All Our Futures Must Be Shared

Roy Garland Irish News 30 August 2010

The McCluskey Civil Rights Summer School addressed serious issues at Carlingford on Saturday.

The most contentious revolved around “armed struggle”.  I chaired this session feeling somewhat like a referee between opponents whose antagonism was reminiscent of the enmity between the UUP and DUP.

SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie depicted her party as progressive nationalism moving towards Seamus Heaney’s “farther shore”.

The freedom for this became possible when the pursuit of unity was accepted as just as legitimate as the pursuit of maintenance of the union.  There was “no longer a justification” for “resentful nationalism”.  NI was to be made an economic success but “resentful nationalism” didn’t care but waited “until Northern Ireland is over”.

Resentful nationalism, she claimed, had difficulty with the word “Northern Ireland” and were suspicious of entrepreneurs, investment and profit.

The SDLP had a vision of a shared society in which different religions and races could live together “totally at ease with each other”.

The SDLP was “more confident, more optimistic and more ready to engage wholeheartedly with unionists”.

However, Sinn Fein in practice did engage with unionists since as far back the late 1980s and often on a regular basis and at greater depth.

The SDLP engaged but apparently less so and most unionists remained reluctant to so engage.  But some of us felt impelled to do so to help end the conflict.

The SDLP leader said progressive nationalism saw Irish unity being created through a coming together of two traditions not through a hostile takeover. NI institutions would remain but the SDLP had a credible plan for persuasion on unity.

“The battles of the past are over.  The only battle now is the battle of ideas”, she said.

 Much of this was gratifying.  I could not envisage any unionist leader offering similar words.

Too many are still defending the union against real or imaginary enemies.

Austin Current, former SDLP politician famous for squatting in Caledon, sat on my right, while Danny Morrison – Daniel in the lions’ den – sat on my left.  Inevitably sparks would fly.  The topic boiled down to whether Danny Morrison could justify past violence.

But he insisted that he was never at ease with violence but like other nationalists felt oppressed for many years.

Morrison was involved in civil rights and managed to convey the sense of nationalist alienation on the streets.  It was a failure of civil rights that led to violence which was easier to start than finish.

This was true also for loyalists, some of whom shared feelings of alienation while identifying with a state that treated them as “cannon fodder”.

I said I had not been aware of the “oppression” of nationalists.  This prompted Austin Current to question me.

I replied that I grew up on the Shankill Road in a strongly religious non-political family.  My dad said politics was a “dirty fame”.  He voted for independents hoping they were less corrupt.

Dad left school aged 12 years while I was “privileged” to remain until aged 14.  I was vulnerable to propaganda suggesting that Nicra was not more than an IRA conspiracy to destroy.

Austin Currie grasped what I meant so I felt gratified.  I had never been able to convey this to nationalists before.

Danny Morrison said his united Ireland could take different forms including a unitary state or confederation.  The latter is not too far from where we now are.  Degrees of autonomy, including independence, now exist across these islands.

 The day was enlightening but served to heighten my regret that unionism in all its forms is in a terrible mess.

I deeply regret that the PUP, which espoused progressive thinking on behalf of the working class, now seems in decline.  But I also expressed frustration with all shades of unionism at a time when, as Margaret Ritchie said, the battle is over.

In my view, until unionist can acknowledge that we belong together on this island, we will stumble along rather than lead our people to a better future.

Professor Arthur Aughey referred to recent articles on the future of the union in which he detected much confidence.

 I agreed but not long ago the UUP/Conservative link was being sold as a means of strengthening the Union.

 This suggests that at the highest level siege mentality either dominates or remains a tool with which to manipulate the “cannon fodder”.

The reality is that all our futures must be shared together or damanged by the remnants of siege and victim mentalities.

Tribute to the late Paddy O’Hanlon

Co-founder of SDLP for whom the courts were a fitting forum

Irish Times Obituary 11 April 2009

PADDY O’HANLON , who has died aged 64, was a civil rights activist, a founder member of Northern Ireland’s Social Democratic and Labour Party, and the party’s chief whip during the ill-fated powersharing administration at Stormont in the 1970s.

In later years, he practised as a barrister in Northern Ireland and the Republic. He had been ill for some months and died in Dublin’s Mater hospital.

Born in Drogheda, Co Louth, in 1944 and educated at UCD, Paddy O’Hanlon was closely associated with south Armagh, an area he represented in the old Stormont parliament in from 1969 until its prorogation in 1972.

As an Independent MP, he was active in the civil rights movement in the heady days of the late 1960s, but he was also a committed sportsman and teacher with an deep love of the arts.

Politically he was committed to the unity of Ireland by consent and he was vociferously opposed to violence, state repression and sectarianism. He used his considerable powers of eloquence to argue for a new democratic model in Northern Irelandand between North and South.

He was among those who opposed the entrenched injustice of the old Stormont regime as much as he confronted the violence of republican paramilitaries and the state’s authoritarian response.

The term conviction politician applied especially well to him. He was among the diverse group of people, including John Hume, Austin Currie, Gerry Fitt, Eddie McGrady and Paddy Devlin, who rejected the old Nationalist party at Stormont and in August 1970, founded the SDLP.

In those early turbulent years, he was an architect of the fledgling party’s new-style political philosophy. His influence behind the scenes was key. He was a delegate to talks with the Irish government in 1973 and was successful in standing for a seat in the new powersharing Assembly for Armagh from 1973 to 1974. He was chief whip of the party.

However, his career as an elected representative was marked by some narrow failures and significant setbacks.

He stood unsuccessfully for his constituency in the first of the two British general elections in 1974 and was narrowly defeated by party colleague Hugh News in the elections to the Constitutional Convention in 1975 and again in 1982 to the Assembly set up by then Northern secretary James Prior in the aftermath of the republican hunger strikes. He lost both times on transfers.

With Séamus Mallon the established SDLP candidate for his constituency and the party deputy leader, O’Hanlon stepped back from full-time politics.

He studied law and was called to the Bar in 1986. Colleagues say his sharp mind and love of debate particularly suited his new-found vocation. Party leader Mark Durkan, who joined John Hume’s staff in 1983 and helped organise Séamus Mallon’s victory in the Newry and Armaghbyelection in 1986, claims that O’Hanlon’s influence was always felt.

“Even when standing well back from the political frontline his compelling political insight, and the integrity of his commitment to social justice was apparent in all the activism and advice he offered.”

Durkan believes the courtroom was an apt place for a man with O’Hanlon’s skills.

“In the legal vocation which he found he was able to give . . . expression to his sense of justice, his instinct for challenge and his love of able argument. So much of Paddy O’Hanlon’s contribution epitomises the debt which this society owes to the activists of the civil rights movement who never deviated from non-violence and who sustained the quest for a new agreed democratic order,” said Durkan.“He was sharp in his observation and straight in his counsel. Whether in his private conversation or public speaking he always impressed with the purity of his principle and the clarity of his case and the sincerity of the advice he offered.”

Paddy O’Hanlon was predeceased by his wife, Dr Ann Marley, and he is mourned by many, including his cousin Dr Rory O’Hanlon, the former ceann comhairle and Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan.

Among the many political tributes paid was that from Newry-Armagh Ulster Unionist deputy leader Danny Kennedy. “He was entirely dedicated to achieving his political goals by exclusively peaceful means, and as a public representative he worked hard to achieve better living and social conditions for a great many people,” said Mr Kennedy.

Paddy O’Hanlon: born May 8th 1944; died April 7th 2009

Civil Rights Then and Now, 1968-2008 QUB Seminar Michael Farrell

Paper to seminar in Queens University, Belfast

On 3rd October 2008 to mark the 40th anniversary of

The Northern Ireland Civil Rights movement

This seminar has been organised to mark the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights movement in Northern Ireland but this year also marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and I would like to begin with a quote from the Preamble to that Declaration:

 

 

 

“Whereas it is essential if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law”

I am speaking today as someone who was actively involved in the Civil Rights movement as a member of the Peoples Democracy and NICRA and is currently a member of the Civil Rights Commemoration Committee.  And I am nowadays a practising lawyer working for the Free Legal Advice Centres in Dublin and working with a lot of the human rights mechanisms I am going to mention later on.

The Civil Rights Commemoration Committee has set out to mark the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights movement here, but not in a triumphalist way and not to nurse old grievances, settle old scores, or dwell too much in or on the past; but to try to draw some lessons from that movement to apply to the civil and human rights challenges that face us at the present time, and that is what I hope to do today.

However, it might seem a bit odd when speaking in Queens on this weekend not to say something about the role of Queens students in the events of October 5th 1968 and its immediate aftermath.

