I'm neither unionist nor nationalist, says Naomi Long as she takes reins of Alliance
Attempts to freeze Alliance out of opposition at Stormont will not work, new party leader Naomi Long has warned.
The East Belfast MLA — elected by the party’s ruling council to replace David Ford last night — also insisted she is neither a unionist or a nationalist.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Long also said it will be for the party to decide whether her personal style suits Alliance.
But the 44-year-old former Belfast Lord Mayor is already setting her sights on growing the party outside its traditional greater Belfast base — and revealed she likes her “ginger ninja” nickname.
Mrs Long said she believed the UUP’s very public reach-out to the SDLP at its annual conference, attended for the first time by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, may have been motivated by a bid to squeeze Alliance in the Assembly.
“Opposition parties present their own individual positions, and coalition governments have to withstand that pressure,” she said.
Alliance had in the past worked with both the SDLP and UUP “and indeed with both parties in government — the DUP and Sinn Fein — on issues we care about”.
“If it is their aim to freeze Alliance out, the temperature has not dropped sufficiently for it to work. And it won’t work,” she added. Writing in today’s Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Long said she wants to reach out to people and areas which are not traditional Alliance supporters — pledging to “lead the renewal” across Northern Ireland.
She added: “We have limited resources as a party and we recognise that is the case, so we have to target those resources in areas where we think the chance of a seat is greatest.
“That (in recent years) has been in the east of the province but there is now a break in the electoral cycle to allow us to look at other areas.
“I am not making a list of predictions at this point, but internally in the party we are looking at those targets.
“There are people out there who make a real difference in their local communities who have joined the party.”
After her former colleague Anna Lo this week reiterated that she could in certain circumstances support a united Ireland, Mrs Long shrugged off the unionist or nationalist label.
“The reality is I do not define myself in those binary terms, because it does not reflect my politics which is about the celebration of diversity,” she added.
“It is not the politics of the border. If there is a border poll every citizen will cast their own vote.
“The border is off the table as a political issue. We are about the politics of hope and aspiration and focusing on the issues that actually matter to people of Northern Ireland.”
Asked if she sympathised with Mrs Lo on a united Ireland, Mrs Long said: “I guess I am a liberal politician.”
Former Executive Minister Stephen Farry is now likely to be elected as deputy leader — the position Mrs Long held until now — at the next party council meeting in December.