Northern Ireland as a whole, having voted strongly to remain in the EU, are greater than the issues which cause division in the community.

In the face of this challenge, I sincerely hope that all of the political parties in Northern Ireland will adopt a mature and reflective response in the forthcoming weeks, for the sake of the future for all the people of Northern Ireland.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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25 Comments

  • Richard Underhill 4th Mar '17 - 10:54am

    Northern Ireland politicians and political journalists can all say “D’hondt system”, which is often used as an alternative to the Single Transferable Vote (as for the election of MEPs), but under the Good Friday Agreement they use both, in succession. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/91150.stm
    Naomi Long and her colleagues should be congratulated on an effective electoral campaign, but, as she said in the Leaders’ debate, the next stage is crucial. We can be confident that Alliance will stick to their principles.
    Former UUP leader David Trimble (now a peer) said on BBC Radio 4 that more time should be allowed for negotiations, as was originally the case under the Belfast Agreement. He has a good point, but deadlines can be effective, so the Secretary of State may need to decide whether to bring urgent legislation into the Westminster Parliament.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Brokenshire

  • Ruth Bright 4th Mar '17 - 11:08am

    Naomi Long was a picture of dignity and courage when she lost her seat at Westminster and she shows those same qualities in victory. A woman who gives politics a good name.

  • Richard Underhill 4th Mar '17 - 11:33am

    Ruth Bright: Yes and the campaign against her on the streets was supported by the DUP and the UUP as David Ford said.

  • Daniel Walker 4th Mar '17 - 11:35am

    @Richard Underhill
    NI assembly elections use STV. The D’Hondt method is used internally by the resulting assembly to assign Executive seats: http://education.niassembly.gov.uk/post_16/how_do_we_elect_mlas

  • paul holmes 4th Mar '17 - 11:38am

    Caron, you imply that the vote was about opposing Brexit. Can I ask an absolutely genuine question -since I don’t follow Northern Irish politics in the sort of detail that would produce such understanding?

    Was Brexit the key reason for the Unionists Parties (thankfully) losing support or was it the controversy over Arlen Foster’s Leadership and above all the scandal of the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme? Or something else? What were the key campaign messages of the Alliance Party and of Sinn Fein who were the ones who got the best results in this election?

  • Paul Murray 4th Mar '17 - 11:51am

    @paul holmes – The left-wing “People Before Profit” group had two MLA’s in the previous assembly but lost one this time. During the campaign, Sinn Fein stressed that PBP had been pro-Brexit (applying a left-wing critique to the EU) and the losing candidate candidly admitted on TV yesterday that this had some effect on his vote, although it’s worth noting that he had previously been elected 6th in a constituency that has now dropped from 6 to 5 MLAs.

    But I have seen no evidence that the DUP’s disastrous performance had anything to do with Brexit. The large increase in turnout (from 55% last time to 65% this time) seems to have disproportionately benefited Sinn Fein who ran on a platform of “Equality, Respect, Integrity” in an election dominated by the RHI scandal and issues around the (ab)use of the Petition of Concern by the DUP to block equal marriage and Irish language legislation.

  • Paul Murray 4th Mar '17 - 12:18pm

    @Ian Sanderson – I thought it was quite funny that they showed the 10 worst performing candidates in the whole election (we should do that over here!) and the Conservative standing in West Tyrone was the lowest in the whole election getting 27 first preference votes or 0.06%

  • paul barker 4th Mar '17 - 12:18pm

    For an alternative, less sunny view you could read David Herdsons piece : “The Road to Nowhere ?” on Political betting.com. Given the scale of the scandal, votes didnt really shift very much. The great majority voted to stay in their respective bunkers.

  • I don’t think an increase in the share of Sinn Fein’s vote (or indeed an increase proportionally in nationalist representation in the Assembly) is something to celebrate, even if the nationalist parties happen to be opposed to Brexit. Would you be celebratory if the SNP increased its share of the vote and/or representation in the Assembly (or Westminster) at the next election?

    But it is an interesting question it begs; which is more theoretically important if you had to chose only one, remaining within the EU? Or preservation of the Union/United Kingdom? Appreciate that losing one increases leads to an increased likelihood of losing the other.