Forty years ago this weekend a busload of students and young people, organised by the Young Socialist Alliance, set off from outside the Students Union to go to Derry for a Civil Rights march, the second one to take place under that name.  The march, which was in protest at the discriminatory housing policy of Derry Corporation and the gerrymandering of its electoral boundaries, had been banned on spurious grounds by the Minister for Home Affairs, William Craig.

We arrived a little late to find the marchers hemmed in in a narrow street by rows of RUC men and Eamonn McCann addressing the crowd.  We moved up to the front of the crowd, facing the RUC, not intending to attack them but to make sure that if they tried to disperse the crowd they would have to physically remove us.  It was what US Civil Rights activists called ‘assertive non-violence’.

I even, rather naively, addressed the RUC men urging them to let us through.  A few placards were thrown at the police, over our heads, and suddenly a policeman rammed his baton into the belly or the groin of the man beside me and they began batoning everybody in sight, including me.

After that my memories are pretty hazy except that I ended up on the ground being beaten by a District Inspector with his blackthorn stick while he tried to hold onto his cap with his other hand.  One of my more streetwise colleagues pulled me up a lane, switched jackets with me and got me a lift to Altnagelvin Hospital.  Meanwhile the RUC brought out water cannon, the first time they had been used in the UK, and hosed the rest of the demonstrators – and the Saturday shoppers – off the street.

All this was captured on film by an RTE cameraman and shown extensively all over Britain and the Republic as well as here.  It caused uproar.  This was 1968 and it seemed as if the Paris student uprising and the beating of anti-war protestors by police at the Democratic Party Convention in Chicago had suddenly arrived on our doorstops in Northern Ireland.

Queens opened on the following Monday or Tuesday and there was a mass meeting in the Students Union.  Students who had been in Derry told their stories and a protest march was called for Belfast on the Wednesday.  Around 2,000 students took part and when it was blocked from reaching the City Hall there was a three-hour sit-down in Linenhall Street.  When the students eventually trudged back to Queens, there was another mass meeting and a new protest organisation called the Peoples Democracy was set up.

**********

How did the marchers and march organisers deal with the ban on the Derry march and the violence with which the police broken it up?  Had they tried to judicially review the Minister’s decision to ban the march?  Did they complain to the Police Ombudsman about the behaviour of the RUC?  Did the Human Rights Commission protest about the use of the water cannon and its indiscriminate effect on shoppers and passers-by?

Did the injured marchers sue the police?  And what did the Committee on the Administration of Justice do about it?  Did they contact the UN High Commissioner’s office or the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights?

Of course, the answer to all these questions is no.  None of these watchdog institutions existed at the time and it simply never occurred to the marchers or the march organisers at this stage that they could or should look to the courts to overturn a ban by the Minister for Home Affairs or to censure the behaviour of the police.

 

This little digression was partly to illustrate the differences between campaigning for rights in 1968 and today.

***************

The Civil Rights movement arose directly out of frustration and anger about discrimination in the allocation of houses and jobs by Unionist-controlled councils mainly west of the Bann and particularly in Derry and Dungannon, and the hardship this was causing to young Catholic families who were desperate to get homes and jobs.  Some 300/400 families had squatted in abandoned US Army huts in Springtown Camp in Derry in the late 1940s and despite periodic agitation over the years, many of them were still there in the early 1960s.

In Dungannon homeless families took over and squatted in pre-fabricated bungalows that the Council wanted to demolish in the mid-1960s.

The allocation of jobs was, if anything, worse.  Notoriously in Fermanagh, a county with a small Catholic majority, only 3 out of 77 school bus drivers were Catholic.

And intimately linked with all of this was the restricted local government franchise and the gerrymandered electoral boundaries that kept Unionist councils in control even in areas with Catholic/nationalist majorities.  A fairer franchise, it was hoped, would put an end to much of the discrimination.

This was not a nationalist agenda and it had very little to do with a united Ireland.  These were down-to-earth, practical, bread and butter demands.  They were largely made by Catholics because they were the ones who were systematically discriminated against, but their demands of “One Man One Job”, “One Family One House” and “One Man One Vote”, while they may have been sexist, were not sectarian, and would eventually have benefited working class Protestants as well.

These were not new complaints.  They had been made repeatedly by Nationalist and Labour MPs in the old Stormont Parliament but had simply been ignored.  By the early 1960s, however, there was a new mood in the Catholic population. A generation had grown up who weren’t prepared to leave all these matters to be resolved when Ireland was united, if only because that was not going to happen any day soon.  They were less concerned about Partition and more about practical everyday problems, and because of the establishment of the Welfare State in the UK, they had higher expectations of the services that public authorities should provide.  And television was beginning to show them other ways of organising and campaigning politically apart from the dead end experience of serving on gerrymandered councils or at Stormont.

A group of Catholic professionals set up the Campaign for Social Justice in Dungannon in 1964 to collect facts and figures about discrimination and use them to lobby British politicians about the situation in Northern Ireland.  They did so quite successfully and even got a commitment of sorts from the British Labour leader Harold Wilson in 1964 that a Labour government would deal with their complaints.  However, when Wilson came to power shortly afterwards nothing was done.

Two years later Wilson won again, this time with a sizeable majority, and Gerry Fitt was also elected for West Belfast and used his position at Westminster to publicise the abuses in Northern Ireland.  But still nothing happened.

There were other groups seeking practical change within Northern Ireland as well: elements in the Northern Ireland Labour Party and the trade unions, and in the Republican movement, which was turning from the use of violence to social agitation, and many of these strands came together to set up the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in February 1967.  They were all, to varying degrees, influenced as well by the Civil Rights movement in the United States.

We had grown up with images of what was happening in the southern United States.  American news reels, which were shown in cinemas before the ‘big picture’, had good coverage of the Civil Rights protests.  I was too young to remember footage of Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, sparking a year long bus boycott, which is often regarded as the beginning of the US Civil Rights movement.  However,  I do remember a couple of years later dramatic pictures of the Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, where federal troops and police had to escort the first black students to enrol there in 1957-8.

It was a striking thing that people in small towns in mid-Ulster 40 years ago were so interested in and identified so readily with the struggle of black people in the American South and were prepared to learn from them, and especially perhaps that a largely Catholic group was prepared to adopt as a hero and mentor a black Baptist minister called after Martin Luther.

The proto Civil Rights movement was particularly interested in two aspects of the US movement; its strategy of trying to force the US federal government to intervene and enforce change on the segregationist white state governments in the South; and its use of non-violent protests, civil disobedience and marches when conventional political methods were not delivering results.

But there was a third and very important element to the strategy of the US movement: its use of the courts.  For many years and well before the development of the Civil Rights movement in the mid 1950s, the black movement and especially the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, the NAACP, had developed a legal strategy – initially to defend black people railroaded through the courts on criminal charges and tried by all-white juries, but later to try to challenge segregation and discrimination.  They did this by relying on the US Constitution and taking cases through the federal courts which operated across the country alongside the often racist state courts.

The most famous example of this strategy was the decision by the US Supreme Court in Brown v The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1954, which outlawed segregation in public schools.  In fact the judgment was so cautious and qualified that it required a lot of campaigning and protesting to get it implemented, but using the law was a very effective element in the strategy of the US movement. It meant that where they were successful, Civil Rights organisers could call on state governments to implement the law and then press Washington to intervene when the states refused to do so.  And it gave a sort of legal sanction to the movement’s marches, pickets and sit-ins.  And they did use the courts to challenge bans on marches and demonstrations.

The Northern Ireland Civil Rights movement did not use the law as part of its strategy, at least in the early days.  The Campaign for Social Justice (CSJ) did explore the possibility of a legal challenge to Dungannon Council but did not pursue it.  The lawyers they consulted were not enthusiastic.  There was no written Constitution like in the US with guarantees of justice and equality and Judicial Review was still in its infancy in the British legal system so that administrative decisions could only be overturned for procedural errors, bad faith – which was almost impossible to prove – or complete irrationality, which was also almost impossible to prove.

The CSJ was refused legal aid for its Dungannon case and they did not take it any further.  They had no confidence in the local, politically appointed judiciary and there were no federal-type courts in Northern Ireland which they might have seen as more likely to give them a fair hearing.

In the US the courts were seen as an avenue of redress where the political system was unresponsive, even though they were slow and not entirely satisfactory.  In Northern Ireland that avenue was not open to those seeking civil rights reforms, or was not seen as open to them.  This led to the relatively rapid move from frustration with political lobbying and localised pickets and sit-ins, which had been going on in Derry and Caledon during the summer of 1968, to street demonstrations.

