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Naomi Long v Gavin Robinson: Rival East Belfast election candidates take to Twitter as the war of words heats up

By Deborah McAleese

The battle for the East Belfast parliamentary seat has turned nasty, with the two biggest candidates publicly hitting out at each other on Twitter.

Sitting MP Naomi Long used the social media site to accuse her DUP rival Gavin Robinson of "shabby attempts to blacken" her character.

The Alliance woman was responding to claims made by Mr Robinson in Monday's Belfast Telegraph that she has refused to speak to him in over three years and ignored his attempts to reach out to her in the wake of the flag protests row.

Ms Long rejected the allegations and insisted that she has spoken to Mr Robinson on several occasions.

Taking to Twitter yesterday, Ms Long posted a quote from the American college football player and coach Paul Bryant: "Show class, have pride, and display character. If you do, winning takes care of itself."

She hit out at DUP councillor Christopher Stalford, who accused her of "transparent attempts to demonise" Mr Robinson.

"You know the truth, Christopher. I have never, throughout all of this, stopped speaking to anyone. You know that," said Ms Long.

She also Tweeted: "Very shabby attempt to blacken my character. I've no intention of descending to that level. I never have," and accused Mr Robinson of making a "deliberate, personal attack" on her character.

Mr Robinson responded in a Tweet: "If asked a question, I'll answer honestly. Always have. Always will. Sometimes the truth hurts. #rawnerve"

On Monday, Mr Robinson told this paper that Ms Long stopped acknowledging him at the height of the flag protests.

The protests were launched after Alliance voted against unionist wishes to change Belfast City Council policy and only fly the Union flag on designated days.

During that time, Ms Long and other members of the Alliance party received death threats from loyalist paramilitaries and her constituency office was attacked on a number of occasions.

Mr Robinson claimed that since then Ms Long has "gone out of her way to ignore me."

However, Ms Long insisted she has met and spoken to Mr Robinson "many times", including "sitting with him at a dinner for a community group and most recently at the reception for former Lord Mayors in City Hall."

The DUP is determined to win back East Belfast from Alliance. First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson lost the Westminster seat in 2010. He had previously held it for 31 years.

However, Alliance is just as determined to retain it.

Background

First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson lost the East Belfast Westminster seat in 2010 to the Alliance Party's Naomi Long. He had previously held the seat for 31 years. Ms Long, who is east Belfast born and bred, was a civil engineer before becoming an elected representative. Her DUP rival is 30-year-old Gavin Robinson, a former barrister.

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