Northern Ireland

Alliance's Naomi Long owns up to 'balloons' insult

Naomi Long Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Mrs Long says the councillors set out to 'damage' Alliance

The Alliance Party Leader Naomi Long has admitted that she called two councillors who recently left the party "balloons".

Geraldine Rice and Vasundhara Kamble are now supporting the SDLP having resigned as Alliance councillors.

Speaking after her party's election manifesto launch, Naomi Long said she used the word "balloons" on a private social media site.

"I think most people will be surprised all I said was balloons," she said.

Mrs Long said the two former councillors had set out to "damage" her party.

She also responded to a Belfast Telegraph story which reported that the Alliance Party had encouraged members to ring the BBC Talkback programme's election phone-in with "softball " questions for her.

The newspaper said the party's head of communications, Scott Jamison, had used a social media site to say that the party could "hijack " the BBC Radio Ulster phone-in and suggested party members should "feel free to use a fake name and location if you're so inclined".

Ms Long said the story was "a storm in a teacup", adding that the posts were made in a "tongue-in-cheek manner".

Changing for good?

In response to the Belfast Telegraph story a BBC spokesperson said its radio phone-in programmes regularly attracted a high volume of callers who wanted to share their views live on air.

"Our production teams do their best to assess each caller to ensure they contribute to a fair and balanced discussion which our presenters chair live," said the spokesperson.

The Alliance Party's 85-page manifesto - entitled How to change Northern Ireland for Good - includes plans for political reform, the economy, education and mitigating the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland.

It calls for an end to the abuse of Petitions of Concern at Stormont. The cross-community voting system triggered by Petitions of Concern was introduced as a guarantee against majority rule in Northern Ireland.

Alliance wants to introduce a single equality bill and says it will continue to campaign for special Brexit status for Northern Ireland.

The party also wants to expand integrated education and opposes any repeal of the Human Rights Act.

Ms Long said she was suffering from "lurgy ", but joked with journalists that this was different to the "man flu" that DUP leader Arlene Foster said precluded her from taking questions from the press at the DUP's manifesto launch on Monday.

In contrast, Naomi Long said she would happily answer reporters' queries.

She said next week's election was about "choosing people fit to govern".

The party had eight MLAS in the last Assembly and Ms Long said her target was to hold on to those seats next week.

She said after the election there will be negotiations and said the last thing Northern Ireland needed was "another patch-up arrangement".