The six seats that the Alliance Party won in June’s Assembly election have created a significant ‘centre’ grouping the new body between Unionism and Nationalism.
This group has an enormous contribution to make in trying to hold the Agreement together, and taking up the challenge of building a more liberal and non-sectarian Northern Ireland.
The elections were however somewhat disappointing for Alliance. They demonstrated the ‘swings and arrows’ of STV.
Only a few hundred votes either way could have produce anything from 5 to 9 seats. Eight or nine seats would have guaranteed an Alliance seat in the new power sharing Executive.
Alliance polled 6.5 per cent of the vote, similar to our level of support in the 1996 elections that led to the Talks.
Then people voted for their own ‘side’ to fight their corner in the Talks; sadly it seems that voters still believe that it is possible to make things work by bolstering their own tribe to represent their interests.
The results show the enormity of the task of creating a realignment in politics. That task will now fall to the Alliance Party under a new leader.
Lord Alderdice, having led the Party for eleven years, has decided to step down. Since doing so, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, has appointed him to act as the Presiding Officer of the new Northern Ireland Assembly.
Sean Neeson, former Chief Whip of the party and spokesman on European issues has been elected to serve as interim leader of the party until a full leadership election is held in September.