Paul Rose MP, the Chair of the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster, a lobby group of backbench Labour MPs, had written to Austin Currie, then the youngest Nationalist MP at Stormont, in January 1968, saying:

“I have lost hope that this or any British government will put pressure on the Unionists unless it is forced to do so.  Unless you and others like you can create a situation where this government will be forced to intervene in Northern Ireland, nothing will happen and the position will remain unchanged”.

The Civil Rights movement felt it had nowhere else to go and the RUC reaction to the October 5th march meant that there was no turning back from then on.

And that, I think illustrates the essential truth of the quotation from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with which I began:

“Whereas it is essential if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law”.

The Civil Rights campaign was not, of course, a rebellion but simply a resort to extra-parliamentary methods but the principle is the same.

And, in my view, the Northern Ireland system was too brittle to be able to respond to a campaign of protests on the streets.  It did not have the confidence or flexibility to take peaceful protests in its stride or to make the sort of dramatic and generous concessions that would have satisfied the Civil Rights movement at that time.

But I do not want to talk here about the downward spiral into violence and the armed conflict that caused such suffering and hardship to all sections of the community over the succeeding years, nor to apportion blame for it, other than to say that we must all look back upon that period with humility and sorrow and a strong determination to ensure it must never happen again.  I think the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement puts it well where it says that

“the achievement of a peaceful and just society would be the true memorial to the victims of violence”.

************************

Things have changed enormously from the point of view of someone seeking to assert their rights since that Saturday afternoon in Derry 40 years ago.  Today the victim of discrimination or oppression is faced with an almost bewildering array of legal and human rights instruments to choose from.

These tools or instruments were hard fought for.  As the conflict developed and more and more draconian security measures were adopted, lawyers and what would now be called human rights activists began to fight back, not in support of the armed conflict but of the rule of law.

The first major change was probably the case taken by the Irish Government against the UK under the European Convention on Human Rights over the treatment of persons arrested on the introduction of internment in 1971.  Probably only a government would have had the resources to take the case, though I must pay a belated tribute here to Kevin Boyle, who with a number of others, gave very generously of his time and expertise in that and other cases.  The Strasbourg process was very slow and internment had ended before the European Commission of Human Rights gave its verdict in 1976, saying that the treatment of certain of the detainees amounted to torture.

Even though that verdict was later reduced to “cruel and inhuman treatment” by the Strasbourg Court, it sent out the message that even in the midst of war it was possible to challenge the British government and call it to account if it breached the law.

After that, lawyers in Northern Ireland, who had had so little confidence in the courts as a venue for challenging unfair decisions in the 1960s, became among the most frequent and experienced visitors to the Strasbourg Court and significant changes in emergency laws and practices resulted.

On the civil side, there was some recognition from an early stage that there was a need for a mechanism that would allow citizens to challenge discriminatory decisions, but the earliest attempts were ineffective and even when the Fair Employment Commission was set up in 1974, it was pretty toothless.  It took a long struggle, including campaigning in the US for the MacBride Principles, before the Fair Employment Agency was eventually given powers to really make a change.

Similarly with the police.  There was a recognition of the need for some change as early as James Callaghan’s reform package in August 1969 but it was not until the Patten Report in 1999 as part of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, that sweeping changes were made and the PSNI became something of a model of accountability for many other police services – which does not of course mean that they never do anything wrong, but that they can now at least be held accountable when they do.

And then there are all the international instruments.  A whole series of new treaties and conventions were adopted by the UN and the Council of Europe and eventually signed up to by the UK, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT), and the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture (ECPT).  These had a new dimension.  States which ratified them had to report to the monitoring bodies on how they were implementing the treaty provisions and be examined about their reports in public in Geneva.  And the Convention on the Prevention of Torture went one step further, assuming the power for its monitoring committee to inspect prisons and police stations for itself.

And then there was the Human Rights Act, passed in 1998 and effective in 2000, making the European Convention on Human Rights directly applicable in the UK and doing away to some extent with the long delays which had made access to the Strasbourg Court fairly meaningless for a lot of applicants.  And, of course, there is also the Human Rights Commission with powers to comment on and criticise government policies, to carry out certain types of investigation, to intervene in legal cases and to fund some cases itself.

This may be beginning to sound like a publicity hand-out from the Northern Ireland Office but I think the point is clear.  For people or groups who believe that they are discriminated against on political or religious grounds or are harassed by the security forces, there are now mechanisms available to secure redress.

*******************

Are those mechanisms needed any more?  Especially now that there is a political settlement involving all the significant political parties, cannot all grievances be addressed through the Assembly and the Executive?

Some weeks ago that might have seemed a more serious argument.  Today, given what is happening at Stormont between the two main parties, it is less likely to be seriously argued.  But if the Executive remains deadlocked or if it breaks up, then the human rights instruments become much more important because they could provide a mechanism for the ventilation and resolution of grievances and conflicts which would otherwise fester and sour the political climate, making it even harder for the political structures to work again; or worse still, allow a drift back to the conflict it has taken us so long to emerge from.*1

And, ironically, even if as I sincerely hope it does, the Executive starts to function properly again, that would not spell the end of the useful life of the legal and human rights structures.  In some ways the more closely the Executive works together, the more need there may be for independent human rights bodies.  Between them the Executive parties totally dominate the Assembly and in time complacency and party loyalty may mean that there will be precious few voices to speak out on awkward or inconvenient issues – abortion and gay marriage suggest themselves as issues where there may be very few dissident voices in the Assembly.

Already there are alienated groups in Northern society; working class Catholics and Protestants in the most disadvantaged areas complain that there has been little peace dividend for them, and dissident republicans and loyalist paramilitaries have not, unfortunately, all gone away yet.

Not that reports from UN Treaty bodies and such like are likely to cut much ice with such groups.  And that is where there is a missing piece in the equation as I have outlined it so far.  All these mechanisms I have mentioned will only work if added to the mix there are active NGOs like the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) and a vibrant civil society made up of local community groups and grassroots organisations.  They are needed to voice the concerns of the disadvantaged and to channel them towards the mechanisms that can address their grievances – and to take to the streets as well from time to time when those mechanisms prove too slow or are ineffective.

There may be a tendency to feel that NGOs and civil society are no longer needed now that there is a settlement in place and apparently a redress mechanism for every grievance.  There is some evidence that this happened in South Africa when majority rule was at last achieved with a new and radical constitution; there was something of a drop off in support, funding and enthusiasm for the NGO sector.  But NGOs and civil society are needed as much as ever to cope with that country’s new problems as well as those inherited from the past.

And equally CAJ and NICEM (Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic minorities) and WRDA (Women’s Resource and Development Agency) and the Northern Ireland Law Centre and the whole network of community and voluntary organisations that has developed here over the years are just as necessary as ever if the whole elaborate human rights infrastructure is to have any relevance for the disadvantaged and marginalised people whom it is supposed to help.

 

***********************

I have couched this paper largely in terms of the traditional political/religious divide here and the grievances that flowed from that, and indeed still flow from it, in that there are still areas where Catholics in particular are significantly under-represented in the workplace.  I have stressed the need to provide channels for resolving these grievances so that we never return to the conflict that has thankfully ended.

But that is too narrow a perspective.  This society was never divided exclusively on religious/political grounds.  It was divided as well on gender grounds, between rich and poor, between disabled and non-disabled and, although we did not acknowledge it until recently, between gay and straight.  And today Northern Ireland, like the Republic, has changed very significantly as a result of the influx of large numbers of migrant workers, who have completely transformed the complexion – if you will pardon the pun – of some of the towns in Mid-Ulster where the Civil Rights movement began.

There have already been racist attacks and intimidation in a number of areas of Belfast and elsewhere.  We must ensure, while the opportunity is still there to do so, that these new citizens or residents are not forced into ghettos and victimised with the result that old community divisions are replaced by new ones and one disadvantaged minority is replaced by another one.

That has already occurred with the Travelling community, the most disadvantaged group in our midst, for whom the proliferation of human rights instruments has not so far delivered much change.

The gay and lesbian communities have also come under both verbal and at times physical attack in recent times and need clear and unequivocal public support.

And in the meantime, the struggle for women’s rights is by no means over and the struggle for the rights of the disabled is only beginning.

A more ambitious target than just ending the old politico-religious division here would be to actively use the wide array of human rights protections and mechanisms that are now in place to build a society that not only resolves its old conflicts but is truly inclusive and seeks to protect the rights of all minorities and vulnerable and disadvantaged people.

 

 

 

*1  This rather pessimistic outlook was the product of the lengthy stand-off between the DUP and Sinn Fein which led to a suspension of meetings of the Executive for five months in the summer and autumn of 2008.  Happily that row was eventually resolved and the Executive resumed meeting in November 2008, but that supports the second argument made above for the importance of human rights NGOs – that with no effective political opposition left in Northern Ireland, there is all the more need for bodies that can tell awkward, inconvenient truths and speak up for the voiceless and marginalised.

