Alliance raps unity candidate deal
Pro-Union voters in Northern Ireland resent being told which brand of unionism they should vote for, Alliance's Naomi Long has claimed.
The East Belfast MP heavily criticised the four-constituency Democratic Unionist/Ulster Unionist pact as her party unveiled its candidates for the forthcoming general election.
Mrs Long is facing a tough battle from one of the agreed unionist candidates - the DUP's Gavin Robinson - to retain the seat she defeated DUP leader Peter Robinson to win in 2010.
The Alliance candidate launch was held at a hotel in the heart of the east Belfast constituency this morning.
"The reality is, I think, that most people in the constituency would like the opportunity that people have across 18 constituencies that Alliance is giving them and that is the opportunity to register their vote for the party they feel best represents them - not to have that decision taken out of their hands and that choice taken away from them," Mrs Long told supporters.
"We are giving people in east Belfast that option and what we are finding on the doorsteps as we go round talking with people is actually there a lot of people in east Belfast who may not be natural Alliance party voters but who absolutely resent being told which brand of unionism they can cast their vote for.
"Some of those people will not turn out but many have already told us they will be turning and voting for Alliance."
The fierce tussle between the DUP and Alliance since the last election became even more bitter in 2012 amid the dispute over Alliance's support for a decision by Belfast city council to limit the flying of the Union flag over City Hall - a move vehemently opposed by unionist parties.
Mrs Long said while the flag row was raised by many voters while canvassing for last year's local council elections she today insisted it was now "not the live issue on the doorsteps".
"The live issue on the door this time is who is going to represent them best at Westminster," she said.
"That's the issue that people are discussing with us. It's not actually about the flag this time. Others may wish it were - it would make it a much easier campaign for some people if they could just wrap themselves in the flag and that was all that mattered, but I think the electorate are more sophisticated than that."
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams launched a "people's pact" at Belfast Castle.
He said: "Sinn Fein is totally and absolutely opposed to austerity north and south.
"Any parties which contemplate endorsing or supporting a cabinet of millionaires who are behind budget cuts, cuts to public services and cuts to social protections are ignoring the needs of the people in favour of narrow self-interest.
"The people need to have the opportunity to have their say and their voice needs to be heard."
He said the parties at Westminster were committed to further austerity.
"Sinn Fein's progressive politics and commitment to the rights of citizens is the only alternative to that.
"We want to see a society based on equality, inclusion and safeguards for children with disabilities, adults with severe disabilities and the long term sick.
"We want to get the largest vote possible to oppose those austerity policies. We are committed to defending the core public services of health, education and the welfare system."
DUP outgoing MP David Simpson said: " Northern Ireland has a huge opportunity in the next parliament, but absentee MPs will waste that opportunity. Sinn Fein MPs will sit at home whilst vital decisions are made during the next five years.
"Despite all the talk, Sinn Fein will not be there to represent the needs of people in Northern Ireland. To have influence you need to take your seat. The DUP will be fighting to secure the best deal for Northern Ireland."