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Alliance leader Naomi Long rejects criticism of using Irish on poster

By Lisa Smyth

The leader of the Alliance party has defended a decision to produce an election poster in Irish, calling for people to vote.

Naomi Long met with criticism after she changed her Facebook profile picture to a post written in Irish, which urges people to vote for Alliance in the snap Assembly election on March 2.

However, Mrs Long - one of two Alliance candidates in East Belfast - said the party is planning to create election posters in a range of languages.

She added she was disappointed that people would be upset by the attempt to celebrate diversity in the community.

Mrs Long (below) changed her Facebook profile picture to the message - Ar 2u Marta Votail Alliance #ArthruGoDeo - on Saturday afternoon.

It translates as: On March 2, Vote Alliance #ChangeForGood.

While many people supported the decision to use the Irish language, others were not so happy.

One person asked Mrs Long whether she was joking, to which she replied: "Why is it funny?

"It is simply the translation of the profile pic I had in English but translated into Irish."

Another person posted on Facebook, branding the move "political suicide".

One disgruntled voter added: "Just lost my vote. Can't be bothered playing childish games, look where that has got us so far. You knew what reaction you would get to this. Childish games. Move on."

However, Mrs Long last night remained defiant in the face of any criticism, and said: "The post received an overwhelmingly positive response, both from Irish speakers and many others who value the language.

"It is disappointing but unsurprising a number of people have taken issue with the small act of a Facebook profile picture being in Irish, particularly one which contained exactly the same text - 'On March 2nd, I'm voting Alliance. Change for Good' - previously displayed in English, and which drew no comment.

"On the positive side, it has generated constructive debate about the shared history and heritage of the language, and provided opportunity to challenge preconceptions about those who speak Irish. Some of our founders and several current members are Gaeilgeoirí and we want to positively reflect that.

"This profile is one of a series which will be rolled out as part of the campaign, in several different languages, to celebrate the diversity of our community and how we want to celebrate that as a strength, not fear it as a weakness.

"Those criticising this particular image would be better focusing on the substance of that message rather than the language in which it's communicated."

Mrs Long was on the campaign trail yesterday, first on the BBC's Sunday Politics show.

She then spent the afternoon in west Belfast with Alliance candidate for the area, Sorcha Eastwood.

The use of the Irish language has long been an inflammatory and divisive issue for Northern Ireland's politicians.

In 2014, the DUP's Gregory Campbell was barred from addressing the Assembly for a day for parodying the language and after failing to apologise.

He began a speech with: "Curry my yoghurt can coca coalyer".

He defended the move by saying: "My tolerance gets stretched beyond any credibility when I hear Irish ad nauseam on hundreds of occasions for no purpose other than a political one."

Most recently, Sinn Fein said a decision by the DUP's Paul Givan to reverse a decision to stop funding an Irish language project was "too little, too late", while Mr Givan said his original decision was not "anti-Irish".

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