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Alliance chief Naomi Long calls Arlene Foster 'childish' if trolls harden her views on gay marriage

By Noel McAdam

Stormont's two female party leaders are at loggerheads after new Alliance chief Naomi Long attacked DUP boss Arlene Fosters' insistence that she will continue to block moves allowing same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

The First Minister and the Alliance leader - who once defeated the previous DUP leader Peter Robinson to become East Belfast MP - also clashed over abuse on social media, even though both women have been victim of so-called online 'trolls'.

The DUP insisted, however, that its policy position against the extension of equal marriage rights to Northern Ireland would not be changed as a result of abuse on the internet.

The party's clarification came yesterday after Mrs Foster had indicated that her personal opposition to legislation allowing equal marriage could be hardened by the trolls.

"No, they are not going to influence me by sending me abuse - in fact they are going to send me in the opposite direction and people need to reflect on that," she said.

In a statement yesterday the party said online abuse, particularly of women, is a serious issue and should not be downplayed.

But it emphasised the party's policy position had been reached independently and would not be changed by the abuse.

Mrs Long, only a few days into office as leader, defended attacking Mrs Foster and said she was "childish" for suggesting online trolling would make her more determined to maintain their ban on equal marriage - using the controversial Assembly 'petition of concern' mechanism.

The DUP is the only party with sufficient MLAs - 38 - to independently trigger the device which can stymie legislation and other proposals by requiring separate majorities of both unionists and nationalists.

Mrs Long has also offered to reopen negotiations on limiting use of the 'petition' - which led to Alliance leaving the Executive - but Mrs Foster stressed: "When we feel so strongly about the definition of marriage and the redefining of it, why would we give that away too?"

The DUP leader also said she laughed when she heard Mrs Long describe her as "aggressive" because some would say Mrs Long can come over the same way.

Revealing that she does not know Mrs Long very well, Mrs Foster said her Alliance counterpart is "not a unionist, while I am unionist to my core."

The Alliance leader, however, hit back yesterday: "At the end of the day you say what you see, if someone in such a high office is going to allow a twitter troll to influence policy it is childish. It is not a mature way to deal with a sensitive and important issue.

"More worrying is to suggest that because you are trolled online that you would somehow as a political leader react to that. It is almost unique to be online and not to be trolled.

"There are things that are said to me online that are unrepeatable. If she doesn't mean what she said, it was either to shut down criticism of the party on the issue, by suggesting they would only harden their position, or she is saying things she does not believe - which is equally as worrying."

Sinn Fein MLA Sean Lynch yesterday confirmed the issue of same-sex marriage was raised at the Executive meeting on Thursday - believed to be by Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleior - but it was 'blocked' by the DUP.

"This is an equality issue and Sinn Fein is committed to seeing marriage equality extended across the island," he said.

Belfast Telegraph


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