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.

Civil Rights, 1968, and all that…

History Ireland Articles PDF

Please click the link above to download the pdf file of the articles…

These three articles appeared in History Ireland September/October 2008, volume 16 No. 5

An accompanying editorial said:

The difference in 1968 was the advent of a university-educated generation fired up by the example of Selma Alabama, Paris ’68, agitation against the Vietnam war and an inchoate counter-culture (although Vinny McCormack admits that there may have been a few covert Val Doonican fans  amongst student radicals!).
The other difference was the violent unionist response (both official and unofficial). Even after the numbing effect of 30 years of violence it is difficult not to be taken aback by the calculated viciousness of the Burntollet ambush. Where did such hatred come from? Roy Garland’s memoir provides a clue.He paints an honest but disturbing picture of a deeply insecure community, easy prey to irrational and contradictory conspiracy theories (both Romanist and Communist). And of course, like all conspiracy theories, their tendency to self-fulfil gives them a veneer of veracity.
Simon Prince controversially points out another difference: the provocative tactics of the civil rights demonstrators. But those other apostles of non-violent protest, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Daniel O’Connell, were equally provocative. In any case, there is no moral equivalence between the (subjective) perception of provocation on the one hand and the (objective) dishing out of physical retribution on the other.

The editorial ends by saying that readers can judge for themselves, and that the strong moral foundations of the civil rights campaign do not make the movement immune to balanced and objective historical investigation. This is the spirit of the 40th anniversary commemoration, and we invite visitors to the site to comment on any of the articles in that spirit.

Bloody Sunday Film Shown in Derry

An appreciative audience packed Derry’s Orchard Cinema to watch Paul
Greengrass’s harrowing film “Bloody Sunday” . The film was preceded by a performance by the Screaming Blue Murder Poets group. The performance was a tribute to those who struggled for Civil Rights throughout Europe and the US in 68 and those currently in struggle.The film was introduced by Mr Ivan Cooper, a member of the Commemoration Committee.In his remarks he outlined how well the film has been received around the world, winning the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival and many other prizes in testament to its artistic and social integrity. Mr Cooper remarked that Bloody Sunday – January 30 1972- when 13 innocent civilians were murdered on the streets of Derry – was “a day of shame”.

The audience who watched the film in a gripped silence heard the line repeated in the closing minutes of the film by Mr Cooper’s “alter ego” actor James Nesbitt. The showing had been organised by the Magic Lantern Film Club as a result of a request by Commemoration Committee member Vinny McCormack thatthe Club show the film as part of the commemoration. The Committee wish to commend Magic Lantern for this initiative.

‘Freedom from division gave civil rights impact’

President Mary McAleese in Derry (by Trevor McBride)

President Mary McAleese in Derry (by Trevor McBride)

Andrea McKernon Irish News
06/10/08

THE Northern Ireland Civil Rights movement had such a huge impact because it was free from the divisions of sectarianism, Irish President Mary McAleese has said.

Mrs McAleese made the comments at a conference in Derry at the weekend to mark the 40th anniversary of civil rights campaign.

The conference was held in the Guildhall as part of a series of events organised by the Civil Rights 1968 Commemoration Committee.

The weekend seminar included a civil rights exhibition and attracted some of the main players in the movement including civil rights leader at the time, Ivan Cooper.

President McAleese said those demanding reform in the 1960s were inspired by the black civil rights campaign in the US, led by the Rev Martin Luther King.

“The early champions of civil rights came from right across the traditional religious and political divide,” she said.

“They believed that only when Northern Ireland and indeed Ireland, was freed from the politics of sectarianism would its truest and best potential be revealed. They believed in non-violence, in peaceful protest, in the politics of persuasion.”

The president said the foundations of the civil rights movement had provided the framework for the structures that exist in the north today.

“Today the institutions and structures of the Good Friday and St Andrews agreements and the framework of human rights legislation which underpins them, provide a sound basis for that equality of citizenship and for relationships of mutual respect and good neighbourliness within Northern Ireland, between north and south and between Ireland and Britain,” she said.

