Caledon was about forcing British to address injustices in the north

PLATFORM – Austin Currie
Irish News 21/06/08

AT our meeting in the House of Commons in January 1968 Paul Rose MP, chairman of the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster, confirmed what I had believed for some time when he said to me, “No British government – including this Labour government – will intervene to remedy injustice in Northern Ireland unless you people there force it to do so”.

That was the thinking and the motive behind what I did in Caledon 40 years ago – on Thursday June 20 1968 – and my subsequent proposal to the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association to organise civil rights marches.

There was also the recognition that in concentrating on housing discrimination and other injustices we were attacking unionism in its Achilles heel.

The unionists asserted we were British so we were therefore entitled to the same rights as other citizens elsewhere in the UK.

Unionism had no answer to that demand.

So that house in Kinnard Park, Caledon, allocated to a 19-year-old single girl became the symbol of denial of basic civil rights and Britain’s failure to accept its sovereign responsibilities.

Dungannon and Derry had been focal points for housing protest for a number of years. In Dungannon the Homeless Citizens’ League, which was later broadened to become the Campaign For Social Justice (CSJ), had been formed by Conn and Patricia McCluskey.

The CSJ produced pamphlets and fact sheets detailing injustices perpetrated on the Catholic population, particularly in the allocation of council housing and vote

The allocation of local authority housing was a central element in unionist control of a number of councils.

‘One man one vote’ did not exist for Stormont and council elections, unlike elections to Westminster.

For council elections the vote was confined to householders and their spouses. The granting of a council house was therefore effectively the provision of two votes.

In places like Derry, Dun-gannon, Co Fermanagh, Ar-magh and Omagh the allocation of council houses along with the gerrymandering of ward boundaries were the measures employed to translate a Catholic majority into a minority on the council.

I had been elected MP for East Tyrone in 1964 and from the beginning I had cooperated closely with the McClus-keys and two Dungannon councillors, Michael McLoug-hlin and John Donaghy.

I campaigned for a points system for the letting of houses without success.

The hope of the early days of Terence O’Neill’s premiership began quickly to erode and by 1967 was being re-placed by disillusionment, frustration and anger.

By late 1967, with Gerry Fitt MP, who was continually frustrated in his efforts to raise at Westminster matters de-volved to the Stormont government, I was publicly calling for a campaign of civil disobedience and supporting those who squatted in council houses as a protest against unfair allocation.

The allocation of No 9 Kinnard Park, Caledon, in May 1968 was for me the final straw.

A 19-year-old single girl, Emily Beattie, employed by a solicitor who was the prospective unionist candidate for West Belfast, was given the house in preference to 269 other applicants on the waiting list in Dungannon Rural District Council, including some in the Caledon area, living in dwellings designated unfit for human habitation.

Even by the standards of Dungannon council it was a blatant and provocative example of injustice.

To add injury to insult was the humiliation of the eviction in front of TV cameras and photographers from the house next door of a Catholic family, Mr and Mrs Goodfel-low and their three children, who had been involved in a squatting protest for the previous eight months.

I had supported the family and helped to publicise their case to the extent that the Unionist Party had passed a censure motion on me at Stormont.

Now this brave family were dragged from the house by bailiffs while next door a 19-year-old girl with no dependents was in legal possession of a three-bedroom house.

For me this was the ideal test case of the professed reform intentions of the O’Neill government.

I had used all the avenues open to an MP to expose injustice. Finally in the debate in Stormont, when John Taylor MP attempted to justify the Beattie allocation, I deliberately used the unparliamentary expression guaranteed to have me ordered from the House – “It is a damned lie.”

That night I called a meeting at my home, informed those present, including the Good-fellow family, of my intention to squat in the house allocated to Emily Beattie and requested as many as possible to accompany me.

The following morning my wife drove me to Caledon where I was joined by Phelim Gildernew, a brother of Mrs Goodfellow, and a local farmer, Joe Campbell.

At my suggestion, to signify our joint commitment, the three of us jointly used a poker to break a window, enter the house and barricade ourselves in. The media arrived within an hour.

To our relief after three-and-a-half hours Emily Beattie’s brother and others arrived armed with a sledge hammer. Having to stay in that house in that area during the hours of darkness was a disturbing prospect!

It was rumoured that the UVF intended to get involved.

The door was smashed in and we were ejected none too gently – into the lenses of the waiting media.

An MP breaking the law was good copy. That night the main BBC News from London for the first time carried a report on injustice in North-ern Ireland.

The process of forcing the British government to intervene to remedy civil rights abuses in Northern Ireland had begun.

