Belfast Telegraph

NI Assembly Election: Alliance slammed for 'negative campaigning' letter

By Rebecca Black

Alliance leader Naomi Long has been accused of the type of negative campaigning her own party criticises.

The East Belfast candidate told voters in Lagan Valley to vote for Alliance - or they would be helping the DUP.

It comes after she criticised the DUP for negative campaigning over claims that not voting for it would run the risk of a Sinn Fein First Minister.

The Alliance candidate in Lagan Valley is Trevor Lunn, who was the last of the six MLAs elected last year.

This year there are five seats, leaving a potential scrap between him, second UUP candidate Jenny Palmer and the third DUP candidate Brenda Hale for the final MLA job.

The SDLP also has hopes its candidate Pat Catney might have a chance, and issued a leaflet entitled 'We can win here', saying it lost out by just 297 votes last year behind the DUP.

In a letter sent to voters on paper headed with her name, Mrs Long described today's poll as "the most important election we have ever fought".

"Instead of engaging in negative politics, your election candidate Trevor Lunn remains focused on building on his successful record as an MLA," she wrote.

However, Mrs Long added a 'PS' to the letter that read: "A vote for anyone but Alliance helps the DUP in Lagan Valley - make your vote count."

The letter was criticised by an SDLP source, as well as the DUP.

Local DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said: "Once again we see the Alliance mask slipping. This letter has clearly been distributed at the last minute in the hope it will escape media attention. The portrayal of Alliance as the 'nice' party is now a fiction beyond repair. This letter is as negative as anything Alliance piously accuse other parties of engaging in."

An Alliance spokesman said the letter "clearly sets out the positive work Trevor Lunn has carried out as Lagan Valley MLA", and said it contrasts with the "disappointingly negative campaign in the constituency" of others.

"However, we thank them for drawing attention to it and the work Trevor has done, which we are confident he will continue to carry out as MLA following this election," he added.

There has been bad blood between Alliance and the other parties in Lagan Valley over a disputed agreement not to put up election posters.

The DUP issued a statement in January it claimed was "from Alliance, DUP, SDLP and UUP Lagan Valley constituency parties".

DUP candidate Paul Givan tweeted the statement at the time, to which Mr Lunn replied: "Sorry but Paul Givan's tweet on posters agreement in Lagan Valley is premature, this has not been signed off by all the parties involved."

The agreement related to posters on lampposts only, and did not extend to billboards or mobile advertising. It is understood to have mostly held, although the TUV did not sign up to it.

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