Nationalist Party (Northern Ireland)
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Nationalist Party Northern Ireland

The Nationalist Party (Irish: An Páirtí Náisiúnach)[1] was the continuation of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), and was formed after the partition of Ireland, by the Northern Ireland-based members of the IPP.


Despite conventionally being referred to as a single organisation, the party long existed only as a loose network of small groups, generally operating in a single constituency. Its candidates for both Westminster and Stormont elections were selected by conventions organised on a constituency basis. These arrangements changed in 1966, when a single organisation covering the whole of Northern Ireland was established.[2]

The Nationalist Party did not enter the first House of Commons of Northern Ireland despite winning six seats in the 1921 general election. Leader Joe Devlin took his seat shortly after the 1925 general election and his colleagues followed gradually by October 1927.[3] Intermittently thereafter the party engaged in further periods of abstention, to protest against the "illegal" partition of Ireland. In 1965, it agreed to become the official opposition party in the House of Commons.[4]

On 20 June 1968, Austin Currie, Nationalist Party MP at Stormont, with others, began a protest about discrimination in housing allocation by 'squatting' (illegally occupying) a house in Caledon, County Tyrone. The house had been allocated by Dungannon Rural District Council to a 19-year-old unmarried Protestant woman, Emily Beattie, who was the secretary of a local Unionist politician. Emily Beattie was given the house ahead of older married Catholic families with children. The protesters were evicted by officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), one of whom was Emily Beattie's brother. The next day the annual conference of the Nationalist Party unanimously approved of the protest action by Austin Currie in Caledon.[5] This was one of the catalysts of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland. The party became involved in the Derry civil rights march in October 1968, which ended in violence amidst allegations of police brutality. As a result, the party withdrew from its role as official opposition on 15 October 1968, following the controversy of two weeks earlier.[6]

The party developed a reputation for being disorganised and being little more than a collection of elected members with their own local machines. Many calls were made for the party to develop an overall organisation but it fell apart in the late 1960s.[7] Earlier, many members had formed the National Democratic Party (NDP) after attempts at reform failed. The NDP merged into the Social Democratic and Labour Party at that party's foundation in 1970 and many remaining nationalists followed them. One of the Nationalist Party's last electoral contests was the 1973 election for the Assembly created as part of the Sunningdale Agreement. The lack of success in that election meant that the inevitable outcome was obvious, although a handful of councillors were elected to Omagh District Council and Derry City Council in 1973 and 1977. In October 1977,[8] the party merged with Unity to form the Irish Independence Party which also included non-aligned republicans. Although it was successful for a while in capturing the Republican vote, it faded from view due to the rise of Sinn Féin in the early 1980s.


Following the abolition of Stormont, Eddie McAteer became the effective party leader, while his son Fergus McAteer gradually assumed greater importance.

Electoral performance

See Nationalist Party (Northern Ireland) election results for results in the United Kingdom House of Commons

This chart shows the electoral performance of the Nationalist Party in elections to the Northern Ireland House of Commons

Election Seats won ± Position First Pref votes % Government Leader
Steady 3rd 60,577 11.8% Abstention Joseph Devlin
Increase4 Increase2nd 91,452 23.8% Opposition Joseph Devlin
Increase1 Steady2nd 34,069 11.7% Opposition Joseph Devlin
Decrease2 Steady2nd 22,269 11.7% Opposition Joseph Devlin
Decrease1 Steady2nd 16,167 4.9% Opposition T. J. Campbell
Increase2 Steady2nd 32,546 9.1% Opposition T. J. Campbell
Decrease1 Steady2nd 101,445 26.8% Opposition James McSparran
Decrease2 Steady2nd 27,796 10.8% Opposition James McSparran
Steady Steady2nd 36,013 14.9% Opposition Joe Stewart
Increase2 Steady2nd 45,860 15.1% Opposition Joe Stewart
Steady Steady2nd 26,748 8.2% Opposition Eddie McAteer
Decrease3 Steady2nd 42,315 7.6% Opposition Eddie McAteer

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Craig, F. W. S. (1968). British Parliamentary Election Statistics 1918-1968. Glasgow: Political Reference Publications. p. x. ISBN 0900178000.
  3. ^ Lynn, Brendan (21 March 2016). "The Irish Anti-Partition League and the political realities of partition, 1945-9". Irish Historical Studies. 34 (135): 321-332: 323. doi:10.1017/S0021121400004508. JSTOR 30008673.
  4. ^ Tonge, Jonathan (2013). Northern Ireland: Conflict and Change. London/New York: Routledge. pp. 26-27. ISBN 9781317875185. Retrieved 2016.
  5. ^ "A Chronology of the Conflict - 1968". Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN). Retrieved 2009.
  6. ^ "CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict 1968". Retrieved 2010.
  7. ^ Dr Brendan Lynn. "CAIN: Politics: Lynn, B. (1997), Holding the Ground the Nationalist Party in Northern Ireland, 1945-1972". Retrieved 2010.
  8. ^ "CAIN: Abstracts of Organisations - 'I'". Retrieved 2010.

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