Oliver Napier

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Sir Oliver Napier (11 July 1935 – 2 July 2011[1]) was the first leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. In 1974 he served as the first and only Legal Minister and head of the Office of Legal Reform in the Northern Ireland power-sharing executive set up by the Sunningdale Agreement.

Early life[edit]

Napier was educated at St. Malachy's College, Belfast and the Queen's University of Belfast before starting work as a solicitor.

Political career[edit]

Napier joined the Ulster Liberal Party, rising to become Vice President by 1969. That year, he led a group of four party members who joined the New Ulster Movement, accepting the post of joint Chairman of its political committee. The Liberal Party promptly expelled him, but, working with Bob Cooper, he used his position to establish a new political party, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, which sought to become a political force that could command support from across the divided communities of the province.[2] This aimed to offer an alternative to what Napier described as the sectarianism of the Ulster Unionist Party.

He served as the party's joint leader from 1970 until 1972, then as its sole leader from 1973 to 1984.[3] Under his leadership Alliance participated in successive assemblies that sought to solve the debate on the province's position, including the Northern Ireland Assembly, 1973 in which Napier was a minister in the power-sharing Executive. In 1979 he came closer to winning a seat in the Westminster Parliament than any other Alliance candidate in history when he was less than a thousand votes behind Peter Robinson's winning total in Belfast East in a tight three-way marginal. When Napier stepped down as leader in 1984 he received many plaudits for his work. The following year he was knighted and in 1989 he stood down from Belfast City Council, seemingly to retire.

However, in 1995 he returned to the political fray when he contested the North Down by-election for the Alliance, standing again in the 1997 general election.

In 1996 he was elected to the Northern Ireland Peace Forum for North Down.

Prior to his death Oliver Napier was the last prominent member of the Ulster Liberal Party.

Public positions[edit]

Napier served on the Board of Governors of the first integrated school in Northern Ireland, Lagan College.


  1. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-14001215
  2. ^ Thomas G. Mitchell, Indispensable Traitors, pp.10-11; 34-35
  3. ^ Thomas G. Mitchell, Indispensable Traitors, p.64
Party political offices
Preceded by
New position
Joint Leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
with Bob Cooper

Succeeded by
Phelim O'Neill, 2nd Baron Rathcavan (acting)
Preceded by
Phelim O'Neill (acting)
Leader of the Alliance Party (NI)
Succeeded by
John Cushnahan