Alliance leader Naomi Long has defended her party’s decision not to stand aside for other pro Remain election candidates.
The cross-community party has refused to take part in the election co-operation efforts between Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Greens in constituencies where tight races are expected at next month’s General Election.
It is the only party to stand candidates in all of Northern Ireland’s 18 parliamentary constituencies.
Sinn Fein has stood aside in South Belfast in support of the pro Remain SDLP candidate Claire Hanna against the DUP’s Emma Little Pengelly, while the SDLP has stood aside in North Belfast to back the pro Remain Sinn Fein candidate John Finucane against DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds.
Meanwhile, the Green Party has stood aside in all four Belfast constituencies.
Speaking at the Alliance Party’s manifesto launch in east Belfast on Monday morning, Ms Long said her party wants to offer voters choice.
“The issue of Brexit is bigger than the Alliance Party but looking at each constituency I don’t see better candidates than those being put forward by the Alliance Party and I say that not just out of pride in my colleagues but in terms of the manifesto on which they are standing and the values and vision which will drive them,” she said.
“That is why we will not be stepping aside in any constituency, the voters will make their decision as to who they want to represent them in Westminster.
“I believe that Alliance is best placed to do that on an inclusive basis, on a co-operative basis in a way that can bring people together.
“That’s what we are offering people, if they reject it then like every party, we will understand that that is their choice. But we will not deny them that choice, we will not rob them of the opportunity to choose better.
“The public in terms of the feedback that we have received from people welcome the fact that they are getting that opportunity.”
The party’s North Belfast candidate Nuala McAllister also spoke at the event at the Park Avenue Hotel, saying she would not “abandon” Alliance voters by not standing for election.
“What sort of leadership would it be to step aside and endorse the two parties who have shown such a poor ability to lead us in Northern Ireland, what kind of choice would that leave people,” she said.
“This manifesto is a set of ideals which will guide the work of any Alliance MPs after December 12,” says @naomi_long. “While Brexit is one of the main issues, it’s not the only one in this election,” she adds. #DemandBetter#GE2019pic.twitter.com/l3gDbxDQZg
— Alliance Party (@allianceparty) November 25, 2019
Ms Long also criticised what she termed as a “brutal election campaign”.
“In fighting elections for almost 20 years I cannot recall a single election which has been as brutal in terms of the campaign, in terms of the smears, the lies, the disinformation and the personal attacks that have been launched on candidates as I do in this particular campaign,” she said.
The Alliance manifesto contains key pledges which include backing a People’s Vote, opposing a no deal Brexit and pressing for a restoration of devolution.
It also calls for climate action, closing the public sector pay gap, an independent review of education, repealing the bedroom tax, integrating housing and an elected House of Lords.
Ms Long said: “This manifesto outlines Alliance’s support for a People’s Vote, and our commitment to protect our economy from a disastrous no deal Brexit. Brexit can still be stopped. Democracy did not end in June 2016 – people have the right to change their mind and demand better than new barriers and reduced opportunities.
“Earlier this year, people from all backgrounds right across our community united to elect me as the first Alliance MEP. I believe we can come together again and elect a strong team of Alliance MPs who will go to Westminster to defend the best interests of Northern Ireland, as outlined in this manifesto.”