The president noted that in a speech in Washington last year First Minister Peter Robinson quoted America’s civil war history to note that: “A house divided against itself, cannot stand.”

“Though to some it did not appear so, back in 1968 the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was about the business of ending wasteful sectarian divisions that had made Northern Ireland a house divided against itself,” Mrs McAleese said.

The president wished First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness well in their work to secure a new future.

“When we consider the extent of change already achieved, of sacrifices and compromises made on all sides, we take courage and hope,” she said

Bernadette McAliskey: Return of the Roaring Girl

Forty years ago today, a police baton charge signalled the start of the Troubles. One student on that march became an icon of rebellion. Where is she now? Cole Moreton meets… Bernadette McAliskey

The Indepenndent Sunday, 5 October 2008

Castro in a miniskirt, they called her. A “blazing star” and “an icon of the civil rights movement”. The female face of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the Republican rebel immortalised in a huge mural on the side of a house in “Free Derry”. Tourists go to see it: wee, wild Bernadette Devlin shouting through a loudhailer as smoke billows over the barricade behind her. So who is this pensioner in a lilac cardie?

“There are people who think I’m dead,” she says cheerfully, sitting in an anonymous office on an industrial estate, in a small town west of Belfast. “I like that!”

But this really is the same woman who was elected to Parliament in 1969 aged 21, the youngest female MP ever. The one who was about to make a speech to marchers in Derry in January 1972 when the Parachute Regiment opened fire, killing 14 people on what became known as Bloody Sunday. The woman who was in the Commons the next day, to hear the Home Secretary, Reggie Maudling, say the Paras had acted in self-defence. She hurled herself across the floor of the House and slapped him hard on the face, yelling, “Murderous hypocrite!”

This diminutive 61-year-old is the same woman whose maiden speech was described – by opponents – as “brilliant” and “electrifying”. Listening to a broadcast of it, a young American scholar knew he wanted to be in politics. His name was Bill Clinton.

Even now, her legend is powerful: at the Cannes film festival this year a biopic of Devlin was announced, to be called The Roaring Girl. She will be played by Sally Hawkins, star of Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky, apparently. But not if Bernadette Devlin McAliskey (as she has been for years) gets her way. “The whole concept is abhorrent to me,” she says, revealing that her lawyers are challenging the film. “How dare anybody make a pretend life for me while I’m still living the real one?”

She hates dwelling on the past. “I am interested in now!” So she is unlikely to be among those marking the 40th anniversary today of the first major civil rights march ever to be held in Northern Ireland. “Why celebrate 40? You only do that if you’re so full of yourself you think something must be done before you die.”

McAliskey would rather talk about present-day issues, like the treatment of migrants who come to Northern Ireland looking for work. “Disgraceful,” she says, as the director of a charity that offers them advice and help. “People who know they’re not allowed to behave badly towards each other any more have found themselves a new target.” It is a question of human rights, she says. Most things are to Bernard, as she calls herself. Most other people are wrong too, it seems, as she rages among the case files and pot plants. The Good Friday Agreement led to “fleece and consternation, not peace and reconciliation”. The “smoke and mirrors peace” was bought with European money: “The decent unemployed couldn’t cross the road for being offered work!”

She says it all with the sly look of someone who loves a battle, just like the old days … but I asked to see her. Not the other way round. She cherishes her relative obscurity, and only agreed to talk about the work of the South Tyrone Empowerment Programme (Step), the network of groups and campaigners she directs from this office in Dungannon. “I’m not interested in all that ‘those were the days’ stuff.”

She can’t help herself, though. McAliskey loves to talk. The march in Derry on 5 October 1968 was, she says, “the beginning of it all. I can still see, in my mind, the absolute hatred on the faces of police officers. My understanding of the society I was in was irrevocably changed.”

It had been organised by the newly formed Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, to protest at discrimination against Catholics. Some participants have admitted they were trying to provoke the authorities. Not her. “Until then I thought of policemen as the ones who kept the rowdy drinkers in line at my grandmother’s pub.”

Newspaper reports described a baton charge by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. “This wasn’t a baton charge,” she says bitterly. “This was a pent-up hatred. This was naked violence. This was three or four men with long cudgels standing over someone on the ground and hitting and hitting them.”

