LGBTQ campaigner Ashton memorial approved
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Mark Ashton moved to Portrush at a young age and went to the catering college in the town.
After completing his studies, he moved to London in 1978 where he became an influential figure in the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners movement during the miners’ strike.
Mark was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and was admitted to Guy’s Hospital on January 30, 1987. He died 12 days later at the age of 26. A plaque was dedicated to him in London, with a garden in memory of him also built in Paris.
The motion which was proposed by SDLP Councillor Margaret Anne McKillop called for the council to note Mr Ashton’s “work and commitment as an activist for the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights and worker’s rights, especially coal miners during the Coal Miners’ strike of 1984/1985”.
It also called for “the immediate allocation of funds and identification of a suitable site, to take place in consultation with family and LGBTQ+ groups, for a suitable memorial to Mark Ashton within the council area”.
Cllr McKillop said: “This motion is an opportunity for us to pay tribute to Mark Ashton and pay tribute to the work he has done for the LGBTQ+ community across the UK.
“I ask that this council recognise Mark for all his work to support the LGBTQ+ community. Currently a petition calling for a memorial has 28,413 signatures and a local group has raised £4,500 towards the memorial.
“We hope this motion will allow for permission from the council to put up a plaque on council property in Mark’s memory. This will have no financial implications for council and all we ask is that council will consult with the family and LGBTQ+ groups.”
Mayor, DUP Councillor Mark Fielding spoke in opposition to the motion saying: “Mark Ashton was not a proud socialist, if he was that was fair enough, everyone is entitled to their political views, but he was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and the National Union of Miners which he supported was funded by the communist Soviet Union and Libya.
“Communism does not espouse the democratic values we enjoy in this country, the fact we can argue and debate together is a testimony to the democracy which we share even though we may disagree. Communism only recognises their own party.”
The Mayor, Councillor Fielding went on to describe the Miners’ strike as an “illegal strike” before saying his party could not support the motion.
Sinn Fein Councillor Cara McShane offered her party’s support saying: “I think this demonstrates what a diverse area we are and what we represent.
“We don’t all come from the same backgrounds but that’s what has given us all such a rich heritage.
“We are very proud of people who are rooted in this area. He did attend the Catering College so he is an alumni of Ulster University. I welcome the motion and support it on behalf of Sinn Fein.”
Alliance Councillor Chris McCaw commented on “how far we have come since Mark’s time in terms of LGBT equality” adding that “it’s not too much to ask to have a memorial to him in the town that he lived in from a young age.”
UUP councillor Darryl Wilson said: “When we look at the life of Mark Ashton we could of course focus on his political affiliations, be that Communism, socialism, or any other -ism.
“Having political freedoms within this diverse United Kingdom is very important, what a dull and uninspiring place it would be if we did not have political differences.
“What I want to focus on is that Mark did try to promote the advancement of LGBTQ rights during the 1980s.
“That on its own is commendable, at a time when being part of the LGBTQ community was very, very difficult. It was frowned upon and it had a devastating impact on so many young people right across the United Kingdom at that time.
“Thankfully, Northern Ireland is becoming a more progressive society, and for that fact alone, the work that Mark carried out is very commendable and should be noted.”
The motion carried with 10 votes for and five against. It will go forward to the full council on Tuesday, May 4 for ratification.
Speaking after the motion was passed, Jude Copeland who started the petition for a memorial said: “It’s amazing news that the motion to recognise Mark Ashton has passed the committee stage. Thank you all for the signatures and thank you for the support, I know Mark’s friends and his family are really touched by it.”