Belfast Telegraph

'Hijack' success claims have been exaggerated, says deputy leader

By Claire O'Boyle

Stephen Farry has hit back at a declaration by his own party spin doctor that Alliance had successfully "hijacked" a BBC radio show with fake phone-in callers.

In an interview with Vinnie Hurrell on the Stephen Nolan Show, the Alliance deputy leader said there was a "degree of exaggeration" in the Press officer's comments, and that deliberate call-outs for party supporters to field fake calls were actually "very unsuccessful".

"There may well be a few unfortunate phrases in something that was framed for an internal discussion, not framed for public consumption," he said.

"I think there's a degree of exaggeration. It's a turn of phrase from somebody who's trying to encourage people to phone into shows in the context where we've had difficulty with some of our members being incredibly shy in phoning."

Dr Farry added: "The laugh about this is that in many ways we've been very unsuccessful in the past in terms of encouraging our members to call in."

Green Party NI leader Steven Agnew said it showed Alliance had missed the point.

"The concern is that there was a co-ordinated effort to misrepresent the public's views," Mr Agnew said.

"Whether it was successful or not misses the point."

The Alliance candidate for North Down went on to say people should listen back through shows for "evidence" of phoney callers making it through to Radio Ulster's Talkback programme.

He said: "Let's look at the evidence. Naomi Long was on Talkback on February 14 and I invite you or anyone else to go to iPlayer, play the tape and spot the planted questions, so-called, that were coming in."

But Mr Agnew said the issue didn't just relate to last week's programme.

"The instructions related to difficult questions for political opponents as well as calling in to support their party leader," Mr Agnew added.

"The problem we've got is that we've seen enough in the lead up to this election of politicians not holding their hands up when they've done wrong.

"Alliance have got it wrong here. They need to just admit it, and stop trying to dismiss it as tongue-in-cheek, nor should they say it didn't work so we shouldn't worry.

"They tried to coordinate this whole phone-in business and they need to own up so we can move on. In the face of our collective campaign for more transparency in politics, that's very important."

Dr Farry also disputed the use of the word "secret" in relation to the Alliance Activists and Volunteers Facebook group.

He said: "This was a closed group, people out there who use social media will be familiar with closed groups, there are probably millions of them on Facebook and other social media, which we use for internal party discussions."

However, the group was in fact classed as a 'secret' group on the social media site.

There are three categories of Facebook group - public groups, closed groups where anyone can find it and see its members, and secret groups like this one, which are invite-only and where only members can find it and each other's names.

Last night questions were also raised as to why Mr Nolan - one of the BBC's strongest interviewers - was not quizzing Mr Farry.

A BBC spokesperson said: "It was evident from the exchange at the start of the interview between Stephen Farry and Vinny Hurrell that Vinny was standing in for Stephen Nolan because he was feeling unwell this morning."

Belfast Telegraph


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