The Implications of Irish Unity for the Alliance Party…

Ben Collins is the author of Irish Unity: Time to Prepare 

In recent times we have seen significant coverage devoted to whether Alliance voters would vote for or against Irish unity in a border poll. Jon Tonge who is publishing a book on Alliance this summer recently published on 3 March research in the Belfast Telegraph which shows that Alliance party members are increasingly in favour of Irish unity.


This is a trend which has been accelerated by Brexit, as was acknowledged by Alliance leader Naomi Long when speaking on the BBC Sunday Politics Show, after the survey results were published.

The LucidTalk NI ‘Tracker’: Winter 2024 published on 4 March 2024 showed that more Alliance/Green/Others voters want to see a United Ireland at some point in the future than want Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK. Given the delicate balance in voting blocs where at the last Northern Ireland Assembly elections roughly 40% voted Unionist, 40% Nationalist and 20% other/non-aligned, it is not surprising that there is an increasing focus on how Alliance voters would cast their ballots in a unity referendum.


David McCann Deputy Editor of Slugger recently published an article on 27 March about the potential for a future realignment of the left across Ireland,  he suggested that the Social Democrats, Labour and the SDLP should join forces.

For me an equally interesting question is what happens to the Alliance party after a vote for reunification? I am a former member of Alliance and was briefly on their party Executive but I can claim no particular insight into the party’s thinking. We know that Alliance consciously does not take a position on the constitutional issue at the present time. Depending on your point of view you may consider that this makes them ‘soft unionists’ or ‘cryptonationalists’.

This neutrality on constitutional issues is unlikely to change before a border poll is called. I would be surprised if they were to take a collective decision in favour or against Irish unity when a referendum is called. They are more likely to allow their party members and elected representatives to campaign and vote according to their personal preferences.

Once the referendum has taken place and in the event that it results in votes for reunification both North and South, the fascinating decision for Alliance will be to decide how to proceed from then on. There is a strong liberal ethos within the party and although they have positioned themselves within the context of the Northern Ireland peace process, I think that they have the potential to further thrive in a reunified Ireland. There will be a number of options open to them. They can continue as a liberal regional party, as currently. In many ways they would be best positioned to be a northern part of a new all-Ireland government. They have proven that they can work with Sinn Féin in places like Belfast City Council and in the Northern Ireland Executive. For many years Alliance has maintained friendly relations with Fine Gael, over a shared focus on Law and Order, pro-European outlook, desire to grow the economy and as former Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald onwards has shown, a liberalising approach to social issues. Alliance is part of the same European Liberal group, Renew Europe, as Fianna Fáil. I’m sure they would also be able to find accommodation to work with the Greens given their shared focus on climate action and the parties of the left, including the Social Democrats and Labour. On the basis of current polling neither People Before Profit or Aontú are likely to play a part in government in the immediate future.

In Germany there is the CDU/CSU arrangement where one party (CSU) contests elections in Bavaria and the other party (CDU) stands for election in the rest of Germany but they work together at a federal level. In those circumstances Alliance could position itself as an attractive northern partner for a coalition government, for each of the main parties in the South. I also think that Alliance would be well-positioned to ensure that there is equal treatment for everyone from Northern Ireland in a new reunified state and to call out any discrimination. Unionists may realise after reunification, that Alliance are not the enemy of Unionism that they are sometimes portrayed to be. But if we do see further political realignment across the island, could this result in Alliance standing candidates in what is now the Irish Republic? My sense is that if this were to happen, it would be from a grassroots initiative.

Perhaps if we see further coalescing between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, there would be sufficient space for a centrist party such as Alliance to attract votes in the South. Arguably one can say that now Alliance is the partner of choice in Northern Ireland for the parties which make up the coalition for the current Irish Government, in the same way as successive Irish Governments used to view the SDLP, prior to them being overtaken by Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland. However if Alliance start to directly compete with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael for votes and seats, that sense of partnership may quickly dissipate. I’m sure that the Alliance leadership will consider these factors at the time and decide what the benefits of remaining a regional party vis a vis standing across all of Ireland will be. What happens to Unionist parties after reunification and whether Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil or some new political vehicle which incorporates them, start to contest elections in Northern Ireland, will be a factor in Alliance’s calculations. But that is a subject for a different blog post.

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