Naomi Long brands win 'a vote for hope'
A vote for hope over fear was how the woman who toppled Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson in East Belfast described her triumph.
Flame-haired Naomi Long, 38, won her cross-community Alliance Party its first Westminster seat in 40 years of campaigning and said the public was no longer afraid to give her party its endorsement.
Democratic Unionist leader Mr Robinson will now be pondering his next move after more than 30 years in office. He lost out after a year marred by questions about Westminster expenses and the disgrace of his unfaithful wife Iris.
Former civil engineer and avid churchgoer Mrs Long said: "People were determined to send a message: the message for once was a positive one, voting for what you hoped for, not against what you fear."
The last time the Alliance Party came close to winning a seat in East Belfast came in 1979 when its first leader Oliver Napier ran a fresh-faced Mr Robinson close. Mrs Long burst into tears today as Mr Napier hailed her victory.
A keen fencer at her Bloomfield Collegiate School, the deputy Alliance Party leader has enjoyed a dizzying rise to prominence.
Colleagues recalled how even 12 years ago as a relative unknown at Alliance Party Council meetings Mrs Long could captivate the audience with her energy and determination. She said her triumph had little to do with gender - Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew is another female candidate to triumph - and more to do with her policies.
She added her victory sent out a message that a shared future could succeed across Northern Ireland.
She said key issues to be addressed at Westminster included pensions and the Northern Ireland budget. Her party has campaigned to cut the cost of duplicating services like schools in Northern Ireland because Catholics and Protestants have been educated separately.
Jim Hendron, who worked closely with her on the campaign trail and was one of those involved in establishing the Alliance Party, said: "She is a highly intelligent young lady. She was a very determined girl and when she focused on something she went for it 100%," he said.