Belfast Telegraph

Local Election 2019

I won’t be ‘nodding dog’ for party, says axed DUP member Tom Smith who supported LGBT community

Anger: Tom Smith
Anger: Tom Smith

By Staff Reporter

A DUP councillor who broke ranks to support the LGBT community has said he will never be "a nodding dog" for the party after he was deselected for the local government elections in May.

Tom Smith helped ensure that a motion in December to light up Ards Town Hall in rainbow colours to mark the start of LGBT Awareness Week was passed by 19 votes to 18.

Last night Mr Smith lambasted the DUP as he hit out at the move.

"As some of you may already be aware I have not been selected as a DUP candidate for the upcoming council elections," he said.

"While I find this personally disappointing I cannot say I am surprised, not least when a month ago another candidate suddenly appeared from nowhere, someone who as far as I know had never been a member of the party.

"Once that happened I knew there were moves to have me deselected."

Fellow DUP Alistair Cathcart, who voted alongside Mr Smith in December, has been selected to run again.

Mr Smith said he had "disagreed twice with my party group on the lighting up on Ards Town Hall in support of our LGBT residents".

"I very much believe that we live in a diverse borough and as a councillor, and as a person, I believe I should do all I can to reach out to all sections of this community and ensure people feel that this is their borough and that we are their council," he said.

"I make no apologies for this at all and certainly have no regrets. At my recent selection meeting with the party they asked me if I would obey the council group decisions.

"I was honest with them and said that I could not if I thought that decision was wrong or it went against my conscience. Obviously this is not what they wanted to hear."

Mr Smith said that in the wake of the RHI scandal that caused the collapse of Stormont, he thought the party "would encourage those with dissenting voices, people with alternative opinions who would not blindly follow the herd but think about what they are voting for".

He added: "It is clear that the DUP were asking me to do something that I have not done in the past, that is to sit on council and just be a nodding dog for them, someone ready to put their hand up for a vote whenever it is required.

"If that is the price they are asking to become one of their candidates then it is a price I am not willing to pay.

"Of course, I am sure there will be those who will be more than happy to sit there and put their hand up on command and do very little else. That isn't me."

He said that during the last four years as a councillor he had "tried to work for everyone and to judge every issue on its own merits".

"I have tried to make decisions based on what I believe is best for our borough and not on what I have been told to do before a meeting," he said.

"I have always believed, and continue to believe: people first, party second. That will not change.

"During my remaining time as a councillor I will do my best to continue to serve you and in everything, try and build a borough for everyone."

Earlier this week Mr Smith was strongly criticised by DUP MLA Jim Wells for how he voted in support of lighting up Ards Town Hall in rainbow colours.

Mr Wells, who has lost the party whip after his criticism of the party leadership, blocked Mr Smith and Mr Cathcart from his Twitter feeds.

He said he hoped Mr Smith "will soon be an ex-DUP councillor".

"I can decide who I want and who I don't.

"And I certainly don't wish to hear either councillor Cathcart or councillor Smith coming out with their pro-LGBT comments," he added later.

Mr Smith described it as an "extraordinary rant from someone that I have never spoken to".

Mr Cathcart has not responded to Mr Wells's comments.

The DUP withdrew the whip from veteran politician Mr Wells last year.

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