Belfast Telegraph

Practise what you preach and step aside, DUP MLA urges Naomi Long

By Claire O'Boyle

A DUP MLA yesterday called for Naomi Long to step aside as Alliance leader amidst claims of ageism, racism and elitism in her party.

Emma Little Pengelly said Ms Long should sort out problems in her own party before criticising others.

"Should Naomi Long step aside as Alliance leader while allegations of racism and ageism within her party are independently investigated?" she asked.

"Naomi Long joined up with other parties to try to topple Arlene Foster on the basis of unsubstantiated and strongly denied allegations.

"Serious allegations against Alliance have now been aired from within the party.

"So why isn't its leader practising what she preached on stepping aside? Or does she now belatedly accept that due process should apply before any conclusions should be reached?

"Allegations of discrimination should be taken seriously and not dismissed in such a rude and arrogant way."

Meanwhile, Lisburn and Castlereagh Council colleagues yesterday backed the two women at the heart of the Alliance Party feud - councillors Geraldine Rice and Vasundhara Kamble - agreeing it was rife with snobbery and elitism.

DUP councillor Luke Poots said he had witnessed "disgraceful" behaviour from Alliance members in the council chamber and blasted what he called their "intolerance of the working class".

Mr Poots also claimed he had heard of ageist remarks from within the Alliance Party.

"Not just about people on the older end of things, but comments were made about a young representative of ours too - and not in a good way," he said.

"It wasn't that he was young and enthusiastic, the suggestion was more that he was young and incapable."

The representative for Downshire East backed claims that snobbery was a big issue for Alliance.

"That's a huge part of it," he said. "I had a working class woman from east Belfast come to me after an Alliance member turned their nose up at her.

"I helped her and resolved the situation, but I'm not a councillor or MLA for East Belfast.

"I shouldn't have to step in because an Alliance person is turning up their nose.

"That's just one constituent I know of who felt ignored because they weren't middle class or well-educated.

"They've adopted this elitist attitude and in my own experience I've seen from some of them a very patronising attitude.

"I've had the pleasure of working with Geraldine and Vasundhara and they're both lovely women and far from incompetent.

"They are capable, they turn up to meetings.

"What's going wrong with Alliance is they have a complete and utter intolerance of the working class. They haven't even been able to hide it."

Another council insider said he had witnessed "eye-rolling, tutting and giggling" at meetings while both women spoke, but said councillor Kamble in particular was subject to patronising treatment.

"When she spoke you would see some of her party colleagues rolling their eyes, tutting and even giggling, acting like they were embarrassed," he said.

"Frankly, they acted as if she wasn't very clever, like she didn't have a clue. But the fact is, she is a competent councillor and one of the very few who is bilingual, so it must have been very difficult to take."

In response, a spokesman for Alliance said: "It isn't surprising in an election where the DUP is under huge pressure for their mishandling of RHI, they would seek to deflect attention away from their own problems in this way. We believe the public will see this for what it is."

Alliance leader Mrs Long also denied there was ageism and racism within the party.

Speaking to the Nolan Show, she said: "All of the evidence in terms of our diversity of party membership and diversity of age within our party would stand against those claims.

"It is disappointing."

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