    Also interesting to note that in the peculiar cross-community vote system of governance in Northern Ireland, that the Alliance has the designation of “Other”, and not “Unionist” or “Nationalist”.

  • paul holmes 4th Mar '17 - 2:04pm

    So Paul Murray suggests it was specifically Northern Irish issues that undermined the DUP vote. Another Thread suggests that UUP voters did not give their transfer votes to the DUP which would again indicate that very specific NI issues were the key factor rather than Brexit.

    I think it is a dangerous road to argue that every election is or should be about Brexit.Important as that issue is it is not the dominant topic on ordinary voters minds. One group of Leave voters being interviewed in Stoke Central (or Brexit Central as Paul Nutall dubbed it), said they had not voted UKIP because all UKIP ever talked about was Brexit “and there was more than that to deal with”. Copeland was about Nuclear Power and the NHS. Sleaford, where I both printed and helped deliver some of the literature, was primarily about the NHS and local issues such as transport.

    There have even been articles and comments asking in a bewildered tone ‘Why are half our Council gains in Leave areas?” Answer, because Brexit had nothing to do with those elections. Important as Brexit, the nature of Brexit and the consequences of Brexit are we must not become an obsessive single issue Party.

  • Steve Bradley 4th Mar '17 - 8:15pm

    I think you’re wrong to put such a headline emphasis on Brexit re this result Caron. It may seem that way from an outside perspective, but NI always moves to the beat of its own (& often relatively trivial) political issues.

    Firstly – only one of the main Unionist parties supported Brexit (DUP). The UUP didn’t, but still had a poor election. So it’s wrong to connect sending a Brexit message to the performance of the Unionist parties overall.

    Secondly – NI has had its vote on Brexit, & said ‘no’. We have so many other issues of concern to get back to in elections that I suspect it was just one of a number of considerations for most people – but not the dominant one. The recent RHI scandal was undoubtedly the main blow to the DUP. Other issues such as Equal marriage, an Irish Language Act & the DUP’s staggering arrogance probably swayed as many votes as Brexit did. And I would say the party that suffered most on Brexit was the fringe socialist People Before Profit Alliance. Their pro-Brexit stance cost them a seat in my home town of Derry, & nearly lost them their only other seat in West Belfast – scraping in on 5th place whereas they had topped the poll only 10mths ago.

    Finally – the tribal/constitutional issue still dominates NI voting behaviour. A sizeable nunber of protestant Remain voters will have backed the DUP, & a sizeable number of catholic Leave voters will have backed Sinn Fein. Because they view green/orange issues as more important.

    Brexit may dominate the political discourse in England/Britain, but voting motivations in NI are vastly more complex than that.

  • paul holmes 4th Mar '17 - 11:49pm

    @Rebecca Taylor -your latter point is exactly mine. I ran the Chesterfield Staveley) by election where on Dec 3rd we took a seat from Labour, going from 0-67% of the vote in the process. Brexit was mentioned by no one (except 2 UKIP households who would not vote for anyone because there was no UKIP candidate). I helped in Sept/Oct in the two Tupton by elections just outside Chesterfield where we gained 3 seats from Labour. There was a UKIP candidate in the first one who got a derisory vote and Brexit just did not feature.

    Yet there are people who try to say that every election is a Brexit test, that Brexit is the number one campaign issue that will lead to a realignment in voting by large numbers of Remainers and there are indeed people who say they can’t understand why we are winning by elections in areas that voted Leave. The Party even, last year, designated as ‘Top Seats’ some constituencies where we got under 10% of the vote in 2015 -in two we actually lost our deposit. Their reasoning was that these were constituencies that voted Remain but had Leave MP’s. Really! -that is going to move our vote from lost deposit to winning?

  • Denis Loretto 5th Mar '17 - 10:16am

    Congratulations to my former colleagues in the Alliance Party. Given the real risk of everything falling apart because of DUP/Sinn Fein hostility I hope Alliance can find a way to use the balance of power position it now holds to establish genuine power-sharing.

