Looks like someone sneaked into the Alliance Party’s closed Facebook group and came out telling tales. Or maybe it was just someone inside the party who wasn’t too chuffed at the nature of some of the offline online chatter:
In an exchange with supporters in the ‘Alliance Party Activists and Volunteers’ group about councillors Geraldine Rice and Vasundhara Kamble, Mrs Long wrote:
“These two are complete balloons. They staged a sitdown protest when Anna Lo got a standing ovation because she said in an interview the week before she was in favour of a united Ireland.”
That’s not a term you hear outside of Belfast many days of the week. Anyhoo, it broke with a story about them using the group to encourage people to flood talkback with enormous callers (all parties do it, the trick is, er, not to get caught).
The SDLP in Lagan Valley launched their boats:
“Naomi Long should immediately clarify if she did or didn’t make these comments and apologise to the two councillors in question if she did. I also call on local Alliance candidate Trevor Lunn to clarify that he does not support or endorse these comments in any way.”
But this is an election (and it was Facebook after all). So, Mrs Long came clean this afternoon:
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.
Well, maybe. The official response when the two left the party was muted. A couple of weeks ago they both came out for the SDLP’s Pat Catney. It also so happens Mr Catney papers were signed by former Alliance party MLA Seamus Close. [Not officially a ‘balloon’ either, we understand – Ed.]
Finally, the SDLP also bagged former NI21 councillor (the only one) Johnny McCarthy, whilst former Green party chair Conor Quinn ran for the party (unsuccessfully) in the 2014 local elections (interesting clash of old colleagues there). Could be fun to watch on the night.
Anyone free to write the post-election screenplay: Revenge of the Balloons?
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty