David Ford said that Naomi Long had “done us proud” at Westminster, and highlighted her attempts to amend legislation to end the secrecy around political donations to parties in Northern Ireland.
He said that Alliance’s deputy leader had shown that she would not be intimidated out of politics. He said: “Under threat, Naomi has shown she’s made of steel to match the shipyards of East Belfast.”
“After the spectacle of 40,000 bogus leaflets over the flags issue, and the violence and intimidation that followed, none of us should be surprised at the dirty tricks that our opponents throw at us,” he said.
“If they can discipline one of their own councillors for sticking to her principles and telling the truth, we can expect more of the same.
“But we will campaign this year and next as we campaigned when we won East Belfast five years ago, standing on our record and promoting our positive vision of a changed, transformed, united Northern Ireland.”
And, referring to Mrs Long’s main challenger, the DUP’s Gavin Robinson, he reminded voters that “so-called moderate Gavin Robinson stood grinning outside the court beside Ruth Patterson the day she admitted a charge of grossly offensive communication”.
Earlier, Mrs Long received a rapturous ovation. She told delegates that until the secrecy around political donations ends “the whiff of corruption will always surround local politics”.
And, at the end of a another week of crisis at Stormont, she said: “We need to remind people that not all politicians are the same.”