A gay Ulster Unionist councillor has said it is no longer surprising that a DUP councillor at the Ards and North Down council gave his backing to a motion on LGBT rights.
DUP councillor Tom Smith voted contrary to five of his party colleagues to support a proposal that would see Ards Town Hall lit up in the rainbow colours for future Pride celebrations.
A motion put forward by two Alliance councillors at the corporate services committee passed by just one vote, and will now need to be ratified at a full meeting of council next Wednesday. Five DUP councillors opposed the motion.
Last month, DUP councillors at Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council employed a mechanism known as a ‘call-in’ that effectively prevented the Pride flag from being flown from council premises.
The DUP declined the opportunity to comment on the vote at the Ards and North Down council when asked to do so by the News Letter yesterday, while Mr Smith could not be reached.
Ulster Unionist councillor Mark Brooks, who is gay, was one of those who voted in favour.
While he backed the Alliance Party’s motion, he described it as “unnecessary” in an interview with the News Letter.
“I believe as a borough we are pretty receptive already anyway, to everybody,” he explained.
“In many ways I was happy to support the motion, but it’s a pity that these sort of things have to come to council in the first place.
“We’re a council – we’re dealing with bins, local community groups, with planning. We cannot legislate or change anything.”
He said he was not suprised that Mr Smith voted in favour in light of recent moves by Arlene Foster to ‘reach out’. Mrs Foster attended an event organised by the PinkNews, described as an ‘LGBT+ publication’, at Stormont in June.
“I would be very friendly with Tom Smith, because we’re both in the same area,” Mr Brooks said. “Tom is also one of the council’s diversity champions, so it would have been strange if he hadn’t voted that way. I would have been surprised that a DUP councillor voted that way maybe a few years ago, but not today — not after Arlene Foster embraced this reaching out.”