20 May 2022

Mark Ashton memorial proposal clears full council

Councillors voted to consult with the LGBTQ groups and the campaigner's family.

Mark Ashton memorial proposal clears full council

Plans to remember the legacy of LGBTQ campaigner Mark Ashton in Portrush have taken a step closer to completion after a consultation proposal was granted approval at a full meeting of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council.

The proposal had been passed at the April meeting of the council's Corporate Policy and Resources Committee, but ratification of the minutes had been deferred for a month after councillors only received the documents on the day of the May council meeting.

Mark Ashton was a co-founder of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) support group and was a prominent campaigner for LGBTQ rights throughout the 1980s.

Ashton studied for a period at the former NI Hotel and Catering College in the town before moving to London in 1978.

Council were asked to vote on an amendment from independent councillor William McCandless not to ratify the decision on account of Ashton's communist links.

Cllr McCandless stressed Mark Ashton's sexuality was not a factor in his opposition.

"What I am concerned about though, is his links with the Communist Party of Great Britain," he said.

"He was, in fact, the general secretary of the Communist Youth Wing. As for the miner's strike, it is a recorded fact that the NUM had no ballot, so the 1984 strike was illegal.

"Communism is one of the most evil ideologies in the world. I wish to examine all the aspects of his ideology and all he was involved with. 

"Because of this young man's involvement, I cannot in all conscience support this motion."

Cllr Darryl Wilson of the UUP reiterated his position from the committee stage, and said having political freedoms within a 'diverse' United Kingdom was important.

"What a dull and uninspiring place it would be if we did not have political differences in our ideologies," he said.

"What I want to try to focus on is what Mark did try to promote, which was the advancement of LGBTQ rights in the 1980s, at a time when being part of an LGBTQ community was frowned upon and had a devastating impact on so many young people across the UK at that time.

"The work Mark carried out was commendable and should be recognised."

Bann councillor for Sinn Féin, Sean Bateson, said Mark Ashton's achievements were 'second to none'.

"For his involvement in fighting for equality for LGBTQ communities and workers' right, he should be commended."

The council will now consult with members of Mark Ashton's family, as well as LGBTQ campaign groups, who have raised over £6,500 to fund a memorial in Portrush.

Two trade unions have also pledged over £2,800 to the cause.

SDLP councillor Margaret Anne McKillop, whose party brought the original motion, said she was delighted the motion had been ratified.

”I am delighted that the SDLP proposal for a memorial to Mark Ashton has been ratified by Causeway Coast and Glens Council,” she said.

”It is fitting that our motion received ratification at the beginning of Pride month and I hope that it sends a message to LGBT+ people across our district that they are valued and loved.

“Mark dedicated his life to activism and the pursuit of equal rights. Whether it was for workers or the LGBT+ community, his passion for justice was an inspiration.

“I hope that a lasting memorial will inspire a new generation and demonstrate our immense pride in his life’s work.

“Local activists and trade unions have already raised a significant sum to help deliver the project. I am looking forward to working with Mark’s family to help create a lasting tribute to his immense legacy.”

LGBTQ campaigner Jude Copeland welcomed the decision and said it would put Portrush on the map throughout the world.

"Portrush is on course to have the first blue plaque in the 9 counties of Ulster to a voluntarily openly LGBT+ person," he said.

"We have received messages of support from places as diverse as Wales, Nairobi, Australia and America; from wives of miners who remember Mark’s kindness from trade union members from all over," he said.

"They now know that Mark, who they respect greatly was from Portrush.

"His legacy transcends nationality or politics - he was about helping people who need help. When faced with bitterness and prejudice, Mark was passionately compassionate."

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