Naomi Long 'absolutely refutes' former Alliance members' claims
Alliance leader Naomi Long has said she "absolutely refutes" allegations of ageism and racism within the party by two councillors who have resigned.
The claims were made by Lisburn and Castlereagh councillors Geraldine Rice and Vasundhara Kamble.
Mrs Rice said she believed she was viewed as "old school" while Mrs Kamble - originally from India - said the party had been a "cold house" for her.
However, Mrs Long said there was no basis for the allegations.
"I'm disappointed that these councillors decided to resign and, in doing so, to sling mud at the party on their way out the door," Mrs Long said.
"That's unfortunate, but that was their decision.
"Obviously, given their good relationship with me in the past - I know both of them very well - there is no reason they wouldn't have been able to come to me and talk about it had there been any substance to these allegations at all."
The allegations by the two councillors, who have now left the party, were made to the Belfast Telegraph.
'This is about disappointment'
Mrs Rice, 70, has been a councillor since 1989 but claimed to have been told that she was not "an acceptable face for Alliance today".
She told the newspaper she felt stabbed in the back by a party that she "loved and loyally served for 28 years".
Mrs Kamble, who came to Northern Ireland from Mumbai in 1995, told the Belfast Telegraph she had "never felt welcome in the party".
However, Mrs Long told The Nolan Show that "all of the evidence in terms of our diversity of party membership and diversity of age within our party would actually stand against those claims".
She added: "Neither of them ever raised any concerns with me in this regard.
"This is not about racism or ageism or any of those things, this is about disappointment - natural disappointment - on their part for not being selected for particular roles.
"In Gerry's case, the evening before she went to the press she was not selected to be the next mayor of Lisburn."
However, speaking on the BBC's Talkback programme, Mrs Rice rejected Mrs Long's claim that she left Alliance solely because she was not given the mayoral position.
"That wasn't the only reason that I decided enough was enough. It was the total disrespect they showed to me, undermining me constantly," she said.
"There's only so much a person can take and, if people that you're working with do not show you any respect, then you can't go any further than that, you have to call it a day."
Mrs Kamble also rejected allegations that her resignation from Alliance had been motivated by a "sour grapes attitude" over this week's council appointments.
She told Talkback: "I was ready to leave this party long before this whole thing surfaced on Tuesday evening. It is only because my friend Geraldine Rice made me stay on in the party.
"I was really very disappointed and disillusioned with the general atmosphere towards me in the party and I was ready to leave the party long ago."