Belfast Telegraph

Make views on us public, 'balloons' jibe duo tell Long

By Claire O'Boyle

Alliance leader Naomi Long has said she could have gone further after calling two long-serving councillors "complete balloons" following their resignation from the party.

Mrs Long, who made the comments in a secret party Facebook group, has refused to apologise for her name-calling.

Instead, she added: "Most people would be surprised all I said was balloons."

The East Belfast candidate used the derogatory term on the 195-member strong 'Alliance Activists and Volunteers' Facebook group in reference to two long-term councillors who quit the party last month amid allegations of racism and ageism.

Last night, Mrs Long continued to defend her position in a Facebook post.

"If those individuals have deliberately set out to damage the party, making unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations against colleagues out of spite over not getting selected for posts, then to have referred to them in a private conversation as 'balloons' is probably at the mild end of the spectrum of what many people would have said," she wrote.

"I don't respect them after their behaviour. I find what they did profoundly offensive."

Former Stormont minister Stephen Farry yesterday backed his leader, adding that not only should Mrs Long not apologise for the name-calling, but that councillors Geraldine Rice and Vasundhara Kamble should say sorry and explain their reasons for backing the SDLP's Pat Catney in the Assembly elections.

"The demand that we apologise and explain anything to the Alliance party is strange," said Ms Kamble. "I'm not sure what they're suggesting we apologise for in this context, for being called names? For backing a candidate that isn't Alliance? We aren't in the Alliance party any more.

"If Naomi wants to call me names, then please do that but do it publicly. She said people will be surprised that she said so little, but she is most welcome to carry on name-calling or saying whatever else it is she wants to say, only this time she is most welcome to do it in public."

Ms Rice, Alliance's longest-serving councillor after 28 years with the party before standing down in January, said following news of Mrs Long's jibe on the social media group, she had been bombarded with messages of support.

"At this point, I don't care what Naomi says," said Ms Rice (70). "She's suggesting there was more to say than calling us balloons and if she wants to say it, then go ahead. I don't care.

"Since this story broke, I have had a huge number of messages of Facebook and on email. It hasn't stopped with people showing their support after what's happened.

"One man, who was never linked to Alliance, said he had always thought I did a good job for the community and that he was disgusted Mrs Long would use such disrespectful language about two former colleagues, and have such a nasty attitude towards us.

"If she wants to say more, then she can go ahead. The party said it was a private comment, but there were nearly 200 people on that group, so I don't know if I would consider that very private.

"With her name-calling and patronising attitude, I think she's doing herself and the party more harm than anything we could say."

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