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Thursday, 6 September, 2001, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
Alliance leader to resign
Sean Neeson
Mr Neeson has been leader of the party for three years
The leader of the cross-community Alliance Party in Northern Ireland, Sean Neeson, is to resign.

The East Antrim assembly member said he was stepping down because he felt it was time for "a fresh face to take over the reins" of the party.

In a statement on Thursday, Mr Neeson said: "At these times of deepening divisions, the cross-community and anti-sectarian voice of Alliance has never been more important.

"However in many ways the current phase of the peace process is coming to a close.

Successor

"There is a major dearth of ideas on how to break this deadlock.


I firmly believe it is time for a new face with fresh energy and new ideas

Sean Neeson

"As such, I firmly believe it is time for a new face with fresh energy and new ideas to come forward and lead Alliance."

It is believed Mr Neeson, 55, will stay on as leader of the party until a successor is found, next month.

He was elected leader exactly three years ago this month, following Lord Alderdice's resignation.

The low-point of Mr Neeson's reign came in the 1999 Euro-election when he and his party only polled 2% of the vote.

Sean Nesson:
Sean Nesson: "Dearth of ideas on breaking deadlock"

The party holds five seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Alliance is a small party which has lost votes in recent elections to other pro-Agreement politicians.

It has never held a Westminster seat.

It suffered a slide in electoral fortunes in recent years - dropping from 14.4% in its heyday in the 1974 district council elections to just 3.6% in the Westminster election.

Mr Neeson's successor will be chosen by the party's governing council at a special meeting on 6 October.

Last week, North Down assembly member Eileen Bell was elected deputy leader of the party.

Strangford assembly member Kieran McCarthy was chosen on Thursday as the party's assembly chief whip. He replaces David Ford.

'Sudden resignation'

Alliance chairman Tom Ekin said he regretted Mr Neeson's decision.

"Sean took on the position of leader in very difficult circumstances, in the wake of the assembly elections and the sudden resignation of his predecessor," he said.

"He has carried the party through some very turbulent times of polarisation and increasing sectarianism in Northern Ireland.

"No other leader in Northern Ireland has done more to protect the Agreement."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Alliance Party leader Sean Neeson:
"Now is a prudent time to step aside"
BBC NI political correspondent Mark Simpson:
"Sean Neeson was elected leader three years ago"
See also:

12 Mar 01 | Parties
Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
02 Apr 01 | Northern Ireland
Alliance withdraws from five seats
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