Assess the reasons why the Alliance Party has always struggled in Northern Ireland politics.

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Assess the reasons why the Alliance Party has always struggled in Northern Ireland politics. [26]

The Alliance Party, led by David Ford, is traditionally the centre party. They are very mildly unionist in that they believe the positions of Northern Ireland should remain unchanged unless the majority decide otherwise. They dislike labels of unionist and nationalist intensely and believe it only contributes to embedding sectarianism within NI institutions. Through all the momentous changes that have taken place in Northern Ireland politics and the major shifts that have occurred in party support, one thing has remained constant: the Alliance Party has continually struggled to survive, never mind make progress. There are many reasons why this has been so.

The Alliance Party have always struggled in Northern Ireland politics, and this is partly due to the composition and workings of the assembly. Their power is often diminished in larger votes which require the majority of unionist and nationalist support. It has been very difficult to break the centrality of the border as the central issue in Northern Ireland politics. The continuation of political violence and the memories of that violence have had a polarising effect upon politics that have created unsuitable conditions for the Alliance Party. They are on such a tight policy line in the centre of politics that little comments can have big impact. Anna Lo’s comments that her personal preference would be for a united Ireland, for example, did have an impact on the Alliance vote.

Furthermore, the existence of “moderate” parties within both the Unionist and Nationalist camps (UUP and SDLP) has meant that moderate voters in both traditions have had a choice other than a centre party. Very few people in Northern Ireland have no opinion on the border issue. More recently, the strategic shifts in the positions of the DUP and Sinn Fein to occupy more “moderate” positions has added to the difficulties faced by the Alliance Party. This includes the recent Fresh Start Agreement of 2015. The DUP and SF committed to ending paramilitarism and tackling organised crime, and it was also decided that the Executive will be handed the power to set its own rate of corporation tax with the aim of reducing it to the 12.5% rate of the Republic. Plans for a commission to examine the thorny issues of flags, identity, culture and tradition will proceed. This proves that the ‘big two’ are becoming more co-operative and willing to compromise on big issues. In light of this, what need is there for Alliance?

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The DUP and SF have also been accused of trying to diminish the influence of Alliance. They have firstly done this by aiming to get rid of the Employment and Learning ministry – which was led by Alliance’s Stephen Farry - by combining it with Business. They portray this as a money saving strategy, but in reality it can be seen as more of a blow against Alliance. Sinn Fein and perhaps more so the DUP have been annoyed that Alliance have boosted themselves to a position where, in the previous assembly, they had two Executive seats - one chosen by Cross ...

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