This is the old Bernie Devlin, phrase-making through clenched teeth. “This was police following those who had dragged away the injured, and beating them up as well. This was a realisation that your worst enemy was in a uniform and had the power,” she almost spits it out, “to kill you.” She still feels deeply about it. “I hate them. Hate the police.” Surely she has to work with them now? “It’s not personal. But it is my deepest prejudice.”

In 1968 Devlin had just begun her last year studying psychology at Queen’s University. “I was a first-class honours profile student. Then it was all swept away. My degree and my career. It says something about the cataclysmic impact things had on me at the time that I just didn’t care.”

She started a radical student movement called People’s Democracy, and was taken up by the media. “I come from a long line of strong women,” she says. “My mother and grandmother were both widows. The level of poverty that I grew up in brings a degree of strength and creativity to women, because they have to manage.”

Remarkable things happened within a year. She was thrown out of university, but elected as a unity candidate for Mid Ulster. She wrote a book. She was carried on the shoulders of Irish Americans on a trip to New York. She was jailed for inciting a riot and served six months in prison. She also started to upset a lot of people who had voted for her. “I went away to London and knocked about with the socialists and the Gypsies and the feminists. Best education I could have. But people here said, ‘Confine yourself to our issues. And please cut your hair and lengthen your skirt. And don’t smoke.’ I said, ‘I think youse were looking for somebody else!’”

She horrified them further by having a daughter, Roisin, out of wedlock (although she married the father, Michael McAliskey. They are still together). She was defeated in the next general election, by which time Bloody Sunday had happened. “That was when the civil rights movement ended and the armed struggle began.”

How so? “That was the point of realisation for me that the penalty for demanding equal rights in your society was that your government would kill you. Then you say, ‘If it’s OK for the government to declare war on the people, the people have a right to declare war on the government.’” And on civilians? Children? She doesn’t flinch. “Right up until that point I would have openly argued all the time against armed defence, never mind armed warfare.” And then? “You couldn’t do that with any credibility after Bloody Sunday.” Many people would have taken her for an IRA apologist. “Yes they would. I never said, ‘Don’t do it.’ Because I had made that equation in my own head. That’s terrible … but that was real.”

The armed struggle hit her hard in 1981, when Ulster Freedom Fighters broke down the door of the remote family home and fired shotguns. Michael was shot twice. She was hit in the chest, arm and thigh as she went to wake up one of the three children. Roisin was nine, Deirdre five and Fintan just two. Paras happened to be watching the building, but did not prevent the loyalists going in. Three men were arrested.

“We could not go back to the house after that.” Instead they were moved to a troubled estate. “My kids would have survived the loss of their mother better than the loss of their physical security, which was home.” The damage allegedly done to Roisin was detailed in court last year, when the German government made a second attempt to extradite her for alleged involvement in an IRA attack on a British Army base in June 1996. It failed. “There was never any credible evidence against her,” insists McAliskey. “And yet a young woman gets destroyed in the middle of it.”

Destroyed? “Yeah. She battles valiantly against deep post-traumatic stress that has its origins in when we were shot, but also in the interrogation and incarceration they subjected her to [during the investigation]. They used the fear and trauma of what she went through as a child in an attempt to extricate information from her that she just did not have.”

Perhaps that was the most powerful reason for her mother’s retreat from the national stage: to recover and keep the family safe for a while. But it is also true that she never found the right party platform. Too headstrong, maybe. Too far out. So McAliskey chose to campaign locally, working with women on the estate. “We took over derelict houses, provided places to meet. Sixties stuff, really.”

It led in 1997 to the formation of Step. “We don’t confine ourselves to one area, such as housing, or legal rights, or water charges – we research and campaign across them all.” It is currently trying to help migrant workers who “just turned up here overnight in 2001″. Local farms and factories could not get enough workers. “So, one morning, 500 came from Portugal. People thought they were a peace delegation. Now, probably 20 per cent of the adults in this area were born somewhere else.”

