Born in the Strandtown district of Belfast, Bleakley worked as an electrician in the Harland and Wolff dockyards while becoming increasingly active in his trade union. He studied economics at Ruskin College in Oxford, where he struck up a friendship with C. S. Lewis. He later attended Queen's University, Belfast. A committed Christian, he has been a lifelong Anglican - a member of the Church of Ireland - and was for a time a teacher at Methodist College Belfast. Throughout his life, he has involved himself as a lay preacher, in a casual context.
Bleakley joined the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) and contested the Northern Ireland Parliament seat of Belfast Victoria in 1949 and 1953 before finally winning it in 1958. At Stormont, he was made the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, but he lost his seat in 1965.
Bleakley ran for the Westminster seat of Belfast East in 1970, winning 40% of the vote. In 1971, Brian Faulkner appointed him as his Minister of Community Relations, but as Bleakley was not an MP, he could only hold this post for six months. He resigned five days before his term expired in order to highlight his disagreement with government policy, specifically the failure to widen the government to include non-Unionist parties, and the decision to introduce internment without trial.
After the Parliament was abolished, Bleakley stood for, and was elected to, the Northern Ireland Assembly and its successor, the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention. He stood again for Belfast East in the February and October UK general elections, but won only 14% of the vote each time.
By the late 1970s, the NILP was in disarray, and did not stand a candidate for the 1979 European Assembly election. Bleakley instead stood as an "Independent Community Candidate", but took only 1.6% of the votes cast.
During the 1980s, Bleakley sat as a non-partisan member of various quangos, and in 1984 received an CBE. From 1980 to 1992 he was general secretary of the Irish Council of Churches. In 1992, he joined the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland and was an advisor to the group during the all-party talks. For the 1996 Northern Ireland Forum election, he was a prominent member of the Democratic Partnership list and stood in Belfast East, but was not elected. In 1998, he joined the Labour Party of Northern Ireland and stood in Belfast East in the Assembly elections, receiving 369 first preference votes. The same year, he published C. S. Lewis, at Home in Ireland.
- Bleakley resigns calling for new approach in government, The Irish Times, 27 September 1971, p. 5
- The Lewis Legacy - Issue 84, Lewis and Ireland: Two New Books
|Parliament of Northern Ireland|
|Member of Parliament for Belfast Victoria
1958 – 1965
|Minister for Community Relations