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.

THE 3rdnd McCLUSKEY CIVIL RIGHTS SUMMER SCHOOL

“The Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement”

Saturday 28 August 2010

in

Holy Trinity Church, Carlingford, Co Louth

Speakers include:

  • Margaret Ritchie MP MLA
  • Dr. Martin Mansergh TD
  • Austin Currie
  • Danny Morrison
  • Tom Elliot MLA
  • Roy Garland
  • Alex Attwood MLA
  • David McKittrick

To RSVP or for further information contact:
Tim Attwood 07802 279939 or Email: attwoodt@belfastcity.gov.uk

PROGRAMME

9.30am             Registration and Refreshments

10.30-12.00

I.  How might the Civil Rights campaign have developed,   had there been no “armed struggle”?

Chair: Dr. Brendan Lynn

Austin Currie

Danny Morrison

12.00-1.30

II.  What is the Future of Constitutional Nationalism?

Chair: Dr. Eamon Phoenix

Margaret Ritchie MP MLA

Dr. Martin Mansergh TD

3.00-4.30

III.  What is the Future of Progressive/Liberal Unionism?

Chair: Prof. Arthur Aughey

Tom Elliot MLA

Roy Garland

4.30-6.00

IV.  If the present Executive falls…. is there an alternative?

(Can we go back to the centre?)

Chair: A.N. Other

Alex Attwood MLA

David McKittrick

6.00pm

Presentation of the Con McCluskey Civil Rights Award

“THE LEGACY OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS CAMPAIGN”

The turmoil of the civil rights campaign 1968/69 changed the course of Northern history.  It reordered and redefined the political agenda, and completely reshaped our political party structures.  For instance, many of those involved became convinced of the need for a new political approach to the issues raised in the civil rights campaign, and went on to found the SDLP — 40 years ago this summer — which quickly eclipsed and replaced all previous “Constitutional Nationalist” groupings.  Others discerned a need for armed defence of the nationalist population, and some saw an opportunity for an armed assault upon the Northern Ireland state.  The result was the division of Sinn Fein and the IRA, with the majority becoming known as the “Officials”, and the minority founding Provisional Sinn Fein, and the Provisional IRA, (and going on to become much the stronger grouping) — 40 years ago last winter.  At the same time, the problems and pressures generated by all this upheaval, caused serious strains and fissures within political Unionism.  The problem of responding to Civil Rights demands for change, led to deep divisions within the venerable Ulster Unionist Party which had ruled Northern Ireland from the foundation of the state.  Ultimately it led to the splintering of Unionist politics, with a number of new Unionist groupings being formed, the most lasting being the “Official” Unionist Party (now, simply the UUP), and the Democratic Unionist Party.  Ominously, however, some in the Unionist community felt a need to respond to the situation with force, and loyalist paramilitary groupings mushroomed.  The consequent threat of all out sectarian conflict persuaded many of the need to build cross-community politics and structures, giving rise to the New Ulster Movement and ultimately the Alliance Party.  The political groupings formed out of this upheaval have dominated northern politics ever since.

Forty years later, an awful lot of water has passed under the bridge:- the Sunningdale Agreement, the 73-74 Assembly and the first Power-Sharing Executive;    the Constitutional Convention, the Atkins Talks, the Hunger Strikes, and the 82-86 Assembly;    the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Brooke-Mayhew talks, Hume-Adams and the Good Friday Agreement; the Trimble-Mallon Power-Sharing Executive;   and various refinements of the GFA, elaborated at Leeds Castle,. St Andrews, and Hillsborough Castle leading to the current DUP/SF-led Power-Sharing Executive.  The first two power-sharing executives were based on the so-called “centre parties” of moderate Unionism and moderate Nationalism, along with the Alliance Party.  Both failed to bed down and take root, the first lasting barely six months, the second lasting for a rocky three years.   The present Executive, however, is led by parties notionally representing the polar “extremes” of the two communities, and was represented by many as the “ultimate agreement”.  Yet, it has failed to produce the promised consensus on many important issues, and has also experienced a number of serious wobbles.

