|At Talks with Nelson Mandela in South Africa, May 1997
......first make peace with your neighbour.....
As a schoolboy, John Alderdice
was very troubled by the violence he saw breaking out in Northern Ireland, and in 1978, while he was still a medical
student, he decided to join the Alliance Party. He wanted to find a place in the political spectrum from which
he could understand better how to address the problems of his homeland, and contribute to finding peaceful solutions
to the politically-motivated violence which was destroying lives and prosperity around him. By 1984 he had
been elected to the ruling Executive Committee of the party and in 1985 he was elected Chairman of the Policy Committee of
the party. He was very active in rejuvenating the policy machinery and platform of the party which had been going through
a diffcult time since serious political reversals during the 1981 Local Government Election. Alliance had lost almost
half of its local council seats in the elections held in May of that year just two weeks after the death on hunger strike
of Bobby Sands, an IRA leader and elected Westminster MP. The Republican Prisoners' Hunger Strike which continued
until October of that year had a profoundly polarizing impact on politics and Alliance was suffering badly.
The situation worsened for the party when they gave support to the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement in the teeth
of the passionate antagonism of the majority of the unionist community and when the Northern Ireland Assembly was dissolved
in 1986, the 10 full-time Alliance members were left with no financial support for their offices and careers.
The following year John Cushnahan stood down as Party Leader and like many of the former Alliance Assembly Members departed
Northern Irish political life.
In March 1987 John Alderdice had been elected Vice-Chairman
of the Party and in June 1987 he took just over 32% of the vote in the East Belfast constituency - the highest ever for an
Alliance candidate in a Westminster election.
in September 1987 the Alliance Party Leader, John Cushnahan stood down, John Alderdice was elected Alliance Leader
- at the time some felt him a surprising choice - and in June 1989 he was elected to Belfast City Council, topping the poll
in the Victoria Area of East Belfast. In 1993 he was re-elected to Belfast City Council with the largest
vote of any candidate in Northern Ireland in that election, and during this Council term (1993-97) he represented the City
Council on Belfast Education and Library Board and the Board of Trustees of the Ulster Museum. From 1991 to 1998 he led the Alliance Party delegations at the various Inter-Party and Inter-Governmental Talks in
Belfast, London and Dublin on the future of Northern Ireland. In 1994, after the cease-fires, he led Alliance into the Forum
for Peace and Reconciliation, established by the Irish Government, at Dublin Castle. This was particularly
significant since Alliance was the only non-nationalist party in attendance.
John Alderdice had also become the first non-nationalist party leader to attend the White House for
the annual St Patrick's Day celebrations in 1995, and continued during these years, in frequent visits to Washington DC,
to contribute to US/NI relationships.
he was 1996 elected to the new Northern Ireland Forum and led the Alliance delegation there and in the Multi-party Talks chaired
by Senator George Mitchell.
In 1996 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Alderdice and
took his seat on the Liberal Democrat benches in the House of Lords on 5 November of that year, one of the youngest ever Life
As Leader of Northern Ireland's cross-community
Alliance Party, John (now Lord) Alderdice played a significant role in the negotiation of the 1998 Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement
which brought Northern Ireland's thirty year 'Troubles' to an end.
He was then appointed Speaker of the new Northern Ireland Assembly established as a result of the Agreement,
undertaking responsibility for developing all the procedures and administration of this new body and chairing its plenary
However, stabilizing the new
structures and achieving full implementation of the Agreement proved difficult because the IRA and the loyalist paramilitaries
refused to decommission their weapons. In 2004 the British and Irish Governments established an international
commission tasked with monitoring and putting pressure on the illegal paramilitary groups as well as monitoring the process
of security normalization by the British Army.
Alderdice was appointed as one of the four commissioners of this Independent Monitoring Commission and retired as Speaker
of the Assembly in 2004. The other three Commissioners were Joe Brosnan (former Head of the Department
of Justice in Ireland), John Grieve (former Head of the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorist Branch) and Dick Kerr (former Deputy
Director of the CIA). Over some seven and a half years the IMC produced 26 monitoring reports on
paramilitary and security activity, submitting their final report to the two Governments on 14 March 2011.
During this period the British Army withdrew from the streets
and community policing replaced the previous militarized security; the IRA and the main loyalist paramilitaries decommissioned
their weapons; and in the case of the IRA they stood down their members and directed them into democratic politics where the
republican party, Sinn Fein entered fully into power-sharing government with the unionists, including supporting
the new Police Service of Northern Ireland.
small dissident republican splinter groups continued to engage in terrorist activity and posed a danger to life and safety,
but they no longer had any political mandate or support North or South in Ireland. On the loyalist side
too there were still criminal and gangster-type activities. However the IMC was widely felt to have been
a substantial element in achieving full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the stabilization of the new power-sharing
ceased operations on 31 March 2011, and its final report was published by the two Governments on 4 July 2011.