Historical reflections on the Civil Rights Movement

By Michael Farrell
Paper to Desmond Greaves Summer School
30th August 2008

What I have to say will be only partly historical.  The Civil Rights Commemoration Committee, with which I am involved, has from the beginning stressed that while it wished to mark the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights movement in a dignified way, it also wanted to look forward and try to apply the lessons and ideals of the Civil Rights movement to contemporary problems and challenges.  So I will be trying to do that today.

This year also marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
and Eleanor Roosevelt, who took the lead in drafting the Declaration, famously said that
human rights begin “in small places close to home – so close and small that they cannot
be seen on any maps of the world”.

There were many strands that went to make up the Civil Rights Movement but one of
those strands began precisely in small places – though not so small that they could not be
seen on maps – places like Springtown Camp in Derry and Dungannon in County
Tyrone.

Housing conditions were bad in Northern Ireland in the 1950s and into the 1960s, especially west of the Bann, and were aggravated by the political and sectarian set-up.
Only householders had the vote for local councils and many local authorities had been carefully gerrymandered to ensure Unionist control even in majority nationalist areas.  Houses meant votes, so as the Unionist leadership saw it, to allocate local authority houses to nationalists or Catholics could endanger their control of local councils.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, especially with the advent of television, attitudes were
changing.  Horizons were widened.  People were no longer prepared to accept things just
because that was the way they had always been. But the housing – and jobs – situation
was not getting any better or, at least, any fairer. In Derry City, where the electoral
boundaries had to be re-gerrymandered several times to maintain Unionist control, the
situation was so bad that when the US army vacated a temporary camp of Nissan huts at
the end of the Second World War, around 400 families moved in and squatted in what
were basically drafty, vermin-ridden sheds.

They were still there 14 years later and in1959 the women residents in the camp began a campaign for proper housing and protested and lobbied and interrupted the Corporation meetings. Five years later in 1964 they were protesting again and getting thrown out of Corporation meetings but the last surviving residents didn’t leave until 1967.  One of the last surviving activists from that time, Sadie Campbell, was honoured by the Commemoration Committee at a seminar in Dungannon in June last.

In Dungannon a Homeless Citizens League was set up in the early 1960s by mothers of young families forced to live with their parents in sub-standard housing. They were demanding proper accommodation and when the Council proposed to demolish an estate of 50 temporary post-war pre-fabricated houses, in 1963, homeless families moved in and defied threats of eviction and cutting off their electricity supply. Residents picketed the Council, got arrested, held marches and were eventually allowed to stay and in the end they were re-housed.

The Dungannon protests led to the establishment by local GP Dr. Conn McCluskey and
his wife Patricia, of the Campaign for Social Justice, a small lobbying group that began to
collect statistics about discrimination to disseminate to the Labour Party in Britain and
anyone else who would listen. The experience in Dungannon also led to squatting by
a couple of Catholic families in new Council houses in nearby Caledon in 1968, where
they were joined by the then Nationalist MP Austin Currie, and it was a result of that
protest that a group of local activists called the first Civil Rights march from Coalisland
to Dungannon on 24th August 1968.

Similarly in Derry, a new Housing Action Committee took up the baton from the
Springtown residents at the end of 1967 and picketed, protested and blocked roads in the
city throughout 1968 until they eventually called the second Civil Rights march on
October 5th 1968. It was the attack on that march by the RUC which brought the Civil
Rights movement to world attention.

Both the Coalisland and Derry groups had invited NICRA to sponsor the marches, which
were then backed by many other groups as well, but I wanted to stress here the degree to
which these marches sprang out of local grass-roots agitation around housing issues, and
frustration at the impossibility of securing change through the existing political system.*1

One of the placards carried at the first picket of Dungannon Council in September 1963
said, a little incongruously: “Racial discrimination in Alabama hits Dungannon.” And when the Springtown Camp residents staged a march in Derry’s Guildhall in January 1964, they described it as “Derry’s Little Rock calls for fair play”.

Little Rock was a city in Arkansas where US federal troops had to be deployed in 1957 to protect the first black students to be enrolled in the city’s Central High School. The city’s school board closed down all its high schools in 1958-9 rather than see them integrated, but by the end of 1959 they gave after a series of rulings by the federal courts.

The Little Rock story was widely covered in the old cinema news reels at the time and made a powerful impact as a symbol of the brutality and injustice of the system of segregation in the Southern states of the US.

But what was most striking about the placards and slogans in Derry and Dungannon was the identification by a white, largely working class, community with the struggle by black people thousands of miles away in the US, and at a time when most of their own relatives in Berlin or the Bronx would have had very little sympathy with the US movement.

Events in the US dominated the early 1960s. The March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech in 1963; the Civil Rights Act in 1964; the Selma-Montgomery March across Alabama in March 1965, which helped force the federal government to push through the Voting Rights Act later that year, and on which the Burntollet march was modelled.

The minority community in the North was angry and frustrated at the continued discrimination and at government decisions that seemed almost calculated to provoke it, like the decision to pump investment into the misconceived New City of Craigavon in the early 1960s, rather than develop Derry, and to locate a new university in Coleraine rather than Derry, which had an existing University College. Political opposition in the Council chambers and at Storming was a waste of time, however. What were they to do?

High hopes had been raised by the election of a Labour Government at Westminster in 1964 and its re-election with a substantial majority in 1966 but Westminster was showing no sign of wanting to intervene in Northern Ireland.

The tactics and strategy of the US movement, also faced with complete intransigence by local State administrations and reluctance to get involved by the federal government, looked more and more attractive. The use of non-violent marches, pickets, sit-ins and civil disobedience appeared to be working in the US.  These tactics had resulted in the federal authorities intervening and forcing through changes and they caught the imagination of a generation in the North, ranging from radical youth and students to solid but totally frustrated councillors and local activists in the towns and villages where discrimination had its sharpest effects.

The result was a total identification with the US movement, even adopting its name and anthem and it is a matter for some pride that the movement here did identify so strongly with the struggle against racism and segregation in the United States.

And then there was 1968 itself.  It was an extraordinary year.  In February the old Stalinist regime in Czechoslovakia collapsed, leading to an explosion of discussion and debate on communism, socialism, feminism, democracy, and the possibility of a new society different from the uncaring capitalism of the West and the bureaucratic communism of the East – the possibility of ‘socialism with a human face’.

Three months later Paris and much of France erupted in mass student protests when everything was challenged and for a brief moment it looked as if students and young people really could change the world – until the rising was crushed by the French riot police.  But that did not end the movement for change.  There were massive protests across Europe, in Rome, Milan, Berlin and many other cities.

In the US, protests against the Vietnam war were at their peak, culminating in the huge demonstrations outside the Democratic Party convention in Chicago in August 1968, which were brutally beaten off the streets by Mayor Richard Daley’s police.

Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated in the US in April and June of 1968 and in August Russian tanks crushed the liberal government in Prague – but amid scenes of such courage by young people on the streets that it served to encourage anger and determination rather than despair.

And the Vietnam war overshadowed everything.  This unequal struggle in which the US pounded Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia with huge quantities of high explosive and dropped napalm and Agent Orange, which defoliated the countryside and poisoned the inhabitants.  Students, faced with the prospect of being drafted to Vietnam were protesting across the campuses of the US and awakening the sympathy of fellow students across the world, and even in Belfast.

That was another important strand in the Civil Rights movement.  When the RUC were shown on TV batoning demonstrators in Derry, just like the riot police in France or Mayor Daley’s police in Chicago, Queens University, hitherto one of the quietest campuses in these islands, was in turmoil and the Peoples Democracy was born.  It brought another element to the Civil Rights campaign, a little anarchic, but vivid, idealistic, dedicated and, for a time anyway, very non-sectarian.

All this and more went into the melting pot to create the Civil Rights movement.  What is its relevance to the issues of today in Ireland, North and South?

First and foremost, this island has changed very significantly in the last 40 years, and particularly in the last 10-15 years.  Up to 12% of the workforce in the Republic today were born outside the State.  The figure is lower in the North but it is still very significant and Dungannon and other towns in Mid-Ulster have whole new minority ethnic populations that have quite literally changed the complexion of those places.

The rapid population change has led to some racial tensions, particularly in parts of Belfast, but the real danger is in a time of recession such as we are now heading  into, where there will be a temptation to blame the immigrant community for job losses and cut-backs in public spending.

The Civil Rights movement was so inspired by the struggle against racism and segregation in the United States that it would be a betrayal of all it stood for to allow racism to take root in any part of the island.  That is perhaps the strongest message of all that we should take from the Civil Rights movement today – that we must not allow new oppressed minorities and new fault lines of discrimination to develop in place of the old ones.