The McCluskey Civil Rights Summer School will, this year, examine the long-term legacy of the Civil Rights agitation, and where it has brought us today. We ask a number of serious questions.  How might things have turned out had there been no recourse to violence?  What is the future for moderate nationalism and moderate Unionism, now that each has been eclipsed within its own community, by the supposedly more “extreme” parties on both sides?  Can the present Executive survive, and bed down?  And if it falls, can the “centre parties” take the weight again, and regain the necessary voting strength?  The four sessions of the Summer School are devoted to discussion of these questions.  In each session the Chair will open the discussion with a short address, setting out the main issues needing debate, and perhaps offering a personal view in brief terms.  The chair will then introduce the contributors who will speak for about 15 minutes each, leaving an hour for audience participation, (moderated by the Chair), by way of questions, or the offering of viewpoints,.

Presentations From The Summer School

Below are copies of some of the presentations from the McCluskey Civil Rights Summer School. Please note they are available in both Powerpoint and PDF formats. For printing and ease of use the PDF is probably the best one to download.

Seamus McAleavey, NICVA, Poverty In Northern Ireland:

poverty-presentation(powerpoint)

poverty-presentation(PDF)

Racism in the North of Ireland
Eileen Chan-Hu, Chief Executive, Chinese Welfare Association, N.I

230808-civil-rights-racism(powerpoint)

230808-civil-rights-racism-presentation(PDF)

SPEECH BY BRID RODGERS TO MCCLUSKEY SUMMER SCHOOL 23 AUGUST 2008 CARLINGFORD

Coming to live in Northern Ireland in 1960 was for me a culture shock.
My first experience of democracy Northern Ireland style was when I went to vote.  The choice was between abstentionist republican, labour and Ulster unionist.  Seeing abstentionism as a wasted vote I had decided to vote labour.  On presenting my voting card I was informed that I had already voted.  I then noted that Antoin’s name beside mine was also crossed off although he had not voted at that stage. I was given a pink ballot paper.  This would count in the event of a tie, I was told.  All the polling officials were unionist and only the unionist party had agents present.  In a state of frustration, anger and helplessness I voted for the republican!  In those days, Westminster elections were left to abstentionist republicans and Stormont elections to the Nationalist Party.

Lurgan, a town with over 40% catholic population, was run by a 100% unionist Council. – the result of a system of gerrymandering called the block voting system.  In Derry with a catholic majority gerrymandering was done by manipulating the wards to ensure a unionist majority   In Lurgan with its unionist majority block voting ensured that nationalists were totally excluded.  A split within unionism in the early sixties resulted in four independent nationalists being elected.  In the immediate aftermath, a young unionist councillor, subsequently Mayor of Craigavon and presently MLA, Samuel Gardner stated “ This must never be allowed to happen again”

Discrimination against the catholic community in the area of jobs and housing was the order of the day.  Unionist representatives appeared on television programmes and rubbished claims from nationalists that this was the case.  They got away with it, in the words of the late Paddy Mc Grory, the Belfast solicitor “Southern politicians thundered from the backs of lorries at election times about the fourth green field” but that was the height of their contribution to the situation in which northern nationalist found themselves.  Intermittent IRA campaigns served only to strengthen the unionist grip on power.  The late Patsy Mc Cooey in his foreword to Conn Mc Cluskey’s book, “Up off Their Knees” put it in a nutshell – “That was just the way it was and what cannot be cured must be endured, as the Tyrone woman put it ‘what bees, biz’ Those who suffered the injustices smouldered on, their resentment unchannelled and made even keener by their impotence.”

