Can Belfast change? Ask Naomi Long, the centrist MP who's facing death threats

The Westminster MP for east Belfast tells David McKittrick why she's still optimistic

Naomi Long, the Westminster MP for east Belfast, is very much a child of her constituency, born into its loyalist backstreets and a committed community worker. But she has received death threats from local extremists.

Today an armoured police Land Rover is parked, more or less permanently, across the road from her office in the centre of her constituency.

The offices of Ms Long and other Alliance party representatives have been attacked and, in some cases, trashed. A police car on guard outside her premises was petrol-bombed, a woman officer inside narrowly escaping injury.

Many of the local hardline Protestants are now estranged from her, blaming her for her party's role in limiting the flying of the union jack at Belfast's city hall. Their anger erupted in dozens of riots and hundreds of other protests.

The offices are picketed for at least an hour a day by a small band of loyalists who since December have been turning up, hail, rain or snow, to denounce her.

"Some days they can be very quiet, just standing there," said Mrs Long, "But other times they can be more aggressive and abusive. It's variable."

Outside the office a dozen of those constituents, including two middle-aged women wearing union flags as cloaks, maintain a a vigil in the cold, watched by the police in the Land Rover. They complain vociferously that during protests "the cops beat us into the ground."

They add heatedly, with much finger-pointing: "It's our flag, it should still be flying. Naomi Long can go to hell – she brought it all on herself."

So what do they think of their MP? "I can't say it out loud," spluttered an older man. "Not in front of the women here."

Ms Long says: "I'm not being reckless with my personal security, partly for the safety of my family and also for the police – I don't want to put them in harm's way. Could she walk down the Newtownards Road, the loyalist heartland of her east Belfast? "Well, I did last week," she replied, "though I didn't do it with a fanfare".

"I do have to give it more thought because of the death threats. But I'm not going to accept that there are no-go areas for me in my constituency. I've been visiting constituents in their homes. I have a job to do. We're operating as normally as you can in these circumstances."

The flag roadblocks and rioting cost Belfast dear in terms of its recent reputation as a city in transformation. Ms Long describes the damage as immense, with policing costs alone reaching £20m.

Well over a hundred loyalists will now face charges. "One of the saddest things," according to Mrs Long, "is that we have young teenagers who will walk away from this with nothing more to show for it than criminal records. That will hang over them for the rest of their lives."

Alliance is a middle-of-the road party, known mainly for its moderation and belief in compromise, but the flag dispute has thrust it into a major firestorm. Ms Long strongly advocates integration in areas such as housing and education.

Ms Long is an optimist but she has worries. "We don't have forever to get relationships sorted, or we'll have another generation of young people who are embittered, with an anger against those on the other side."

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people

Sport
nflAtlanta Falcons can't count and don't know what the UK looks like
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg
music

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

News
The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Norwegian Speaking Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 per annum + competitive OTE: SThree: Progressive in Manchester is seeki...

IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

Telecoms Engineer - Telecoms Administrator - London - £26,000

£26000 per annum + 25 days holiday & further benefits: Ashdown Group: Telecomm...

Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are seeking a confident...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London