‘Long’s jibe caused deep hurt’: Ex-Alliance councillor

Former Alliance councillor Geraldine Rice who is now an independent
Former Alliance councillor Geraldine Rice who is now an independent

A former long-serving Alliance councillor branded a “balloon” by party leader Naomi Long has spoken of her “deep hurt” at the jibe.

Geraldine Rice, 70, who served as a Castlereagh councillor from 1989 until she quit the party last month, resigned along with fellow councillor Vasundhara Kamble accusing Alliance of ageism and racism.

Councillor Rice said her resignation followed the party’s decision not to back her for the mayor’s post, while councillor Kamble said an “elitist” Alliance Party displayed a condescending attitude to an Indian woman who was ‘too big for her boots’”.

Mrs Long dismissed the claims soon afterwards in an interview with BBC Radio Ulster. She said: “I would refute those allegations and I think all of the evidence in terms of our diversity of party membership and diversity of age within our party would actually stand against those claims. It is disappointing.”

She added: “That they are slinging mud at the party on their way out the door is unfortunate but that was their decision.”

Speaking after her party’s election manifesto launch on Tuesday, Mrs Long admitted using the word “balloons” to describe the two councillors in a ‘closed group’ Facebook post, but added: “I think most people will be surprised all I said was balloons.”

Mrs Long had also accused the two women, who have since become independents, as having set out to “damage” Alliance. Speaking on BBC radio on Wednesday, senior party figure Dr Stephen Farry said there was no need for anyone to apologise to the pair as “they weren’t called balloons to their face”.

Mr Farry also dismissed revelations that the party had encouraged its members to ‘hijack’ an election phone-in show with ‘fake’ calls as “a storm in a tea cup”.

Afterwards Cllr Rice told the News Letter that the party appears to have “lost its way” in terms of how it behaves.

“It is absolutely reprehensible and disgusting what she has done. I am deeply hurt by the whole thing and so is Vasundhara,” she said.

“Her [Mrs Long’s] insults were just unbelievable. I work very hard for my community... but was asked [by party officials] ‘do you not think you’re too old to be the mayor?’.”