  • Richard Underhill 14th May '17 - 6:48pm

    The Northern Ireland section of the Sunday politics is circulation on the Parliament Channel, followed by a piece about the first woman MP, Nancy Astor, who took over her husband’s seat in Plymouth Sutton when her husband was elevated to the House of Lords. (What would Tony Benn have thought?). He wanted to return to the Commons and therefore wanted his wife to keep the seat warm. She was uncomfortable as the only woman in the Commons, sitting behind Winston Churchill who made some ungallant remarks.
    The Commons will be improved if Naomi Long and maybe some other Alliance MPs are in it. Having campaigned successfully against double-jobbing, that is now law, and if elected as an MP again she will give up her role as a member of the devolved assembly, which she previously did voluntarily. She will lead her party in the negotiations to restore devolution.
    Good luck Naomi!
    https://allianceparty.org/

  • Richard Underhill 22nd May '17 - 2:07pm

    Stephen Farry was on the Daily Politics of 22/5/2017 for Alliance. He is a former minister in the devolved administration. He described Alliance as a liberal party and forecast “one or two” seats at Westminster from this general election. That is Naomi Long of course in East Belfast and one other he did not name.
    Daniel Walker 4th Mar ’17 – 11:35am Yes, STV is used for all elections except Westminster. There is a case for using the same system for all elections because the voters and counters are familiar with it; also because it is the same system as used in the Republic of Ireland: also because arrangements between political parties become less necessary as the transferable vote empowers the electorate directly. Alliance have repeatedly calculated the effect on them as two MPs.
    The Daily Politics will interview other Northern Ireland parties this week.
    I agree with everything Alison Suttie said and what Denis Loretto said.

  • Alliance has always described itself as a Liberal party. I remember in 1987 when John Cushnahan was Alliance leader. Not only did the 2 Davids (Steel and Owen) actually go to Northern Ireland during the campaign to show their support for the Alliance candidates, but JC also came and addressed the Liberal party conference that year as well.

  • Richard Underhill 21st Aug '17 - 11:49am

    Both the DUP (founded by the late Ian Paisley) and Sinn Fein ‘Ourselves Alone’ but (colloquially known as The Shinners) can be determined negotiators, but the delay in giving effect to the election of the devolved assembly casts shame on both parties. Sinn Fein has said they want to start negotiations on Monday 28/8/2017, the DUP have replied that they are always ready. In the interests of democracy, giving the electorate a voice, they should get on with it.

  • Richard Underhill 26th Jun '18 - 8:53am

    https://allianceparty.org/article/2018/0011816/david-ford-to-retire-as-mla
    This is all true, but there is another point. The Assembly has been elected and should meet. It is a crucial part of the Good Friday Agreement. Direct negotiations between the DUP and Sinn Fein are not a substitute for real democracy.
    TonyH Yes. John Cushnahan demonstrated that Alliance could stick to its principles by having leaders from both sides of the divide. He was subsequently elected as an MEP for Fine Gael, but sadly, without increasing the number of FG MEPs.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Cushnahan
    Blessed are the peacemakers.
    Mathew 5.9.

  • Richard Underhill 26th Jun '18 - 9:07am

    If the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland did not exist it would need to be invented.
    Despite the circumstances David always maintained a sense of humour.
    He was always a Liberal and helped in the Eastbourne bye-election.

  • Richard Underhill 6th May '19 - 2:07pm

    The late Ian Paisley MP, MEP claimed that the EU was “a Catholic conspiracy”.
    In doing so he disrespected supporters of the Christian Orthodox faith and (with subsequent EU enlargement in 2004 and 2007) Bulgaria, Romania and parts of the former Yugoslavia. Did he know he was doing so?
    Today, Easter Monday, is an important day in the Orthodox tradition, so BBC Radio 3 has plenty of beautiful Orthodox music.
    The current Pope is following Roman Catholic policy of trying to merge with the Orthodox, with limited success so far. The Vatican accepts that this is a ‘long term objective’. The division was more than one thousand years ago. There are structural differences, as well as doctrinal, historical, etc.

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