And that goes as well for our own indigenous ethnic minority, the Travelling community.  It is something of a failure by the Civil Rights movement that 40 years after it began, and with all the changes that have been achieved, we still have failed to eliminate the deep seated prejudice against Travellers or to bring an end to the poverty and deprivation that they still experience.

I have tried to stress the degree to which the Civil Rights movement developed out of a grass roots struggle for housing and jobs in Northern Ireland.  And, indeed, there was also a significant movement here in Dublin in 1968 as well, campaigning against the appalling slum conditions still persisting in this city right into the 1960s.  Housing is still a major problem today, even though the parameters may have shifted somewhat.  There is still a need for far more social and affordable housing to be built and the problem of homelessness can only grow as the recession bites deeper.  The spirit and tradition of the Civil Rights movement should lead to support for the struggle for better housing today.

It is ironic and a sobering thought that just as the shadow of the Vietnam war hung over 1968, so the shadow of another unequal, unnecessary and unjust war hangs over our time, the shadow of the war in  Iraq, and indeed the nebulous but deadly “war on terror”, with its re-definition of torture to allow the US and its unsavoury allies to “waterboard”, i.e. partially drown, prisoners while questioning them, and its policy of extraordinary rendition and detention beyond the law at Guantanamo Bay.

It is depressing 40 years on to have to still oppose US wars of aggression, but it is still necessary to do so and in particular to oppose the complicity of the UK and especially the Irish government in facilitating flights by aircraft suspected of involvement in ‘rendition’ through Shannon airport without any checks or inspections whatsoever.  And having campaigned against the old special Powers Act in Northern Ireland, it is important as well to oppose the new extended detention powers being introduced in the UK and the general harassment of the Moslem community in the way that the Irish community in Britain was harassed in the 1970s and 1980s – which only tended to create more anger and resentment and more recruits for the IRA.

More generally, the Civil Rights movement should have taught everyone the lesson that if a society provides no avenue of redress for deeply felt grievances, then sooner or later, those grievances will fester and erupt.

A new settlement has been reached in Northern Ireland in the last ten years which has thankfully ended the armed conflict which was doing nothing except cause further loss of life and increased bitterness.   That settlement is predicated on respect for and inclusion of both the main political traditions there and it has been underpinned and reinforced by a very elaborate and comprehensive architecture of human rights and equality provisions.

Those human rights provisions are often overlooked in the media discussions about tensions in the Executive and when it is going to meet again etc., but they are crucial to the settlement and the future.  If the Executive remains paralysed by distrust – and the deep political differences and the legacy of suffering on all sides cannot evaporate overnight – then the framework of human rights protections is essential as offering a way of remedying unsolved grievances.

And even if the Executive functions fairly well, the nature of the power-sharing arrangement means that there is little or no opposition in the Assembly and very few to voice the concerns of awkward and vulnerable minorities that don’t fit into the major blocs.  Once again the human rights and equality mechanisms are vital to allow such voices to be heard and have an effect.

Finally, the Good Friday Agreement required the Irish Government to put in place human rights protections equivalent to those existing in the North and they rather tardily did so.  Now, however, the Irish government is floating proposals for rationalisation of the human rights and equality sector that would undermine the independence and effectiveness of the Irish Human Rights Commission, which is specifically provided for in the Agreement.

This would not only weaken the Commission in the Republic, but by tampering with an important and specific component of the Agreement, it would open the door to similar dismantling or disabling of awkward parts of the Agreement’s provisions in the North as well.  People interested in the ideals and legacy of the Civil Rights movement should be very vigilant to protect the new institutions that took much lobbying and hard work to get into the Agreement in the first place.

We cannot look back on the last 40 years without humility and sadness at the great suffering and loss of life inflicted on all sides of the community in Northern Ireland and many people in Britain and the Republic as well.  Today we have a second chance with a settlement that has its flaws but also has a set of human rights provisions that would have settled the grievances of the Civil Rights movement had it been available at the time.  There is an opportunity here to finally build the fairer society that the Civil Rights movement set out to achieve.  That opportunity should be grasped.  We are unlikely to get another one.

*1 Because other speakers at this session dealt specifically with the work of NICRA, I have concentrated here on the local agitation which preceded the marches in 1968.  This was not meant to take away from the role of NICRA but to demonstrate the multi-faceted nature of the Civil Rights movement at the time.

Michael Farrell is a former activist in the Peoples Democracy and member of the executive of the NI Civil Rights Association.  He is vice chair of the Civil Rights 1968 Commemoration Committee.

And here’s to you Mrs Mary Robinson

By Susan McKay Irish News Columnist
26/08/08

There’s something about Mary Robinson. As one of the world’s leading human rights activists, she is a formidable woman and an outstandingly brave one. She moves among world leaders and is a personal friend of Nelson Mandela’s. But she has not lost her belief in the importance of the local and the power of the individual to change the world. She has, above all, a rare ability to inspire.

After the former president addressed the McCluskey Summer School in Carlingford at the weekend, a young woman in the audience spoke about how she’d taken part with thousands of others in marches in Dublin against the war in Iraq but felt that these protests had just been ignored. “I feel helpless and disillusioned as a young person,” she said.

Mrs Robinson urged against despair. The marches had been an important corrective to what the majority of Americans now recognised as “a huge mistake”, she said, a mistake for which we would be paying the price for decades. It had never been more important or necessary for young people to be politically aware and active, she said.

Referring to a forthcoming Oxfam report called ‘Climate Wrongs and Human Rights’, the former president said that a sense of urgency was required.

“Our world is hurtling towards destruction,” she said. “By 2055 we may have 100 million environmental refugees fleeing desertification and flooding.” We had at most two decades before climate change became irreversible.

“All we’ve learned about human rights will be challenged as never before,” she said. “That is the way I will be moving forward.”

The personal is the political.

Mary Robinson has been looking after her grandchildren in Mayo this summer, and said that in 2055 they will be in their fifties.

She was speaking at the McCluskey Summer School to mark the 40th anniversary of the civil rights movement, with a focus on challenges to civil rights in Ireland today.

Mrs Robinson explicitly criticised the Irish government for its plans to “pare down on the cheap” bodies set up to fight inequality and poverty. There was still much to be done. The Travelling community in particular was “still suffering”.

When Austin Currie raised the issue of those who were “disappeared” by the IRA, she agreed that this was a “terrible crime against international humanitarian law”. Then she broadened it out from the local, likening it to the use of “extraordinary rendition” by the current US regime. This involves the abduction of those deemed to be terrorist suspects who are then taken to countries where they can be tortured with impunity.

Mrs Robinson said she was concerned about “European complicity” in rendition. Amnesty International has recently reported that Ireland is engaged in such complicity, by allowing CIA planes involved in rendition flights to use Shannon airport for refuelling.

A young northern man asked Mrs Robinson if she felt the Special Criminal Court in Dublin was engaging in “a form of internment”. He referred to the remand of northern republicans who were opposed to the Good Friday Agreement.

“I am very sympathetic to the critique of the Special Criminal Court given,” the former president said.

She said there was a potential for corruption in the powers given to the court which needed serious analysis.

Inevitably, given her past association as a lawyer with the cause of Irish women campaigning for the right to choose abortion, there was a question about the “pre-born”. She replied that too little attention was paid to the thousands of women who die across the world each year because of “botched abortions”. It might be better if women always felt in a position to proceed with pregnancy, she said, “but at least women should have the right to safe terminations.”

She was diplomatic in response to a comment from civil rights veteran Anne Carr, who said that in her work with “the Protestant unionist loyalist community,” she was finding it difficult to convince people of the need for a bill of rights. Mrs Robinson said that she had “sensed that the early vibrancy of the movement for a bill of rights had gone” and urged further dialogue.

She praised the courage and passion of those who were regarded as “troublemakers” when they set out to fight discrimination and to get civil rights here. At this end of the “long, anguished road to where we are today” there was still a compelling need for “concerted citizen action” and for passionate belief in human rights. She’s brilliant, this woman.

