Northern Ireland Tory student who began ‘I’m with May’ campaign won’t let the online haters get to her
A Northern Ireland student who came under criticism for publicly pledging support for Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will not be deterred by "hateful comments" on social media.
Tory activist Aine Lagan (20) is among a number of online 'superfans' who are standing by Mrs May.
The politics, philosophy and law student at King's College in London describes herself online as "a girl from Northern Ireland who ended up being a feminist and a Conservative - writes about that - and Theresa May a lot".
Hailing from mid Ulster, Aine started the social media hashtag #ImWithMay, which is now being widely used by young, mostly female Conservatives as "a way to show support to the PM".
On Friday, as Mrs May was on the second day of her visit to Northern Ireland and delivering her keynote Brexit speech at the Waterfront Hall, Aine tweeted: "I've always said the only leader I believe has the best interests of Northern Ireland at heart is Theresa May, and her speech in Belfast today is further proof of that #ImWithMay."
She told the Belfast Telegraph she believed the Prime Minister's visit was a success.
"Her speech in the Waterfront reaffirmed her commitment to prioritising Northern Ireland in the Brexit negotiations, her determination to see power-sharing restored and to help continue the work of her predecessors in helping Northern Ireland to move on from its past and thrive.
"She once again used it as an opportunity to remind the public about her commitment to the Union, which is an 'absolute priority' for her."
Aine said Mrs May's "calm, stoic resilience" inspired confidence and she believed that "if anyone can survive and see Brexit through, it's the Tory leader".
"Her resilience and sense of public duty throughout her entire political career, but especially in recent months, are something to admire," she said.
"While everyone on the sideline is arguing for 'their' version of Brexit, she's the one who has to negotiate our exit from the European Union and she has to be the most pragmatic to get a deal that works for all parts of the UK, including Northern Ireland.
"We're yet again seeing people trying to predict her political demise.
"They were doing that on election night last year and throughout last summer - and she's still here," she added.
She also believes the Prime Minister has been given too little credit for her work on equal pay, increasing the number of female MPs and fighting modern slavery.
She started the #ImWithMay slogan in response to an attempt by the former Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps to unseat Mrs May following her disastrous speech at the Tory conference last year.
"It was 1am with just me on Twitter as Shapps was claiming to have enough names to persuade the Prime Minister to consider stepping down.
"It was never started as a campaign, but as a way to show support to her," she explained.
Her political stance has led to a bitter backlash on social media, which Aine admitted had been difficult to deal with at times, especially when it comes from her own friends.
"I think they use their feelings about the Prime Minister as a valid excuse to lash out at me.
"I think if we want to get more people involved in politics, we need to remove the personal attacks, especially if they're within your own party," she said.
"We can't encourage getting people into politics one minute, then personally attack them for who they support the next.
"However, I'm very fortunate to have a close group of friends who are extremely supportive of me.
"I think if you truly believe in what you're talking about and what you stand for, then you can withstand a lot of the hateful comments."