Northern Ireland Labour Party

The Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) was a political party in Northern Ireland which operated from 1924 until 1987.

Northern Ireland Labour Party
Preceded byBelfast Labour Party
Succeeded byLabour '87
Political positionCentre-left

After partitionEdit

After the partition of Ireland in 1921, the NILP was founded as a socialist political party by groups such as the Belfast Labour Party and found its main bed of support amongst working class voters in Belfast. It initially declined to take a position on the "Border Question" and instead sought to offer itself as an alternative to both nationalism and unionism.

In the 1925 Northern Ireland general election, the party secured three seats in Belfast, including William McMullen elected in Belfast West, as well as Sam Kyle (Belfast North) and Jack Beattie (Belfast East); this was the last election for the Northern Ireland Parliament using the single transferable vote system.

The party had a Westminster Member of Parliament on only one occasion, when Jack Beattie won the 1943 Belfast West by-election, retained the seat in 1945, but lost it in 1950. He regained the seat as an Irish Labour Party candidate in 1951.[1][2][3]

In 1949, following the declaration of a Republic in the south, the Northern Ireland Labour Party's conference voted in favour of the Union with Great Britain. The result was a sharp decline in the party's already limited electoral success, as Catholic voters deserted, and the Irish Labour Party attempted to organise in Northern Ireland. An earlier refusal to adopt this policy had split the party, with leader Harry Midgley forming his own strongly Unionist Commonwealth Labour Party.

Later in the 1950s, the party began to gain ground amongst unionist voters, and after the breakup of the Irish Labour Party's new attempts to organise in Northern Ireland among some nationalists, it saw its greatest period of success between 1958 and 1965. Four NILP MPs were elected to Stormont in 1958 for Belfast constituencies: Tom Boyd (Pottinger), Billy Boyd (Woodvale), Vivian Simpson (Oldpark), and David Bleakley (Victoria). The NILP then became the official opposition at Stormont.[4]

Success came despite continued divisions over such matters as Sunday Observance – two NILP Belfast councillors voted to close the city's park playgrounds on Sundays (as demanded by hard line Calvinists but opposed by Catholics) and were expelled as a result.

The TroublesEdit

However, with the onset of the Troubles, new parties emerged that appealed to the party's support base, including the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland and the Democratic Unionist Party. Once again the polarisation of politics around partition deprived the party of a critical mass.


In 1971 the new Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Brian Faulkner appointed NILP former Stormont MP David Bleakley[5] to his Cabinet as Minister of Community Relations, in an attempt to bring reforms to Northern Ireland. However, the following year the Stormont Parliament was suspended when it resisted the London government request to take over responsibility for public order. In the 1973 referendum on the border, the NILP campaigned for Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom. David Bleakley was elected to the 1973 Assembly and 1975 Forum for East Belfast.[6]

The Northern Ireland Labour Party continued to contest elections but with a dwindling support base. It broadly supported the Ulster Workers' Council strike in 1974, and shortly afterwards adopted a policy of unionism. Alan Carr became its leading figure from the mid-1970s until the early 1980s,[7] by which point it had only about 200 members, and just a single councillor was elected for the party in 1981. A party conference in 1983 narrowly failed to secure a necessary two-thirds majority to wind up the party, but it stood no candidates in the 1983 general election, its Chairman and Party Secretary having resigned just beforehand, and by the 1985 Northern Ireland local elections, its three candidates received no support from the central body.[8]

Labour '87Edit

In March 1987,[9] the remains of the party merged with Labour Party of Northern Ireland (formed in 1985 by former SDLP leader Paddy Devlin), the Ulster Liberal Party and the United Labour Party to form the Labour '87 group. This group also gained the support of the Newtownabbey Labour Party. They contested local elections and Mark Langhammer contested the 1989 European Elections unsuccessfully.[10]


Leaders at StormontEdit


1924: Sam Kyle
1925: William McMullen
1927: Matthew Courtney
1931: Hugh Gemmell
1932: Harry Midgley
1942: Jack Beattie
1944: William Leeburn
1945: Jack Macgougan
1946: John Boyle
1947: Robert Getgood
1947: Henry Holmes
1948: James Morrow
1952: Vivian Simpson
1953: Tom Boyd
1954: Cecil Allen
1955: Saidie Patterson
1956: W. Blair
1957: David Bleakley
1958: Andrew Gibson
1959: Robert Bingham
1960: Billy Boyd
1962: Charles Brett
1963: Hugh Waring
1964: Edward Wright
1965: William Gunning
1966: Martin McBirney
1967: Paddy Devlin
1969: Robert Allen
1970: Brian Anderson
1971: Erskine Holmes
1972: Brian Garrett
1973: Archie McArdle
1973: Brian Garrett
1974: Jack Barkley
1975: George Chambers
1976: Sandy Scott
1977: Alan Carr
1980: Ciaran McAteer
1981: Bob Clarke
1983: William Gunning

Electoral performanceEdit


Election Body Votes Vote % Seats Outcome
1921 1st Parliament 3,075 0.6%
0 / 52
1925 2nd Parliament 18,114 4.7%
3 / 52
1929 3rd Parliament 23,334 8.0%
1 / 52
1933 4th Parliament 14,436 8.5%
2 / 52
1938 5th Parliament 18,775 5.7%
1 / 52
1945 6th Parliament 66,053 18.5%
2 / 52
1949 7th Parliament 26,831 7.1%
0 / 52
1953 8th Parliament 31,360 12.1%
0 / 52
1958 9th Parliament 38,093 15.8%
4 / 52
1962 10th Parliament 76,842 25.4%
4 / 52
1965 11th Parliament 66,323 20.4%
2 / 52
1969 12th Parliament 45,113 8.1%
2 / 52
1973 1973 Assembly 18,675 2.6%
1 / 78
1975 Constitutional Convention 9,102 1.4%
1 / 78

Local governmentEdit

Election First Preference Vote Vote % Seats
1973 17,422 2.5%
4 / 517
1977 4,960 0.8%
1 / 526
1981 3,563 0.5%
1 / 526
1985 1,285 0.2%
1 / 565


  1. ^ Bardon, Jonathan, A History of Ulster, p. 523 (The Black Staff Press, Belfast, 1992)
  2. ^ Election History of John (Jack) Beattie Archived 2018-04-11 at the Wayback Machine Elections Ireland
  3. ^ A brief history of Northern Ireland Westminster Elections by Nicholas Whyte Archived 2018-10-30 at the Wayback Machine ARK – Access Research Knowledge
  4. ^ Edwards, Aaron, A History of the Northern Ireland Labour Party: democratic socialism and sectarianism, Manchester University Press 2009
  5. ^ David Bleakley Election results Archived 2011-02-21 at the Wayback Machine Elections Ireland
  6. ^ East Belfast elections 1973–1982 Archived 2018-06-23 at the Wayback Machine ARK – Access Research Knowledge
  7. ^ British and Irish Communist Organisation, "Labour in Ulster", p.17
  8. ^ Aaron Edwards, A history of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, p.223
  9. ^ Aaron Edwards, A history of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, p.2
  10. ^ Mark Langhammer, Election Results 1989 Archived 2007-12-17 at the Wayback Machine Elections Ireland