Alliance Party rocked by racism and ageism bombshell allegations by councillors
Party insist 'it is without foundation'
Alliance's longest-serving councillor in Northern Ireland has dramatically quit the party, accusing it of ageism.
And the party's only elected representative from an ethnic minority has also resigned, alleging that she experienced "an under-current of racism" in its ranks.
In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph last night, veteran councillor Geraldine Rice spoke of her decision to quit the party she has represented for almost three decades.
Mrs Rice said she had been told she wasn't "an acceptable face for Alliance today" and that she had been overlooked for the position of Mayor of Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council.
Fighting back tears, she said: "I feel that I have been stabbed in the back and slapped about the face by the party that I loved and loyally served for 28 years.
"I stood up to the DUP for decades in Castlereagh council, I went toe-to-toe with Peter Robinson, I've topped the poll in successive elections and they've treated me with a total lack of decency or respect.
"Well, I'm not taking it any more."
Her party colleague and 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".
Mrs Kamble claimed that while the party "gives the impression of being welcoming for ethnic minorities", it has been a cold house for her.
She accused the party of "snobbery" and claimed that Alliance was "a tight clique of elitist individuals" who have "no time for people who aren't from a certain professional, educational and financial background".
Both women said that they would remain on Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council as independents.
Their resignation reduces the Alliance council group from seven to five members.
Speaking from her Carryduff home last night, a highly emotional Mrs Rice said she believed that she was viewed as "old school Alliance".
The 70-year-old politician said she had been unhappy in the party for some time, but that the decision by the local Alliance council group to nominate councillor Tim Morrow as the next mayor was "the straw that broke the camel's back".
The veteran councillor accused Alliance of reneging on a promise that she would secure the mayoralty when the position fell, for the first time in history, to her party.
"For years in Castlereagh council, the DUP hogged the mayor and deputy mayor positions and the committee chairmanships.
"But that all changed in the new amalgamated council with positions filled in line with the d'Hondt principles.
"The next mayor will be from Alliance and I had been previously told it would be me."
However, Mrs Rice's council colleague, Mr Morrow, was picked instead.
"I didn't plan to leave Alliance just weeks away from the Assembly election but they've left me with no choice," she said. "My heart is broken but, as my son said to me, 'Mum you can't stay in a party which doesn't respect you'."
Accusing the party of "discrimination and ageism", Mrs Rice claimed that she had been marginalised.
She said: "Nine years ago, I took ill with a perforated bowel but I recovered. I also have type 2 diabetes but I'm still in fine health. I've never missed a meeting.
"I'm totally able to do my job and I wouldn't consider being mayor if I didn't think my health was up to it. Yet my party told me that they didn't think I was fit enough for the job.
"They patronised me, telling me to speak to the current mayor, Ulster Unionist Brian Bloomfield, to appreciate how demanding the role was. But I wouldn't budge and that's when things turned nasty."
She claimed she was told she "wasn't an acceptable face for Alliance today".
Mrs Rice said that she hadn't contacted new Alliance leader, Naomi Long, to discuss her current situation even though she had always had a "good relationship" with Mrs Long and her husband Michael, a former Castlereagh council colleague.
Councillor Vasundhara Kamble, who came to Northern Ireland from Mumbai in India, in 1995, has been an Alliance councillor for six years.
"I was co-opted onto the council and then elected in my own right," she said.
"Despite that, I've never felt welcome in the party.
"I know that I'm an outsider so I bend over backwards to be friendly to people but in Alliance, it was never reciprocated.
"The party tried to undermine my confidence and self-worth.
"They were condescending and tried to make me feel like I was stupid."
Mrs Kamble said that she believed that she was looked down upon because she had held low status jobs as a shop assistant and laundry woman.
She said: "Alliance is a tight clique of elitist people. They are snobby.
"They are only friendly to professional people with a certain educational and financial background, people with the right social connections.
"I am pleased now to be free of them."
An Alliance spokesman said allegations of racism or ageism against the party "are without any foundation".
He claimed that internal disciplinary proceedings had been initiated against Councillors Rice and Kamble for voting against their party and with the DUP on a financial issue on Tuesday night.
And he said that the decision on who the party's nominee for mayor would be was wholly democratic.
He said: "The party rejects completely any suggestion that it would allow any form of discrimination by, or towards, any of its members or elected representatives, a fact which is evidenced by the diversity of both within it.
He added: "We are disappointed that another issue which clearly upset two of our elected representatives have resulted in their decision to make such allegations."