Here’s to you, Mrs Robinson.

s.mckay@irishnews.com

Robinson criticises plan to merge human rights bodies

Robinson criticises plan to merge human rights bodies
Mary Robinson: human rights bodies “need to be invigorated”

SUSAN McKAY IRISH TIMES 25 AUGUST 2008
CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT COMMEMORATION: FORMER PRESIDENT Mary Robinson has sharply criticised a Government proposal to merge a number of human rights agencies.
Speaking yesterday, she said bodies like the Equality Authority were set up to fight for and defend human rights in Ireland and “need to be invigorated, not pared down on the cheap”.
“There should be no erosion of the powers of these bodies,” she said. “They should never be reduced by merging or in any other way.”
She was responding to a Government proposal to merge the Equality Authority, the Equality Tribunal, the Irish Human Rights Commission, the office of the Data Protection Commissioner and the National Disability Authority into a single agency.The bodies have been given until September 12th to respond to the proposal.
Ms Robinson said human rights “belong to the people and are to hold those in power to account”.
The former president, who was the UN high commissioner for human rights until 2002, and is one of the world’s leading human rights activists, was speaking at a commemoration for the 40th anniversary of the North’s civil rights movement.
The conference, the Civil Rights Challenges in Ireland today – Tackling Poverty, Sectarianism, Racism and Inequality, took place in Carlingford, Co Louth.
Ms Robinson said the Belfast Agreement made a “solemn commitment” to upholding human rights and to maintaining human rights commissions in the North and the South.
“This was agreed and sanctioned by the British and Irish governments and accepted by the international community,” she said. Such bodies represented an “extraordinary gain that must be preserved. We still have many struggles for human rights,” she said. She said Travellers in particular were “still suffering”.
During question time, a young Northern man suggested that the Special Criminal Court in Dublin was operating “a form of internment” in its treatment of remand prisoners, including anti-Belfast Agreement republicans.
“I am very sympathetic to the critique of the Special Criminal Court given,” Ms Robinson said. “There is a need for serious analysis of the potential for corruption in the powers given to the court.”
She agreed with Austin Currie, the former civil rights activist, and politician for the SDLP and Fine Gael, that the use of “disappearance” as practised by the IRA in the North, was “a terrible crime against international humanitarian law”.
Ms Robinson compared it with the use by the US of “extraordinary rendition” – the illegal and secretive transfer of persons suspected by the US of involvement in terrorism to be tortured in countries that permit such practices.
The UN was taking this “very seriously”, she said, adding that she was “very concerned about complicity in the European context” with such abuses. The Iraq war was now recognised by the majority of US citizens as a “huge mistake,” she added.
The most urgent human rights issue today was climate change, she said. “Our world is hurtling towards destruction. By 2055, we may have 100 million environmental refugees fleeing desertification or flooding.”
Her grandchildren would just be in their 50s by then, she said. She said she was a “full-time grandmother” in Mayo this summer. “In just under two years, I will be back in Ireland and I won’t move again.”
Ms Robinson paid tribute to former SDLP leader, John Hume, who introduced her, and to other leading figures from the civil rights movement present. “I am very proud of these courageous men and women who were seen as troublemakers but had a passion and knew what they were about,” she said.

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

Click on an image to view the large version

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.

Memories of Duke Street -Recollectons by Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh, Doire

Buoyed up by the fact that the Coalisland to Dungannon march on August 24th had been, in the main, peaceful, and deemed to be highly successful, the Derry Housing Action Committee formally requested the Civil Rights Association executive to consider holding its next demonstration in the city to highlight the need for democratic reforms, and specifically the plight of hundreds of local homeless families. The NICRA executive responded, a few weeks later, indicating their approval with the proviso that any organising committee should be as broadly based as possible. The date for the next march was scheduled for Saturday, October 5th, at 3 PM, with the agreed assembly point being the Waterside railway station.

As preparations began and the local press reported the proposed march, key organisers. including this writer, were frequently ‘taken in’ by police to the upstairs back office of District Inspector Ross McGimpsey. It became crystal clear, almost delicately over coffee and Jaffa cakes, that the Minister of Home Affairs felt strongly that this march would be “highly ill-advised”.

The Minister’s excuse, if one was needed, came with an announcement by an alliance of the Liverpool Monday Club, the local Murray Club and the Apprentice Boys that they would march the same route. Such could not be viewed as a traditional parade as October was never part of their usual ‘marching season’.

An order banning the civil rights march was duly delivered to four key organisers, which included Eamonn McCann, and this correspondent, only a few days before October 5th. The proposed counter-demonstration, as anticipated, never actually materialised, yet the green light had clearly been given by the Orange/Unionist establishment to sectarianise the civil rights cause. All the organisers were on the Left, and our appeal was directed at all sections of the working-class who were victims of the society in which we found ourselves. The Orange/Unionist reaction, although expected, was deeply regretted as Protestant friends would certainly stay away, fearing subsequent intimidation, or worst.

Derry’s first civil rights march should be remembered as the march that nearly never happened. Within hours of the ban being imposed the NICRA executive were communicating their concerns at the likely consequences and instructed the local organising committee to convene an emergency meeting at the City Hotel for the evening of October 4th. They too were taking everything right up to the line. At this meeting the proceedings were at times heated and lasted for around two hours. The press were of course excluded. About seventy were in attendance and bursts of applause occurred at intervals.

There were a few adjournments as NICRA leaders went into conclave. The respective Derry groups, asserting their independence, followed their example and held their counter-conclaves. The Derry organisers were of one mind and held firm. The NICRA executive broke ranks after it was made abundantly clear from the Derry delegates that we would march, with or without either NICRA’s blessing or participation. All the spokesmen, like seasoned politicians, emerged from the angry meeting saying that although there had been ‘”minor disagreements, in the final analysis, it was ‘unanimously ‘ decided to proceed, from the railway station to the Diamond on the route scheduled”.

In case of early morning arrests a few of the organisers did not sleep in their own beds on the night of October 4th. Early next morning the delighted Member for West Belfast, Gerry Fitt (later to be Lord Fitt) was on the phone confirming that three British MPs had answered the call from Derry. They were Mr. Russell Kerr, Member for Feltham, Middlesex, his wife Anne, Member for Rochester, and Mr. John Ryan, Member for Uxbridge.

At the railway station the crowd of some 400 gradually gathered. This correspondent, surprisingly, was the only one who took the precaution of adorning a crash-helmet, kindly provided by an Englishman who taught woodwork at the local technical college. It had arrived the evening before, with him worriedly pointing out that the RUC “are not like our Bobbies back home”. He joked about having painted a large eye on the back, suggesting that a certain well known agitator might need one.

Across the River Foyle at Brandywell some 7,000 fans had, regretfully, opted for the excitement of a football match, which we had not figured in our planning, when fixing the date for the march. Some 250 police were on duty in the immediate vicinity of the station. Although seemingly non-accountable they became transparent. They had blocked off Distillery Brae with a rope, making it obvious that this first part of the route into Spencer Road, was being denied us. To re-enforce this point a barricade of police tenders were soon drawn up behind the rope. It was evident they wished the march to move off and flow along Duke Street, which in those days offered neither a lane or an alleyway as a potential exit point. Recalling to mind D.I. McGimpsey’s sarcastic parting remarks, at our last meeting, McCann and this writer, had no doubt whatsoever, that we would be stopped, by sheer numbers and sectarian brute force.

Police Warning

The civic rights supporters, however, remained calm, while expressing concern, yet all were determined to participate regardless. The tension increased as the RUC made an eleventh-hour appeal. County Inspector William Meharg read the prohibition order to the crowd, adding, ominously, but no doubt for media purposes: “We want to give a warning especially to those who are not interested, for their own safety and the safety of women and children”. No one moved or thought his apparent concern was worthy of thanks. His had been an ago-old message for those seeking change, which required no elaboration for those socially-committed people who had made a conscious decision to assemble at Duke Street on that particular afternoon. There was nothing sectarian in the make-up of the marchers. They included people from various creeds, classes and political outlooks. The demands for full civil rights and increased equality were the unifying element for all participants.

We half-dozen organisers took a last minute decision to switch the route from Distillery Brae and Spencer Road to Duke Street, which was not originally intended. The police must have assumed that we would take “the Brae” for when our new route became obvious to them as we moved off; there was a hasty change in police strategy also. The riot squads, mobilised for a peaceful march, jumped into tenders and drove off, yelling, “Block off the mouth of Duke Street”, which they did at its junction with Craigavon Bridge. By the time the Civil Rights’ banner reached those lines of heavily-armed police, the march had grown to around one thousand strong.

Long Tunnel

The ‘Fifty Days Revolution’, which would end with the Six Counties’ biggest-ever programme of reform had begun. In as orderly a fashion as possible we had moved slowly, while keeping up our spirits, and strengthening our individual and collective resolve by singing “We Shall Overcome”. We were frighteningly conscious that immediately behind us the police on foot and their large water cannon moved menacingly forward at the tail-end of the march. Essentially, Duke Street became like a long tunnel, with both ends blocked, and in between the marchers were trapped, and at the mercy, or otherwise, of a one-party police state. In more ways than one, for the common people, there was no going back!

Seconds after drawing up against the police lines there was brief scuffling, during which Gerry Fitt MP, suffered a head wound from a baton. He was instantly pulled under police barriers, whisked away, first, strangely, to Victoria Barracks, and after questioning, and verbal abuse, to hospital. There he was X-Rayed by a twin sister of this writer, who, like our parents, was also on the march.