Two weeks later Michael McLoughlin and I put a proposal to the executive of the Civil Rights Association for a civil rights march between Coalisland and Dungannon. We did indeed make history in Caledon 40 years ago.

– Austin Currie was MP for East Tyrone at Stormont and later TD for Dublin West. He is the only person elected to both parliaments on the island and served as a minister in both jurisdictions. His autobiography, All Hell will break Loose, is published by O’Brien Press.

Family’s bid for justice that changed the north forever

BY Barry McCaffrey – Irish News 11/06/08

Forty years ago a family’s decision to make a stand over housing set in motion a chain of events that would give rise to the civil rights movement and thrust Northern Ireland into the international spotlight. Barry McCaffrey reports from Caledon

As Mary Teresa Goodfellow walked through the front door of No 11 Kinnard Park in the sleepy village of Caledon in Co Tyrone in October 1967 she had no idea that her actions would lead to the birth of the civil rights movement and signal the beginning of the end for the Stormont government.

With two young children and a third on the way the 26-year-old and her husband Fran had until then been crammed in to her parents’ two-bedroom home along with her six brothers in the townland of Brantry near Dungannon.

When the area’s council built 15 houses in the nearby village of Caledon, a gentleman’s agreement was reached between unionist politician William Scott and local curate Fr Michael McGirr that the houses would be divided equally between Protestants and Catholics.

However, on October 13 1967 the unionist-dominated Dungannon council decided that all but one of the 15 houses was to be allocated to Protestants.

Today, for the first time in 40 years, Mrs Goodfellow has chosen to speak about the events many believe changed Northern Ireland forever.

“We were absolutely livid,” the 66-year-old re-called.

“There were 12 of us living in my parents’ two-bedroomed house and now we were being told we weren’t entitled to any of these houses simply because we were Catholic.”

Angry at the overt discrimination, a number of Catholic families vowed that they would squat in the Caledon houses until the council agreed to a fair allocation.

That night the Goodfellow and McKenna families moved into empty houses at numbers nine and 11 Kinnard Park in the predominantly Protestant village.

“Some other families were supposed to move into the other houses but in the end they were too afraid,’’ Mrs Goodfellow said.

“We didn’t blame them. It was one of those things.

“But we had no choice. We had to move into number 11 because we simply had nowhere else to go.”

Fran Goodfellow insists his family did not break into the house but simply walked through an open front door.

“This was nothing to do with politics. It was a matter of us being in desperate need of a house and deciding that we had to stand up and say that this discrimination was wrong.”

The father-of-three admits that he had mixed emotions when he found himself sitting on the living-room floor that night with his pregnant wife, four-year-old daughter Dawn and son Brian, aged two.

“I remember the RUC arriving the next morning and searching the house but leaving when they found that we hadn’t actually broken in.

“In one way we were delighted just to have somewhere to live but on the other hand we always knew they weren’t going to let us stay there without a fight.

“Over the next eight months we were visited by lots of media and I remember [BBC presenter] WD Flackes helping us to light the fire in the living room.”

The family soon discovered that Dungannon council was not going to give up easily.

“We were afraid to leave the house in case they just came in and changed the locks and threw us out on the street,” Mrs Goodfellow said.

“They tried turning off the water and then the electric but every time they turned something off we found a way of turning it back on.”

Within weeks the family found themselves standing in court charged with squatting.

“We were fined £1.50 but the judge said we could stay in the house for six months in the hope that the council would see sense and allocate us a house on the basis of our need.”

However, the protest had bigger implications than a simple dispute about a council house.

“People forget that unionist gerrymandering was still very much the order of the day,’’ Mrs Goodfellow said.

“If you didn’t have a home, you didn’t get a vote.

“If unionist councils had to give houses to homeless Catholics they would also have to give them the vote and that wasn’t going to happen.”

The ‘Battle of Caledon’ came to a head on the morning of June 19 1968 when bailiffs broke down number 11’s door.

“We’d been dreading this day coming for a long time but nothing prepared us for an RUC man coming through the front window and them breaking down the door with sledgehammers,” Mrs Goodfellow said.

“When they smashed their way into our front room I was sitting on the floor with Dawn and Brian and my 10-week-old baby Mairead.

“My mother Anne and sister-in-law Geraldine, who was three months pregnant, were also sitting on the floor with her one year-old son Emmet.”

Geraldine Gildernew – whose daughter Michelle is now MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone – recalled how the three women sat huddled on the floor with their children.

“When I told them I was pregnant it put them off for a while but eventually they just dragged us out of the house by our feet,” she said.

“The media were all there and the images of heavily armed police dragging pregnant women out of a house was seen around the world.

