Derry Housing Action Committee [D.H.A.C]

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Originally published: Reality, No. 7, Centre Pages

’68      D.H.A.C.      ’69
 
On a cold February day last year four women and two young men sat in the Corporation Housing Dept. discussing the housing position in the city, and in particular the case of the four women present, all of whom lived in flats at 8, Limavady Road. Their landlord within the past few days had knocked off their electric light and they had to live in candle-lit rooms. Their family doctors were concerned at the dangers of such and they hoped for action from the local council.
 
This was the beginning of the Derry Housing Action Committee [D.H.A.C], which grew from that small group of people which included Mrs. McNamee, Dillon, Olphert and Quigley. The two young men were Derry man Danny McGinley and a Magee University College lecturer, English-born Mr. Steward Crehan.
 
Meetings to organise the homeless were held at Limavady Rd., and at Mr. Crehan’s flat at 98, Beechwood Avenue. The inaugural meeting was held at the City Hotel on St. Patrick’s Day week-end at which it was decided to go to the March monthly meeting of Derry Corporation to read a prepared address and to disrupt the proceedings. This type of activity remained a monthly date for the D.H.A.C. even up to the last Council meeting in March 1969.
 
For a period of almost three months the committee’s activities were, as one might put it, strictly within the law. Many members thought that such protests to date were mild but it was not until June that the first really militant act had taken place. At 11 am on the morning of the 22nd, at the caravan home of the Wilson Family in which a young child had died, directed linked to their living conditions, members assembled. The caravan was dragged across the main Lone Moor bus-route at the Hamilton St-Ann St junction. It remained there for some hours on the 22nd and blocked the road again on the 29th & 30th of the same month.
 
Eleven people appeared before the Bishop Street Court in July. They were George Finnbarr O’Doherty (23), John White (21), Eamonn McCann (25), Eamonn Melaugh (35), Matthew O’Leary (29), John Wilson (28), Jeremiah Mallett (43), John McShane (35), Pat J. Coyle (33), Robert Mitchell (19), and Janet Wilcock the last Labour candidate in the bye-election. All were bound over for a period of two years to keep the peace and Melaugh, McCann, White and Wilson were fined £10 each, and Mitchel and Ms. Wilcock £5 each.
 
The Wilsons have since been given a home at 417 Bishop Street.
 
During the court hearings one of the most militant D.H.A.C. protests took place during the Official Opening of the lower deck of Craigavon Bridge. J.J. O’Hara, Tony O’Doherty, Roddy O’Carlin, Neil O’Donnell and Sean McGeehan sat down to block the first vehicle, the Mayor’s official car. The R.U.C. moved in and removed the protestors while a few other members led the homeless in singing “WE SHALL OVERCOME”. At an early stage in the singing, R.U.C. walked into the crowd and removed Finnbarr O’Doherty. At this, a non-member of the D.H.A.C., John Lafferty obstructed Sergeant Albert Joseph Taylor in the execution of his duty. All were taken away in police cars and in the less ‘comfortable’ tenders to the ‘VIC’.
 
In Bishop Street Court once again the R.M. sat with a puzzled face as the defendants entered their seats. The case ended with Lafferty and the sit-down protesters being bound over for two years to keep the peace and O’Doherty was fined £5 for “conducting” and prompting the singing of “WE SHALL OVERCOME” – which the court considered to be disorderly behaviour.
 
Neil O’Donnell and Roddy O’Carlin refused to enter into bail and ‘keep the peace’ and so each served a period of one month in H.M. Prison, Crumlin Road, Belfast. Their imprisonment was the centre of several protests in many areas and several radical organisations held pickets in Belfast, London and Cork. On the evening of their release a group of D.H.A.C. members and supporters met them at the Duke Street railway station and carried them shoulder high for some distance.
 
Regular picketing of ‘Rachmanists’ and public buildings continued all the time and “REALITY”, the official organ of the D.H.A.C. was being published so as to keep the funds of the organisation capable of fighting for the city’s estimated 1,650 homeless families. Public meetings were help to increase membership and to keep the homeless informed as to what action the committee intended to take next as part of our militant campaign.
 
Rent strikes were also organised so as to force Rachmanists to install fire escapes and issue rent books. Many it seemed would never give in to these demands but as time passed each broke down rather than end up without their weekly rents from the homeless. Repairs were also demanded and one landlord had to put £1,100 out for just one of his houses.
 
In the month of August the call was made by the D.H.A.C. to the N. Ireland Civil Rights Association to hold the first ever civil rights march in the city. In a matter of weeks plans were being made with the Nicra executive for a march on October 5th. The first meeting was held in the upstairs of a bar in William Street and others in local hotels. At one meeting only 57 stewards attended and the funds for organising the march came out of the organisers’ own pockets in the first weeks of organising. Some organisations which promised financial support failed to keep their promises and so the bulk of the finance which was required to defray expenses was collected chiefly in the Creggan Estate and from local shop-owners. Placards were made by a sub-committee in a house on Long Tower Street, sometimes into the early hours of the morning.
 
Little did the organisers and those who were making the preparations for the march realise that October 5th 1968 would be entered in the pages of history and that at long last the local people of Derry would arise from fifty years of slumber.
 
Letter to Reality-page 3
 
Dear Sir,
 
We the undersigned, former residents of the Council Chamber, wish to express our sincere thanks for the marvellous support given to us during our seven-week squat-in at Derry Guildhall. We will remain eternally grateful to the Derry Housing Action Committee for their moral, financial and active support. If it had not been for such support we have no doubt that we would still reside at our former addresses and live in the horrific conditions prevailing there. On behalf of ourselves and our children, we wish also to include in these thanks those members of the general public who displayed such great kindness. May God reward for the interest shown in our plight.
 
Yours gratefully,
 
Joe Clarke, formerly of 92 Bishop Street.
Daniel Harkin, f/o 40 Carlisle Rd.
Willie Healy, f/o 30c Dove Grds.
Patsy Bradley, f/o Bishop Street.
Bridget & Johnny Bond, f/o Foyle Road.
M. Cruickshank, f/o Spencer Rd.
Nellie Gorman, f/o 55 Spencer Rd.
John Parke, address not given
Joe Rush, f/o 15 Orchard St.
John Gillespie. f/o The Diamond
Dan Kerr, f/o Donegal Place.
 
Editor’s Comments: The action of the above families proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that direct action brings results. The local authorities have been forced to re-open many sound dwellings to accommodate these families, and would never have done so but for militant action. The D.H.A.C. were not demanding new homes, but rather we did demand that the Corporation allocate to each a better abode in which each family could bring up their children in a healthy environment. There is no doubt that our policy is the correct one and has brought the desired results.

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