Belfast Telegraph

Alliance's nice guy image gone, insists UUP peer Empey

By Brett Campbell

The row over Alliance's plot to "hijack" a BBC Talkback phone-in has shattered its image as the "nice party" of Northern Ireland politics, a UUP peer has claimed.

Lord Empey said a series of recent controversies, including the Belfast Telegraph's revelations about the secret bid to target the Radio Ulster show with fake callers, had revealed its "true colours".

His comments also follow accusations of "ageism and racism" from former long-serving party members and insulting comments made by David Honeyford.

Mr Honeyford resigned from his role on the party's ruling executive after sparking outrage when he made the claim that unionists were "bred to hate" Catholics.

Lord Empey said: "All these events serve as a sobering lesson to those who thought that Alliance was a 'nice', middle of the road party that was fully committed to reconciliation.

"Instead, it has been shown to contain individuals who are prepared to attempt to subvert the normal election process with a combination of lies and deception."

On Tuesday the Belfast Telegraph exposed the plot by Alliance to encourage grassroots supporters to field "tricky" on-air questions to political opponents and "softballs" to party leader Naomi Long.

The party's head of communications Scott Jamison co-ordinated the plan on a secret Facebook group and boasted that a similar plan to target William Crawley's Talkback show was successful in last year's election when David Ford was leader.

Lord Empey added: "This, from an organisation that has often adopted a holier than thou attitude towards other parties over many years, is deeply shocking and they should apologise to all those people they have deliberately tried to mislead.

"This behaviour is particularly ironic, given that the Alliance Assembly manifesto talks of 'open, honest and transparent politics that delivers'."

Lord Empey said the mask began to slip in January when two long-serving Alliance members - Geraldine Rice and Vasundhara Kamble - left the party, accusing it of ageism and racism.

They claimed it had become "distant, cold and unfriendly and guilty of snobbery, with a tight clique of elitist individuals" - allegations Alliance denied.

This week it emerged that Mrs Long had used the secret Facebook group to describe the party veterans as "two complete balloons".

Ms Rice said she was reduced to tears and described the comments as "hateful", but Mrs Long refused to apologise and instead insisted she could have gone further.

Mr Empey said he had "no sympathy" for the Alliance leader, who "revealed what she really thought of her colleagues". Lord Empey also highlighted the comments made by Mr Honeyford, who posted a tweet saying "unfortunately unionists have been breed (sic) to hate Catholics more than corruption. Pathetic really..."

He later apologised and subsequently resigned from the party executive.

Lord Empey said: "I would urge electors to consider whether they should invest their votes and confidence in a party that has a deeply cynical approach to public life, a party that is openly encouraging its members to tell lies."

He added: "How can this help to bring Northern Ireland to a position of stability and progress."

Belfast Telegraph


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