“The injustice of it all was seen right around the world.”

Hours after the family had been evicted it emerged that the house next door had been allocated to a single Protestant woman who happened to work as a secretary in the office of a prominent local unionist politician.

In protest Mrs Goodfellow’s brother Patsy Gildernew, Nationalist MP Austin Currie and family friend Joe Campbell decided to squat in number 9. Within hours images of them also being dragged from the house by bailiffs were being beamed around the world.

However, while the Goodfellows found themselves homeless once again their decision to squat in Kinnard Park began a chain of events which would lead to the eruption of the civil rights movement, the establishment of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the eventual collapse of Stormont.

“Weeks after we were evicted the civil rights movement tried to march from Coalisland to Dungannon to protest against what had happened to us.

“That march was blocked from entering Dungannon.

“When the civil rights tried to march to Derry they were attacked at Burntollet bridge and the rest is history.”

However, the personal repercussions for the Goodfellows and Gildernews did not end with their eviction.

“During the eight months we were squatting in number 11 the UVF threatened to march on Caledon,” Mrs Goodfellow said.

“While the majority of people in Caledon supported us we did receive a number of loyalist death threats.

“In August 1969 there was a gun attack near the family home and the RUC told our extended family that we were going to be shot by loyalists.

“We were told to take the threat seriously and had to move to an Irish army camp in Gormanstown in Co Meath for four months.

“It was hard on the families but a lot of other people had been forced over the border in similar circumstances so we just had to get on with it as best we could.”

Looking back on those historic events 40 years on, Mary Teresa Goodfellow insists she has no regrets about her actions.

“It highlighted the injustice and the discrimination that was taking place at the time.

“I’d like to think that it signalled the beginning of the end for gerrymandering.

“I remember on the day we were being evicted a neighbour innocently asking my mother if we weren’t making hay that day and my mother saying that we were making history instead.

“We were just making a stand and saying that enough was enough.

“We never dreamt that it would lead to the civil rights [movement] and the beginning of the end for Stormont.

“The sad thing is that none of the last 40 years might have happened if people had been treated fairly in the first place on the basis of need and not religion.

“I often wonder how many lives could have been saved and how much untold misery could have been avoided if people had been allowed their civil rights in the first place.”

An exhibition to mark the 40th anniversary of the Caledon evictions will go on display at the Cornhill Heritage Centre in Coalisland from Friday until June 18.

On Saturday a special questions-and-answers discussion will take place with former loyalist spokesman Glenn Barr, former civil rights leader Ivan Cooper, Irish News columnist Roy Garland and Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew at the Craic Theatre in Coalisland (8pm).

Protest at Caledon was a ‘catalyst for change’

By John Manley

Irish News 23/06/08

THE SDLP was always the “party of housing”, social development minister Margaret Ritchie told a conference to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Caledon protest.

Entitled ‘Housing Rights for All’, the event at Armagh City Hotel on Saturday was addressed by the key participant in the protest, Austin Currie.

Former Fermanagh-South Tyrone MP Lord Magennis and representatives of the South African Housing Corporation also spoke at the event.

Addressing delegates, Ms Ritchie described Caledon as a “catalyst for change”.

She said that while the challenges in the housing sector were different today, they still remained a priority.

“Happily we have come a long way from those times,” she said.

“We have equality of citizenship, a power-sharing government and the allocation of housing is no longer controversial.

“However, we do have some very significant challenges in housing.”

The minister said her department’s new housing agenda would be “addressing housing problems today and identifying solutions for tomorrow”.

The conference heard how the Ms Ritchie intends to address the legacy of 40 years of segregated housing by making ‘Shared Future Housing’ a central theme in all her endeavours.

“We must demonstrate what can be achieved when people choose to live together rather than apart,” she said.

“We must learn from the past if we are to enjoy the benefits of a shared equal future.”

The minister said there was still a minority of people who opposed the provision of housing for those who needed it.

“Inspired by the courage of Austin Currie back in 1968 we will confront those who would deny proper housing to others – we will build wherever there is need,” she said.

Ms Ritchie noted that her party had a strong record of campaigning on housing issues.

“Austin Currie showed the way with his courageous leadership in Caledon,” she said.

“Others like John Hume showed great vision, setting up the credit union movement, without which many thousands of ordinary people would never have got to enjoy the benefits of home ownership… the SDLP has always been, and remains, the party of housing.”

The conference was organised to mark Mr Currie’s 1968 protest against housing segregation.

The nationalist MP squatted in a house in the Co Tyrone village Caledon in protest at Dungannon council’s refusal to allocate homes to Catholics.