Two long-standing Alliance Party councillors who quit the party amid allegations of racism, ageism and elitism have reacted with disappointment to party leader Naomi Long’s comments on the issues they had raised.
The claims were made by Lisburn and Castlereagh councillors Geraldine Rice and Vasundhara Kamble, who have now quit the party.
Responding to the allegations made against the party, Alliance leader Naomi Long, in an interview with BBC Radio Ulster, 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 referred to the fact that Councillor Rice was overlooked for the position of Mayor this week and described the allegations as “mud-slinging”.
“We’ve all been there where we haven’t been selected for posts but I am disappointed that rather than, as other councillors and other elected representatives have done, accept that that’s part of the democratic process and put your name back in the hat later on, that these councillors have decided to resign,” Ms Long said.
“That they are slinging mud at the party on their way out the door is unfortunate but that was their decision.”
Asked for her view on Ms Long’s comments, Councillor Rice told the News Letter: “It wasn’t a case of sour grapes at all. We weren’t going to resign at this stage but for some of the attitudes of some of the councillors we were trying to work with.
“Naomi Long has known me a long time. In fact she worked with my husband as a civil engineer some time ago and she knows my telephone number. At this stage we have had no telephone call from her or from the party. Nobody contacted us about anything. There was no reason she couldn’t have phoned me. It’s not that they didn’t know about this.
“I think there are problems that do need to be addressed by the Alliance Party. Because I had turned 70 they asked the question of me, ‘do you think you’d be fit to be mayor at your age’. I looked at them in disbelief and asked ‘are you saying I’m too old’.”
Her colleague, Vasundhara Kamble, has also resigned from the party. She told the News Letter there was an “undercurrent of racism” in the Alliance Party, whom she also accused of being “elitist” and “condescending” to people from working class backgrounds.
Cllr Kamble said: “I believe Naomi Long was dismissive of my concerns in her interview. I stand by what I have said, that there is an undercurrent of racism and elitism in the Alliance Party. I believe there has been a condescending attitude to this Indian woman for being ‘too big for her boots’.”