Belfast Telegraph

Alliance chief Long brands councillors Rice and Kamble 'balloons'

By Claire O'Boyle

Alliance leader Naomi Long called two long-serving party members who resigned last month amidst allegations of ageism and racism "balloons" on a secret party Facebook group. 

In an exchange with supporters in the 'Alliance Party Activists and Volunteers' group about councillors Geraldine Rice and Vasundhara Kamble, Mrs Long wrote: "These two are complete balloons. They staged a sitdown protest when Anna Lo got a standing ovation because she said in an interview the week before she was in favour of a united Ireland."

More: Listen: Naomi Long's BBC Talkback election phone which Alliance spin doctor encouraged supporters to 'hijack'

When a party colleague asked if their protest had not stemmed from the fact Alliance president Ms Lo had been picked ahead of Ms Rice for an Assembly seat, Mrs Long answered: "Lol... That was supposedly their reason. Gerri would never be so petty as to take umbrage about a selection surely..."

However, Mrs Long's post did not go unchallenged, with one group member writing: "Two complete balloons? Really Party Leader?? surely some mistake?!!!"

Veteran politician Ms Rice (70), the Alliance Party's longest-serving councillor, told the Belfast Telegraph last month the decision to nominate a colleague as the next mayor of Castlereagh was the "straw that broke the camel's back". 

Ms Kamble, who came to Northern Ireland from India in 1995, said that, even after six years as an elected representative, she "never felt welcome in the party".

She said colleagues were "condescending" and tried to make her feel like she was stupid.

At the time Mrs Long denied the allegations, insisting that Alliance was committed to equality and diversity.

The former party councillors said they were backing the SDLP's Pat Catney in the Assembly election, who will be battling for a seat in Lagan Valley with Alliance's Trevor Lunn.

BY CLAIRE O'BOYLE

Belfast Telegraph

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