Some of the other politicians were struck, but none as seriously as the first selected target. These police actions were so swift that the majority of the crowd were unaware of what was happening at the front lines. Such had lasted only a brief few seconds. NICRA leaders were now aware that neither Irish nor British politicians could be any guarantee of protection. The lines of paramilitary police in front, as he had indicated previously to this writer, were commanded by ‘Ross the Boss’ -none other than D.I. McGimpsey himself.

On this historic occasion he carried his stout, particularly sharp-edged, black-thorn stick, not the one used for ceremonials. His attitude to peaceful protest was captured that day for posterity as he used this walking instrument for other purposes, becoming so energetic that his peaked-cap was dislodged in the exercise. Unwittingly, he was now a prime representation of ‘Ulster’ policing for a previously unenlightened international viewing audience. His delivery, to an unappreciative attendance, during that début performance, on a world stage, served the civil rights’ cause magnificently. Even those holding up, pointing to and waving their press cards were not spared his personal and brutal attention.

Civil rights leaders tried to restore calm before that main police assault. The historian, Fred Heatley and the Labour leader Erskine Holmes were seized by police and placed under armed guard in a tender. Attempts to break through police lines proved impossible. Marchers began to chant “Seig Heil” and for a half an hour the situation remained static. Police took advantage of hurried attempts to organise a panel of speakers, and get a public meeting under way, by forming yet another barricade at the rear of the parade. The crowd became more tightly packed between the lines of black uniforms, tenders and water cannon. After the last speaker addressed the gathering all hell broke loose.

Brutal Clashes

Police clashed with marchers brutally and bloodily as people tried frantically to escape. There was, as the police had planned, no line of retreat, and so, symbolically, we could only but move forward.

The following reports and comments are taken from “The Derry Journal” of October 8, 1968. These reveal just some of the details of what happened at that historic march:

“As police attempted to drive the marchers back the injured were removed from the front of the conflict. Young men with blood streaming from head wounds were led away by onlookers and taken into nearby shops for attention before removal to hospital. Women caught up in the crowd screamed as they tried to get away and Mr. Mc Ateer later said that he saw a woman being struck in the mouth with a baton.

“The police water cannon were then brought into action and it drove through the crowd with both jets spraying at full pressure. It was followed into the crowd by a large number of steel-helmeted police with batons swinging. The police charged from both ends of the street as the marchers broke up in a bid to find a way through the barricades.

“The water cannon swept both sides of the street and at one stage on its way back elevated its line of fire to direct a jet through an open window on the first floor of a house where a television cameraman was filming. It then continued over Craigavon Bridge, with its jets hosing both footpaths. Hundreds of afternoon shoppers, many of them women and some accompanied by young children were caught in the deluge as the water carrier travelled to the Derry side of the bridge and continued round the roundabout at the foot of Carlisle Road, more than a quarter of a mile from the scene of the trouble.

“Meanwhile the bitter clash continued at Duke Street, as a result of which about thirty people were treated in hospital for head wounds, before the marchers were finally dispersed”.

Elsewhere, on page 8, one reads:

“None of the British MPs were hurt and after paying a visit to Altnagelvin Hospital, where they watched the injured being brought in, one of them, Mr. Kerr, said he was shocked by what he had seen. He said he would not care to comment further until he had made a full report to Mr. Callaghan.

“Mrs. Kerr said she dashed into a café when the violence started and while there she saw two young girls being brought in. They had been drenched and were in a very distressed condition, The police were grinning and appeared to be enjoying their work,” she said.

Mass Movement

One could finally conclude that on October 5, 1968, by courtesy of the RUC and an inflexible short-sighted Minister of Home Affairs, the Civil Rights Association was transformed from being a mere pressure group into a mass movement for reform. This happened almost immediately. At the turn of a switch millions heard of a place called “Northern Ireland” and learned a lot from actually seeing its method of policing in their very living rooms. They may have forgotten the name of that street where it all happened, but not the name of that Irish city. Thereafter, when Derry cried out for reform, the whole world was listening. Even Westminster could no longer afford to conveniently ignore what had been happening in this one-party state, which it had established by imposing partition, forty-eight years previously.

Springtown Camp and Civil Rights’ women

Originally Published Derry Journal, Friday, 6th June 2008.

 
Local author and historian Fionnbarra Ó’Dochartaigh, a co-founder of NICRA in 1967, in this third exclusive article for the “Journal” traces the roots of early public agitations which led to the dramatic events on Derry’s Duke Street on October 5th 1968.  Almost overnight the civil rights lobby-group was transformed into a mass movement. This writer currently sits on the executive of the 40th Anniversary Commemoration Committee.  

 
‘The land of the free and the home of the brave!’

“I have never seen anything as bad as this except near Johnannesburg” -
          

Sheelagh Murnaghan M.P – 13th June 1964.

World War II had ended. The American troops had locked the gates of Springtown Camp for the last time. It had been home to countless combatants during that global conflict. In a final ceremonial gesture they joyfully marched off towards Strand Road and the river, bands playing and flags flying. They were finally being released from grave inner fears and heavy burdens on their families and wider communities. At long last they would be homeward bound now that victory over Fascism had been won at a very high cost in human lives, both military and civilian. Several local women, hoping for a brighter future, would soon follow them to become their wives and raise their offspring in what was claimed to be “The land of the free and the home of the brave”.

After the Camp was vacated all was far from quiet on the homeless front in this Maiden City on the Foyle. Almost immediately a few brave free-thinkers with the best of intentions put their plan into action. The wire fences surrounding the former military base were cut in what became a successful bid to secure desperately-needed accommodation. The base appeared to many less fortunate folk as a highly-desirable location. Families began to select “their” huts. These were initially intended only as temporary dwellings, during wartime. Tirelessly, for two decades these civilian residents engaged in what at times must have seemed an unrewarding struggle against the power-brokers, in the Guildhall and Stormont. Their collective demands were totally justified and truly modest- proper brick-built and insulated homes.

Quite early on the Unionist-dominated Corporation, with little alternative other than carry out mass evictions, softened their hostility somewhat. Evictions on such a scale would undoubtedly have resulted in major social unrest, so for the Corporation there was little room for manoeuvre. Previously the ‘powers-that-be’ referred to the new inhabitants as “squatters”. The change in attitude and practice meant that the residents could no longer be ignored or openly treated with contempt. A new status was conferred whereby all became legal tenants. The physical manifestation of such took the form of issuing rent books, thereafter, to bear the official recording of five shillings a week, per hut.

The families’ tenancy agreement stated that it was for temporary occupancy for around six months or so. That was more than a hint that evictions had not been totally ruled out, and suggested a blunt, if not menacing message, “We your masters are still in control”.  The word “temporary” used by local officialdom certainly did not conform to the meaning described in any English language dictionary.  But then other very precisely explained words that supposedly created social, economic and political duties and obligations on us all, had long ago lost any real value or meaning in this deliberately ignored corner of the Empire [Long-standing 'Convention' -N. Ireland affairs must not to  be discussed at Westminster].

The Struggle

By walking or driving past the Camp one might have assumed that there were a mere score or so huts. In fact, at its peak there were 304 huts – about 90% corrugated tin and 10% wooden. At first each hut could best be described as a large empty space with neither toilet nor heating facilities. After much pressure the Corporation carried out a renovation scheme turning most into 3-bedrooms, a small living room which had a range, a minute scullery with a “jaw box” (sink) and a tiny toilet. As there were no back doors in any of the huts, such created very obvious dangers if fire was to catch hold at any time. Such did in fact occur in several huts, with the wooden structures burning like a bale of hay in a matter of mere minutes.

These dangers increased because conditions were so severe in the winter some families were forced to install coke-burning stoves in the largest bedroom. These required frequent trips to the Gas Yard on Lecky Road, a considerable distance away. The stoves were often referred to as ‘life-savers’ which was no exaggeration in such harsh conditions.

The 304 huts were occupied by close to 400 families. The reason for such overcrowding was due to the fact that young couples, after being married had nowhere else to go. It was considered “normal” practice for their parents to give them a room, if such a “luxury” could be offered. The sons or daughters were now registered as “sub-tenants” and so it was not uncommon to find as many as 16 persons per hut.  Such created problems when it came to maintaining personal hygiene and washing garments, not to mention answering the call of nature.

As for Corporation employees there were three, one “rent-man” and two caretakers. Their office has been described as a “half-hut” located at the gate at the top of the Camp.

