Oliver Napier RIP

Members of the Slugger team who could do the blog title justice seem to be away from the office.

In the meantime I hope the following links are a suitable opening for your comments on the passing of Sir Oliver Napier.

David Ford pays tribute to party founder

BBC obit and some video.

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  • Nunoftheabove

    A gentleman. Too much noise at the time for most to find the fairly fundamentally decent common sense he was talking audible. Fair minded, practical, courteous but knew how to stand his ground in the company of bigmouth sectarian demagogues. Glad he lived to see things change, at least a bit, for the better.

  • I always admired him for his courage in trying to break the moulds.

  • pippakin

    A brave man who saw the need and in spite of the ‘noise’ had the courage and the decency to shape his party around it.


  • USA

    Very sad news.
    Condolences to the Napier family.
    He was one of the good guys.

  • Aontachtach

    A sad day indeed. He was a very courageous man and also a man of vision.

  • JoeBryce

    Condolences. A sad day. Glad he lived to see so much he worked for, come to pass.

  • Comrade Stalin

    A great character, somewhat larger than life (although not in the Paisley sense), he was friendly, yet direct, there was no nonsense about him. That said I cannot imagine him losing his temper, although it sounds as if Ted Heath might have borne witness to this when Oliver pleaded him to send in troops to operate the power stations in the unionist paramilitary coup of 1974.

    I remember canvassing for him with a bunch of other people during the 1995 north down bye-election (my first), recalling that he had a certain gravitas, as he strutted confidently around various parts of the constituency, that people seemed to respond to well, whether it was suburban Holywood or Ballybeen. I laughed at the time when I heard that Oliver had said “tiocfaidh ar la” in his speech at the count centre – so typical of his mischievous sense of humour at a time – it seems so long ago now – when people were not so quick to be amused by such things, certainly not the thuggish characters who were there to support Robert McCartney.

    I saw him a few times since then. He appeared at the last Alliance Party conference held before Ford’s appointment as justice minister. Napier was the last Minister to hold the nearest equivalent post back in the mid 1970s as part of the ill-fated Sunningdale setup, and received a standing ovation. For many people in the party, I believe Oliver reminded them of the party’s key role in Sunningdale – and his presence helped to bridge the gap between then and the key role the party is now playing in the current Executive.

    Apart from one brief occasion in the mid-2000s when Napier got a few backs up (mine included) in his criticism of the party leadership, Oliver never lost his optimism that there was a way to build what everyone is now calling a shared future. He attended the party’s 40th anniversary celebrations which took place a year ago – I now regret not having taken the opportunity to say hello to him then, but that seems to be the way things happen. The current party leadership rightly paid tribute to him and his contemporaries for their pioneering role in shining a light, and providing hope and optimism, during the country’s darkest hours. Although he was not in the best of health he still gave a short speech – I noted how that gravitas which I’d first heard fifteen years previously, although somewhat diminished, was still there. The party’s recent successes in East Belfast and in obtaining the justice ministry clearly delighted him so I took some pleasure in noting that there was a mischievous sparkle still in his eye. I am sure that he passed away content that the future of the party that he helped to start was in good hands.

    RIP, Oliver.

  • Good obituary, Comrade.

  • granni trixie

    Although not unexpected, I am very sad at this news.

    Oliver Napier,former vice char of the Ulster LIberal Party
    was principally responsible for the drafting of the partys Constitution and rules. In these seminal years he and Bob Cooper(expelled from the Ulster Unionist Party) became Joint Leaders of its political strategy Committee.
    I was reading old documents in his memory today and it is clear that he was ahead of the field in analysing the kinds of change needed if Ni was ever to become a fair and shared society. This includes the tactics he advocated – he noted that ‘sniping impresses noone’ but better to speak out loudly when there is something constructive to say.

    May he rest in peace.

  • JoeBryce

    Comrade, it could not have been Heath to whom a Sunningdale minister might have vented frustration at the British government’s shameful handling of what you quite correctly call the paramilitary coup of Ballylumford. That is for the simple reason that the failure was that of the shallow opportunist, Wilson. I suspect Heath, had he been in power, would have shown more backbone. Indeed, although there is a risk of going off topic, there is a very good argument that Sunningdale would have survived had it not been for the February 1974 election. Those were dark days in every sense.

