Election 2015 Northern Ireland

Election profile: Alliance Party

David Ford became party leader in 2001 Image copyright Brian Lawless
Image caption David Ford became party leader in 2001

The Alliance Party is the main cross-community party of Northern Ireland, seeking to attract support from both Protestants and Catholics.

Formed in 1970, it has sometimes been described as a "soft unionist" party because it believes Northern Ireland should stay in the United Kingdom until its people decide otherwise.

However, the party's principal aim is to urge Northern Ireland to rethink its politics by leaving behind sectarian ties and community divisions in favour of seeing everyone as members of a single society.

The Alliance's sister party in Britain is the Liberal Democrats.

David Ford became leader in 2001 following the resignation of Sean Neeson.

In the 2001 election campaign, the party decided to withdraw candidates from five constituencies under a strategy to see as many pro-Good Friday Agreement candidates elected as possible.

Referendum

Image copyright Alliance Party
Image caption Sean Neeson was the Alliance Party leader until 2001

The party secured its first MP in 2010 when Naomi Long shocked the Northern Ireland political establishment by beating DUP leader, first minister and incumbent MP Peter Robinson in East Belfast.

The Alliance Party is keen to retain that seat, but Ms Long's standing in parts of the predominantly unionist constituency may have been damaged following the decision of Belfast City Council to only fly the union flag on designated days.

In 2012, Alliance members of the council backed a motion stating the flag should not be flown every day, in an attempt to create a more equal and neutral environment.

The Alliance Party took part in the political talks and supported the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, having campaigned for the deal in that year's referendum.

However, it has since been critical of the way the Northern Ireland Assembly has been set up, saying the rules can "entrench sectarian positions and party tribalism".