Gay DUP councillor Bennington votes against rainbow flag motion

The DUP’s only openly gay councillor voted with party colleagues against the flying of the rainbow flag at Antrim and Newtownabbey Council this week.

Wednesday, 31st July 2019, 8:22 am

DUP councillor Alison Bennington, who was elected during the local government elections in May, voted against a motion brought forward by the Alliance Party on Monday night to fly the rainbow flag at Mossley Mill and Antrim Civic Centre.

The motion passed, despite the opposition of the DUP, after what SDLP councillor Thomas Burns described as a “stormy” debate.

Ms Bennington declined to comment yesterday when asked about the vote by the News Letter.

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The DUP's first openly gay councillor, Alison Bennington, who won a seat at Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council in May's elections. Photo credit: Dave Pettard/PA Wire

She also declined to even indicate how she had voted during the meeting, despite the vote having been recorded during the public meeting.

All DUP councillors present, including Ms Bennington, voted against the proposal put forward by Alliance councillor Glenn Finlay.

But the motion passed with support from Alliance, Sinn Fein and the SDLP.

The UUP, which allows individual politicians to vote with their conscience, was split.

UUP councillor Paul Michael told the News Letter: “Clearly, my party gives a free vote on this issue and that’s something I welcome. I had no hesitation whatsoever in supporting the motion and I was delighted to see it going through.”

The SDLP’s Thomas Burns said: “It was a stormy debate. The Alliance motion was a good motion and it should have gone through on the nod, no problems.

“The first thing about it was the DUP put on an amendment to the motion that would have meant the flag wouldn’t fly.

“That went to a vote and it was a tie, but the mayor (the DUP’s John Smyth) decided not to use his casting vote.”

He continued: “It went back to the original motion. The biggest surprise of the whole lot was Alison Bennington — everybody was watching her like a hawk to see what she would do but she voted with the DUP, along party lines. She never opened her mouth, she never spoke.”

Mr Burns added: “Some people thought her selection meant the DUP were moving on in some way, but they voted as a bloc against it.”

Councillor Finlay, who put the proposal forward, said: “As a council we must lead the way on inclusivity, taking a pride in our area and doing all we can to ensure we remain open and welcoming to all groups within our borough.

“The law of averages suggest that six percent of our residents are from the LGBTQ+ community, with this move going some way to alleviating the fear and sense of disenfranchisement that many in our LGBTQ+ community feel.”

He added: “This was a great night for Antrim and Newtownabbey Council, signalling we respect everyone across our borough and want to see all groups promoted equally.”

The council said it was unable to provide details of the recorded vote until after the call-in period relating to the motion, which ends at noon tomorrow.