Into this hopeless situation stepped two people with a social conscience, a burning desire to see justice done and a deep and extraordinary commitment to that goal.  It will not be possible for me in the time allocated to cover half of their contribution.  I will simply give you a flavour. You could say that Conn and Patricia Mc Cluskey were an unlikely couple.
Conn, a general practitioner in Dungannon and his wife, Patricia, comfortably off with three daughters reared.   In 1960’s Northern Ireland such people kept their heads down and ploughed on minding their own business.

But the Mc Cluskeys were no ordinary couple.   With tongue in cheek Conn opines that if the theory advanced by a few American psychologists that babies in the womb can be influenced by events around them then his involvement in civil rights received an early push.  When he was on the way, his parents rented as their first home Cohannon House near Dungannon, until then always let to Protestants.   The local Orangemen assembled at the gates beating their drums in protest, eventually forcing his parents to move to the mainly nationalist area of Warrenpoint.  Patricia Mc Shane was reared on the main street in Portadown where her father owned a drapery shop.  Drumming, intimidation, smashing of windows got so bad during the July marching season that year after year the young Mc Shane family had to be sent away for safety.

It was however the heartbreaking experiences revealed to Conn in his daily surgery and on his rounds that brought Conn and Patricia to the conclusion that something had to be done about it.  Young married couples with small children were forced to live in cramped conditions, often husband and wife having to live apart, each with their respective parents. In one particularly bad case a private house had been converted into eight flats, one of which housed a couple with eight children living in one room.
No medical treatment could alleviate the health consequences of such intolerably stressful conditions

Something had to be done.  The Homeless Citizens League was formed by a group of women led by Angela Mc Crystal and Patricia Mc Cluskey. They picketed the Council offices.  A delegation from the League was received by the Council.  To no avail. The 142 new council houses were allocated mainly to Protestant newly weds.

And so the very first, if rarely acknowledged, protest march of the civil rights movement, organised by the Homeless Citizens League took place in Dungannon in June 1963.  Still the Council refused to budge.  It was put about that the protesters were a bunch of rabble rousers.  A group of homeless young women pushing prams and led by the smartly dressed wife of the local doctor.  An unlikely group of rabble rousers!

At this time an estate of prefabs in reasonably habitable conditions were about to be sold off by the Council for outhouses.  On the night of August 27th, 1963, almost exactly forty five years ago to this day, seventeen families moved in to squat.   The Council illegally cut off electricity and water supplies.  Forced to reconnect these they threatened to take the families off the waiting list. The Press and TV cameras arrived and eventually the Minister for Health and Local Government, William Morgan agreed to receive a delegation from the squatters. (Conn Mc Cluskey, the late Maurice Byrne, local dentist and the late Chris Mallon, local solicitor).

At this stage thirty five houses had been taken over. The Minister had no option but to allow them to remain.  A new housing estate in the nationalist ward was to be quickly completed and the squatters were promised houses there.

What a dramatic demonstration of the power of dignified peaceful protest!  A small group of local women in Dungannon, dogged and determined, had taken on the unionist controlled Council and won.

Yes, change was possible after all.

The following year, Patricia and six colleagues contested the local elections. On a 97 % turnout across the board, Patricia, John Donaghy, Patsy Mc Cooey and James Corrigan were elected.  The nationalist community in Dungannon had got up off their knees.

Let me stress that all this was happening at a time when the unionist party was in full control in Stormont and the British Government continued to shirk its sovereign responsibility for the situation in Northern Ireland, maintaining it could not interfere in the affairs of the Stormont government.

50 years of republican rhetoric, with intermittent bouts of IRA violence had changed nothing for the nationalist community in Northern Ireland.

Again the Mc Cluskeys realised that something had to be done.

Since Northern Ireland was part of the United Kingdom they would seek the ordinary rights of British citizens which were denied them.  This of course subsequently became the mantra of the Civil Rights Movement.  And so they set about establishing the Campaign for Social Justice.  In the words of the late Patsy Mc Cooey, a man of integrity and commitment to justice, this development was “the single most important one in the genesis of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Like the Mc Cluskeys, those who formed the Campaign Committee with them showed enormous courage and commitment in the climate of that time.  With a strong Unionist Party in complete control, backed up by the RUC and the B Specials, with the British Government resolutely turning a blind eye to the situation, “Whatever you say, say nothing” was very much the order of the day.

