Belfast Telegraph

Robert Lindsay Mason won't easily be forgotten

Colourful councillor who stood out from the crowd dies at 64

Controversial Larne councillor Robert Lindsay Mason has died after a long battle with ill-health. David Gordon reflects on his unique contribution to the Co Antrim council

Controversial Larne councillor Robert Lindsay Mason has died after a long battle with ill-health. David Gordon reflects on his unique contribution to the Co Antrim council





LOCAL government is undoubtedly a duller place with the passing of Robert Lindsay Mason.

"Eccentric" and "colourful" were the words we reporters most commonly used to describe him.

In truth, they didn't come close.

He was often viewed as a figure of fun by his critics.

But there were times when they paid dearly for underestimating him.

The first conversation I recall having with him was in 1993 when I was working for the Larne Times.

That was when he first announced that he was standing for election to the local council on a "1990s" ticket.

"I'm going to drag the council into the 1990s," he declared. "But I'll do it gradually and get them into the 1790s first."

His election bid was generally met with bemusement.

He was well known as something of a "character" in the town - a man in his 50s with a serious heart complaint who loved dance music and regularly attended raves.

But then he won a seat.

There then followed years and years of turbulence in Larne Council. He squabbled with just about everybody and invariably opposed official policy, whatever it was.

When a member of the Royal Family came to open the council's shiny new headquarters, Mason staged a picket in protest at the cost of the building.

When Prime Minister John Major visited the town, Mason tried to bend his ears about his grievances.

He put up posters about the council around Larne and addressed shoppers by loud speaker. It's a modern miracle that he was not taken to court for libel every week.

When he made an ill-fated bid for a Westminster seat, his election address had to be heavily censored before Royal Mail would agree to distribute it.

Journalists were tortured by his frequent phone calls, outlining his latest offbeat proposal.

He was escorted by police from more than one Larne Council meeting after angry verbal clashes with fellow representatives.

Yes, he could be a nuisance. But here's the rub - he was sometimes right. And he drove his opponents crazy by consistently retaining his seat - in 1997, 2001 and 2005.

He had arguably his greatest triumph on the subject of Cairndhu House, a stately Antrim Coast property which the council bought and then sold off during the 1990s. Mason claimed ratepayers' money had been squandered.

He took his allegations to the Local Government Auditor and was spectacularly vindicated.

The Auditor declared himself "dismayed" by what he found and estimated that the council's losses from its Cairndhu dealings total came to £844,683.

Mason, 64 when he died, was not satisfied and tried unsuccessfully to get councillors to foot this bill.

That was typical. He never mellowed in his battles with officialdom.

A great many councillors tow their party lines, keep their heads down, make no impact, leave no footprints behind them.

You could never say that about Robert Lindsay Mason.

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