Practise what you preach? Emma Little Pengelly asks should Naomi Long stand aside over allegations of ageism and racism within Alliance
DUP MLA Emma Little Pengelly has asked if Naomi Long should practise what she preaches and step aside over allegations of ageism and racism within her party - given the Alliance leader's recent persistent calls for Arlene Foster to step aside over allegations surrounding the RHI scandal.
On Thursday, the Belfast Telegraph reported on the resignation of two councillors from the party.
Veteran Alliance councillor Geraldine Rice said she had been told she wasn't "an acceptable face for Alliance today" and had been overlooked for the position of Mayor of Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council.
Fellow councillor, Vasundhara Kamble, alleged that in her six years in Alliance she had "always been treated as an outsider" and the party was "distant, cold and unfriendly". She claimed that while the party "gives the impression of being welcoming for ethnic minorities", it has been a cold house for her.
The allegations were rejected by the party and leader Naomi Long said it was a case of sour grapes. Geraldine Rice, Mrs Long said, was upset she was overlooked for mayor while Mrs Kamble had sought selection to run as an MLA as recently as in the past week.
However, DUP MLA Emma Little Pengelly said that if allegations of wrongdoing were made then - and by following the logic laid out by Naomi Long over the RHI scandal - the Alliance leader should step aside.
"Naomi Long joined up with other parties to try to topple Arlene Foster on basis of unsubstantiated and strongly denied allegations," she said.
"This is appalling hypocrisy by the Alliance leader who has repeatedly stated over the last number of months that Arlene Foster step aside regardless of any personal responsibility, of which there was none and before an investigation.
"Serious allegations against Alliance have been aired from now 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?
"She is now hoist on the gallows she made for others. She has been too ready to believe and regurgitate allegations against others
"That was evident just this week when she spoke out on social media about an erroneous newspaper report on a grant to a community hall. She owes an apology to that community group for airing false allegations.
"Maybe, just maybe she should stop jumping to premature conclusions and pointing the finger at others. And maybe concentrate on sorting out problems in her own back yard."
Speaking to the BBC Stephen Nolan Show, Naomi Long rejected the allegations made by the former Alliance members.
"I would refute those allegations, 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."
Mrs Long continued: "I certainly know both councillors well, but she never raised any concerns with me in this regard.
"I am very familiar with the circumstances and I know without any doubt and have been given reassurances that this is not about racism or ageism or any of those things, this is about natural disappointment on their part for not being selected for particular roles.
"In Gerry's case the night before she went to press she was not selected to be next mayor of Lisburn.
"I know already there is no substance to the claims because I have been speaking to the Lisburn council. I have no problem speaking to them but she did not approach me with any concerns.
"They have left the party so unless they approach me there is nothing more I can do.
"I'm disappointed that rather as other councillors and elected representatives have done and accepting it's part of the democratic process, that these councillors decided to resign and sling mud at the party on the way out the door.
She added: "There is no reason they wouldn't have been able to come to me and talk about it had there been any substance to these claims."
In a statement, the Alliance party added: "Just over a week ago, Vashundhara Kamble sought to represent the party as MLA, which suggests they were far from unhappy with the party.
"The party officers are very familiar with the circumstances around these resignations, and know without any doubt - and have received further assurances from the Council group yesterday - this is about issues of position rather than having any substance."