The press release at their first press conference in the Wellington Park Hotel in January 1964 stated:

“The Government of Northern Ireland’s policies of apartheid and discrimination have continued to be implemented at all levels with such zeal that we have banded ourselves together to oppose them……Our first objective will be to collect comprehensive and accurate data on all injustices done against all creeds and political opinions, including details of discrimination in jobs and houses and to bring them to the attention of as many socially minded people as possible.”

And so began the hard, grinding and unspectacular work of the Campaign.  The world of Conn and Patricia Mc Cluskey was turned upside down.  They were threatened and slandered, even cajoled by surrogates of unionist politicians, misunderstood by those who suspected them of ulterior motives – political ambitions perhaps.  Their feet firmly on the ground, they never wavered.

Their home in Dungannon became the headquarters of the Campaign. All of this while Conn ran a busy practice and on many occasions had reason to fear for his life as he travelled the country roads at night responding to emergency calls.  The facts of discrimination along with outrageous statements by unionist politicians were meticulously collated and dispatched in the first and second editions of “The Plain Truth” and in Newsletters nationally and internationally from Washington to London and further a field where influence could be brought to bear and indeed shame reflected on the British Government and unionists.  For the first time there was incontrovertible and incontestable evidence of blatant discrimination against the nationalist community.

They travelled to London and Washington, informing the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster, The British National Council for Civil Liberties, The British Society of Labour Lawyers, The American Committee for Ulster Justice which included Paul O’Dwyer and of course Ted Kennedy, always armed with their leaflets and pamphlets setting out in stark terms the facts of discrimination in Northern Ireland and garnering support for their cause.   They supported Fr. Denis Faul in exposing the biased nature of the courts in Northern Ireland.   The unavailability of legal aid to those seeking to oppose discrimination through the courts was highlighted in a leaflet outlining their own experience.

They were founder members of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in 1967 and Conn served as an Executive member in the initial years.

There was never a hint of sectarianism.  Speaking to a rally in Manchester organised by the CDU in November 1966 Patricia said “There are thousands of fine Protestants whose emotions have been so worked upon that they are a frightened people.  We want to change all that.  We want to live with our Protestant neighbours as equals, as fellow Christians and as fellow Irishmen and women.”

I have no doubt that the seeds of the change that we have witnessed in recent years were sown by Conn and Patricia Mc Cluskey with the help of their colleagues in the Campaign for Social Justice in those early years of protest.  It is entirely appropriate that in this, the fortieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement we should applaud and acknowledge the courage, the commitment and the foresight of two extraordinary people.
It has been indeed a privilege to have worked with them in those early years and to have enjoyed their friendship for the past four decades.

Many of the younger generation may not realise that in some measure they owe the status of equality that they now take for granted to the sacrifices of a general practitioner in Dungannon and his wife.  For in the hopeless and dark world of second class citizenship inhabited by their grandparents Conn and Patricia mc Cluskey lit a candle which grew into a mighty flame.

On behalf of the Civil Rights Committee and of all of who were involved in that struggle,

We thank you.  Go raibh mile maith agaibh.

NOTE:
The original Committee of the Campaign for Social Justice was as follows:

Peter Gormley, ear, nose and throat surgeon and Conor Gilligan, general surgeon, both in the Mater Hospital;
Maurice Byrne, dentist in Dungannon; J.J. Donnelly, Enniskillen Councillor; Hugh Mc Conville, Lurgan teacher;  Tom Mc Laughlin, wealthy businessman, Armagh; Leo Sullivan, Science professor, Omagh; Olive, Scott, Maura Mullally and Patricia Mc Cluskey (Chairperson)