Northern Ireland

Profile: Alliance's 'Ginger Ninja' Naomi Long

Naomi Long Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Naomi Long has won a reputation as a hard worker and a strong fighter - with a sense of humour

Alliance's Naomi Long, labelled the "ginger ninja" on Twitter, is set to succeed David Ford as Alliance party leader.

She is high-profile, known as the woman who beat former first minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson in the 2010 Westminster election to take his East Belfast seat.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption In 2010, Naomi Long won the Westminster seat that the DUP's Peter Robinson had held for more than 30 years

The year before that, she became Belfast's second ever female lord mayor.

Hers was a meteoric rise in a world which did not draw her eye during her early years.

Childhood sweethearts

Naomi Long was born in 1971 in the heart of what was to become her own constituency.

Her father worked in the shipyard and her mother in the rope works until she got married.

Ms Long has brains as well as a little brawn. Growing up in the city in the 1980s, she never had any aspiration to be a politician.

"What I saw in the 70s and 80s was the failure of politics," she told the Belfast News Letter.

"I suppose all I saw were men in grey suits shouting at each other on the television. It just didn't seem to hold any real hope.

Mojo wobbles

"When I went to Queen's (university) I started mixing with people in an integrated environment and I realised very quickly how much people have in common."

She is married to her childhood sweetheart, Michael Long. They met when they were 14 and both are politicians.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Naomi Long celebrated with her husband, Councillor Michael Long, after she became MP for East Belfast in 2010

Naomi Long earned a distinction in her Masters degree in civil engineering at Queen's University, Belfast.

Since then, she has engineered her way around the corridors of power and used an innate charm to smooth the path.

She has had her wobbles.

After her defeat in East Belfast last year, she considered not returning to politics. It took her until Christmas to get back her political mojo.

"After May I found myself very tired, very exhausted," she said.

"It has been quite a bruising five years and I took the time to really think about it and to find my passion because I didn't want to come back simply because people expected me to.

"I wanted to come back, because I felt I had something to contribute and that I had something I wanted to do, that I felt could make a difference."

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Naomi Long has been the party's deputy leader for the past 10 years

Now she has made the come-back, and won a reputation as a hard worker and a strong fighter.

Death threat

There have been hard times - not least the days of the union flag protests.

Her party was targeted by loyalists angered by Alliance's support for displaying the union flag at Belfast City Hall on designated days, rather than every day of the year.

Councillors' homes were attacked at the height of the controversy and Mrs Long herself received a death threat.

Image caption At the height of the union flag protests in 2012/2013, loyalists held daily protests outside Naomi Long's constituency office in East Belfast

She has survived the slings and arrows of political fortune but holds true to her desire to do what she can. Even if people do not agree with her, if they approach her for help, that does not matter.

"When they come to me to get help, they get help," she told the BBC's Nolan Show.

Ms Long is also prepared to see the funny side of life.

Last year, she posted a video in which she faced up to the Twitter mafia and read out the "nasty, mean tweets" she had received.

'Beautiful and perfectly formed'

It was "a bit of Friday fun", she said, taking on the Tweeters who labelled her the Ginger Ninja - for her red hair - and Onionhead, which was a new one for her.

One tweeter said: "Is it weird that I find Naomi Long fit like?"

She replied that if he hadn't said it was "weird", she'd have tweeted him back.

To the critic who remarked that her behind was the size of a small island, she replied that a Scottish colleague had messaged her to say his constituency included many small islands - and all were "beautiful and perfectly formed".

Naomi Long has proved that she is the queen of mean... only in the sense that she rises above it.

When she was young she thought politics was all about men in grey suits.

Now she is out to prove that is not the case.

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