An early mini-campaign secured a bus link provided by the Ulster Transport Authority into the city-centre. This was of great importance especially for children attending local schools. While at home they could at least enjoy the scenery and ample space surrounding the Camp, which alas is often denied children of to-day, who live in high-rise flats in many towns and cities. In addition, when the fields were wet and soggy, which in our climate was frequent, there was always the hard surface that made up “the Square” where football, hopscotch or other games could be played. It was also the assembly point when the occasional protest meeting was deemed necessary. Audible was the sound of the “Buncrana Train” as it rattled along the rails. Such was a daily reminder that not too far away was what passed for our local Riviera with its beaches, amusements and other attractions across the Border, for those lucky enough to afford such excursions.

In time a large concrete bridge was built over the railway lines linking the Camp to Buncrana Road. Almost every development, small or large associated with the name Springtown Camp; kept it constantly in the news over the years since the ending of WW II.  Official neglect was a scandal that was not ignored by some local journalists. They reported the fact that little or no repairs were carried out and so these totally inadequate dwellings fell into a state of disrepair. It was noted that rain penetrated as the tin rusted and holes began to appear near ground level. This combination made for intense cold and damp to a life-threatening degree. Certainly poor health could almost be guaranteed for all occupants, especially the elderly, newly borns and young children.

 

Early Agitation

 As the 1950s drew to a close there were still around 200 families living in 161 huts. As usual the Corporation was building very few houses so this fact was also of concern to many other homeless couples and families right across the city. Ironically, the Corporation continued to call ‘housing meetings’, undoubtedly a sham and a ploy to give the false impression that providing homes was indeed one of its social priorities.

A detailed study of this era reveals that while non-Unionist councillors spoke out when an opportunity arose, they always came up against a brick wall. The ‘old guard’ was not for turning even when in November 1959 Councillor Seamus Deeney, addressing his remarks to Alderman Glover, asked the question, “How in God’s name could a young married couple with one child be given a higher degree of priority than a family of 8 living in Springtown Camp for the past 12 years?” The question was met by silence. The Alderman again offered no response when Deeney declared, “These people have a damned good case for the Human Rights Committee in Strasbourg”.

On that occasion women were present in the Council Chamber of the Guildhall. Their leader politely requested permission to speak. The immediate response of the chairman was to declare the meeting abandoned after ensuring that the R.U.C had arrived and were on hand to remove these mothers from the public gallery.

That 20-strong protest was led by Mrs. Sadie Campbell, Mrs. Kathleen Porter and Mrs. J. Mc Brearty. Later the “Journal” reported “Round one for the women of Springtown Camp”. They were back again to a reconvened meeting, undeterred by the probable return of the police. This time they more militantly demanded their rights of assembly and to freedom of speech, in a supposedly democratic forum.

 

Civil Rights’ women
 
On Saturday May 31st 2008, Sadie Campbell, believed to be the last surviving leader of those earlier protests was conferred with a special presentation. She was introduced to an audience at the East Tyrone College in Dungannon by a younger former resident, Willie Deery. Willie is undoubtedly an authority on the Camp’s history. He has contributed greatly to the residents’ website, www.springtowncamp.com <http://www.springtowncamp.com/>  The site is a major reference point for this article.

He recalled the events of 1959 and how the determined, undeterred mothers were not going to be fobbed off by anyone until they had their say. The powers-that-be relented and so the women of the Camp actually became the first women in over 20 years to speak at a Derry Corporation meeting. Their spokesperson said, “We have lost some of our children due to the terrible conditions we have to live in. We appeal to the mothers of Derry to support us in our fight, and we ask this Corporation to remove this disgrace from our city.”

As a direct result of the mounting protests more families were re-housed out of the Camp, but even more emigrated. However, as late as 1964 there were still over 150 families living there in conditions that were much worse than previously. Promises were made and broken on all too many an occasion. Amid mounting despair the huts were literally crumbling around them. 

Their situation could not be divorced from the political realities of those times when gerrymandering in Derry was rife and at its worst. In the Camp there were approximately 700 nationalist voters. The problem for key Unionists centred on where to house them without jeopardising their electoral superiority. They even attempted to wash their hands of housing any of these families by stating that they were just outside the city boundary, [which they repeatedly refused to extend], thus passing the buck to the Rural Council.

 

Last front door closed

Eventually, in October 1967, one year before Derry’s first official civil rights march, the last residents, Charlie and Sarah Lynch closed the front door of their hut. Thus ended the tragic and appalling saga of Springtown Camp.

 In Dungannon memories flooded back for Sadie Campbell and other residents as she was presented with a glass vase and flowers. On the vase was the ‘Oak leaf’ civil rights badge. It was designed in 1968 by a former art teacher, Sheila McClean. Also engraved under that circular logo was “Sadie Campbell – Springtown Camp, 1946-1967″. It was specially commissioned from Derry Crystal by former civil rights leaders.

Those surrounding Mrs. Campbell during the memorable and moving presentation ceremony included several female champions of civil rights; the renowned journalist and author Susan McKay, trade union leader Inez McCormack, well-known playwright Anne Devlin [daughter of the late Paddy Devlin MP], and the human rights lawyer Padraigin Drinan.

Sadie’s short acceptance speech was recorded by two cameras, both appropriately operated by experienced female film-makers. This commemorative event in Dungannon focused on the heroic role played by women in the civil rights struggle in the 1960s and beyond. Billed as an ‘inclusive discussion’, men were not excluded.

By Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh, rights.civil@googlemail.com

WOMEN IN CIVIL RIGHTS

When the civil rights struggle came, a meeting was called for people interested in social justice, were against repression and for the good of the community and my husband Frank and I were invited along. I was proposed and seconded for the Executive Committee of the Civil Rights Association and willingly joined it. I was on the Executive Committee from the beginning to the very end of the civil rights campaign and I was in every single march including the first one from Coalisland to Dungannon, the Bloody Sunday one and the last one in Newry. Frank became an ordinary member, as someone had to look after the children and our oldest son was mentally handicapped. But Frank still managed to do a colossal amount of civil rights work as well.

They were a great crowd of people who joined the civil rights struggle, from all walks of life and all ages, classes and creeds. Many of them had never taken part in a public demonstration before and I know never have since, but it did attract the very best type. There were students, musicians, trades people, business people, professors, unemployed, solicitors, farmers, factory workers, authors, housewives and many others I could go on forever. The first chairman was John D. Stewart who was a humanist and author and journalist by profession.

Many people who took part in the struggle suffered in public life. Some had to close their businesses because bigoted and prejudiced people refused to buy from them or hire their services. Lots of people lost their livelihoods and homes because bigots could not see that the civil rights struggle was completely non-sectarian.

There were also many women and girls involved, and family groups would come along and take part. One was a large family from the Cliftonville that used to come in their own mini bus. They even had their own banner that they made themselves.

There were many young women and girls involved, mostly students from different universities, who suffered much. In the march to Burntollet they were ambushed, beaten all along the way and had to flee across fields and rivers etc. I am proud to say that one of these young women was my daughter Brid.

Women were the backbone of the civil rights struggle. At the time of the Newry march all the houses in the town were open and the women made welcome all those who attended the march. The Newry women just handed their homes over and people came from all over Ireland for the rally. There were as many as twenty or thirty people in each house made welcome, fed and treated like royalty. It was the same in lots of towns and villages, the women were always to the fore with the food and shelter for all who needed it. They attended the rallies as well, and many a one both young and old was battened and stoned. It never deterred them and they always supported the rallies in their thousands, always brave and practical and always ready for any emergency.

One little old lady from Dublin, an authoress called Hilary Boyle, was on all the marches. She was very tiny and dressed in a very distinguished fashion and always wore a hat. The crown forces were preventing the people from crossing over a certain area on a particular march. But Hilary was not to be beaten, she hitched up her skirt and climbed over all the hedges in a row of houses and through a little field to the main road. There she stood and waved her umbrella at the RUC. The umbrella was bigger than she was! It was really funny and there was not one thing they could do about it. That was one battle certainly won in a non-violent manner.

There was also another family of girls who supported civil rights. They were from Armagh and included the mother and her five daughters. They always wore dark clothes, heavy shoes and carried haversacks full of sandwiches and flasks of tea because they said ‘you never know what sort of situation you could end up in’ and they were quite right because so many funny and surreal things did happen on the rallies. They were nearly all nurses and one was a schoolteacher. When people were sick, injured or felt faint, they were always to the fore with their first aid kits. They were very well known and always at hand to help.

Many of these great women have taken their places in society in the different professions and are doing brilliantly as doctors, dentists, solicitors etc. Some have emigrated and are doing well in different countries around the world. They were a really great crowd of people with the best hearts and intentions in the world. It was truly a better life for all campaign and those involved were the salt of the earth and I am proud to have played my part in it.

Rebecca McGlade June 1989