Naomi Long refutes allegations of ageism and racism within Alliance party
Alliance leader Naomi Long has refuted allegations that there is ageism and racism within the party.
It comes after veteran councillor Geraldine Rice spoke exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph of her decision to quit the party she 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.
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.
Speaking to the BBC Stephen Nolan Show, Alliance leader Naomi Long said she refuted the allegations.
"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."