Oliver Napier

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.[2]

Sir Oliver Napier
Legal Minister and Head of the Office of Law Reform
In office
1 January 1974  28 May 1974
Preceded byOffice created
Succeeded byOffice abolished
Leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
In office
Serving with Bob Cooper
Preceded byCreated
Succeeded byPhelim O'Neill
In office
Preceded byPhelim O'Neill
Succeeded byJohn Cushnahan
Personal details
Born(1935-07-11)11 July 1935
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Died2 July 2011(2011-07-02) (aged 75)
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Political partyAlliance
Spouse(s)Briege Barnes
Alma materQueen's University Belfast

Early life

Napier was educated at St. Malachy's College, Belfast and the Queen's University of Belfast before starting work as a solicitor.[3]

Political career

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, but remaining pro-union.[4] This aimed to offer an alternative to what Napier described as the sectarianism of the Ulster Unionist Party. Despite his faith he was a supporter of the Union.

He served as the party's joint leader from 1970 until 1972, then as its sole leader from 1973 to 1984.[5] 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 up to that point when he was less than a thousand votes behind Peter Robinson's winning total in Belfast East in a tight three-way marginal.[6] This record was beaten in 2010, when Naomi Long ousted Robinson from the same seat. 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

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


  1. "Former Alliance leader Sir Oliver Napier dies". BBC News. 2 July 2011. Archived from the original on 11 May 2021. Retrieved 11 May 2021.
  2. "CAIN: Events: Sunningdale – Members of the 1974 Executive". cain.ulster.ac.uk.
  3. Ryder, Chris (3 July 2011). "Sir Oliver Napier obituary". The Guardian.
  4. Thomas G. Mitchell, Indispensable Traitors, pp.10–11; 34–35
  5. Thomas G. Mitchell, Indispensable Traitors, p.64
  6. "Rare voice of moderation during worst of Troubles". The Irish Times.
Northern Ireland Assembly (1973)
New assembly Assembly Member for East Belfast
Assembly abolished
Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention
New convention Member for East Belfast
Convention dissolved
Northern Ireland Assembly (1982)
New assembly MPA for East Belfast
Assembly abolished
Northern Ireland Forum
New forum Member for North Down
Forum abolished
Party political offices
New title Joint Leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
With: Bob Cooper
Succeeded by
Phelim O'Neill (acting)
Preceded by
Phelim O'Neill (acting)
Leader of the Alliance Party (NI)
Succeeded by
John Cushnahan