  • I had finished my special training and was sitting in my office just about to go and participate in running Ballylumford when Heath caved.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Joe, I stand corrected, of course it could not have been Heath as it was the timing of the election which Heath lost that destabilized the whole thing.

    In fairness to the British they learned their lesson and were ready when the same tactic was retried a few years later.

    JoeC, I had no idea they were training people to break the power station strike. What can you tell us about that ?

    (it is interesting, though, how shutting the stations down would be effectively impossible today. With the privatization of the utilities it would be a much more straightforward matter to draft people in from other stations to operate it. )

  • Comrade,

    I was an engineer with NIES and those of us who had some experience of commissioning at the power stations were given intensive training on how to run the equipment. We expected that we would work alongside army engineers and show them the layouts etc. But to no avail, of course. We could have done it.

  • Comrade Stalin


    I think in the end you would still have had to figure out a way of dealing with the problem of thugs threatening anyone who went to work.

  • Harry Flashman

    Oliver Napier, like John Hume, simply saw the bleedin’ obvious, the only flipping way that fecked up little statelet could conceivably be run properly.

    In saying that I in no way mean to detract from their struggle and the latter’s achievement. It was in trying to convince the dingbats and troglodytes that surrounded them in Northern Ireland that showed their true mettle.

    I am surprised that someone says above they never saw him angry as he always came across on TV as permanently angry, like an extremely frustrated but dedicated schoolmaster trying to explain simple algebra to the densest members of the fourth form for the hundredth time.

    Like I said in David Dunsieth’s thread, his passing brings back memories of a grimmer more dreary time, he was one of the giants of the political stage back then even if his party never quite cut it.

    RIP Sir Oliver.

  • Harry Flashman

    As regards the 1974 strike, you could have run all the power stations you like but when the dead start piling up unburied and the rubbish is rotting in the streets no government can hope to survive.

    A lesson learnt by Wilson’s successor four years later.

  • Jo

    A man who would have achieved much more had he been Alliance leader now. Typical TUV bitterness exressed elsewhere at his passing. He will be recalled when they’re gone.

  • Apologies to family and friends if I have dragged the thread slightly off target.
    Mark, fell free to delete my later comments.

  • Master McGrath

    More sad news and my condolences to the family.
    Bad news seems to be like buses at the moment, it does not come other than in twos or threes at the same time.
    There are not that many Napiers around and I wonder if he was in any way related to Sam Napier another good guy who ran the NILP for many years?

  • SDLP supporter

    May he Rest in Peace and indeed a good guy. Someone who made a positive contribution though I could never empathise with his enthusiastic support of unionism. Unusual among lawyers from his community in being political ‘engage’ and had great self-confidence.
    He had an idiosyncratic way of curling his lower lip when emphasising a point, generally expressing a sentiment of inoffensive decency like “I have a tremendous respect for the Protestant people of Northern Ireland”. In my younger days, was amused by Eamonn McCann picking up on this by referring to Oliver as “the duck-billed platitude”. In fairness, Oliver’s activities and associations in those awful days of the seventies bear comparison with Eamonn’s.
    Oliver had at least one other equally remarkable brother who died a few years ago, James Christopher (‘Kit’) Napier (Seamus de Napier), who was a solicitor and Taxing Master. Though I knew him reasonably well, he never disclosed his political views but was devoted to Irish language and culture and was a driving force in Ballymurphy Enterprises and the re-building of Bombay Street, destroyed by loyalist mobs in August 1969. Was someone of the highest ideals.
    Sad too to note the death of Andy Boyd. Great obituary of him on the BBC site by David McKittrick:
    For the record (and I’ve checked this with an SDLP Founding Father), Andy Boyd lost out in the election for first chair of the SDLP to Eddie McGrady (my recollection is by one vote).
    No future historian will ever better Andy Boyd’s judgement on the Provisional IRA, that they had decided:
    “to kill thousands of decent, inoffensive people and innocent children, destroy commercial and private property to the value of billions of pounds, and incite the bloodlust of the most brutal loyalists”.