Speaking up for them has led her into conflict again, with former allies. “People have said, ‘You were with us; now you’re with the foreigners.’ I say, ‘No. I am doing the same thing I have always done. It’s still about people having a right to fulfil their potential and not be excluded from that because of other people’s prejudice.’”

Her name still has influence, she insists. “I could call up the Deputy First Minister and tell him, ‘Straighten yourself up!’” Why doesn’t she, then? She laughs. Quarrels between Martin McGuinness and the First Minister, Peter Robinson, have left the executive unable to meet. “Nobody is making any decisions just now.”

Then why not try again to get elected and bang a few heads together? “What is the point of going into politics?” she says with a sigh. “Look at Gordon Brown. He doesn’t believe anything he used to believe in.”

Better to revolutionise lives one by one, perhaps, in the town she left to go on the march that changed her life, 40 years ago today. In the battered lobby of her office, a couple from Poland are waiting. They know little of the history of this place, or who she is. “Good,” she says briskly. “The icon was never me. People say the image has been tarnished. Do I care? I never made the image; I don’t care what happens to it. I’ve got my life to live.”

Derry, October 1968, and the march that became a spring for civil rights

Sunday Tribune – 5 october 2008
Forty years ago today, a Bogside demo sparked a huge campaign for equality. Suzanne Breen spoke to the movement’s unsung heroes. Sunday Tribune 5 October 2008

He remembers them gathering on the streets of Derry, full of naïve optimism, their banners lighting up the dismal streets. ‘One man, one vote’, ‘Jobs and houses’, and ‘End the Special Powers Act’, they declared. They were a motley crew of students, housewives, workers and revolutionaries.

Those who knew the words were singing ‘We Shall Overcome’. The civil rights marchers were chatting about which team would win the Irish league match at the Brandywell when the police laid into them. “They baton-charged us,” says Willie Breslin. “Charlie Morrison, a bricklayer, was so badly beaten, he couldn’t work for a month.

“Matt Harkin’s back was a mess. A policeman made a go for my testicles but I raised my knee in time so he only got my thigh. Four police officers beat a wee man until he fell to the ground, then they picked him up and threw him over a wall. He suffered a broken leg and arm. But it didn’t deter us.

“There were only 400 marching – far more people were at the Brandywell for the football. But when we held the same demonstration six weeks later, 20,000 were there. People were saying, ‘We won’t accept this, enough is enough.’ They were giving two fingers, with both hands, to the government.”

It’s 40 years ago today since the Derry march which brought the blatant discrimination and oppression in the North to world attention. Civil rights leaders – Bernadette Devlin, Eamonn McCann, Ivan Cooper and Michael Farrell – became household names. Paddy Devlin and Gerry Fitt were already well-known politicians and others, like John Hume, became so.

But it was ordinary men and women who were the backbone of the movement. Even today, they remain the unsung heroes and heroines. Willie Breslin, a 28-year-old teacher on 5 October, 1968, describes himself as a “hod carrier” of the civil rights movement.

“Derry was 73% Catholic but it was run by unionists. There were 2,400 families on the housing list but in two years they built only 22 new homes. There was a policy to keep Catholics homeless or in rented accommodation because only householders had the vote in local government elections,” Breslin says.

“The Wilson family lived in a caravan. They had no electricity, running water or toilet. Mrs Wilson gave birth to a baby who died eight hours later. The doctor blamed the awful living conditions. A group of us pulled the caravan onto the middle of the Lecky Road in protest.

“The police came and everybody was arrested except myself and another fellow. He was a civil servant and I was a teacher. Arresting us would have backfired: they wanted to give the impression that all the protestors were unemployed layabouts.”

Dermy McClenaghan was a 26-year-old dental technician and Derry Labour Party member who helped John Hume carry some of those injured on 5 October into Cassoni’s Italian restaurant. His civil rights passion was intense.

“We lived in horrendous conditions in the Bogside,” he says. “Our house was riddled with damp and so badly wired that you got electric shock if you touched the wall. My father died of TB. I saw it as a family tragedy and as political – he wouldn’t have died had we decent housing.”

McClenaghan did what he could to help others who were living in slums or homeless. “I had my own housing list of the most desperate families. When I heard a house became available somewhere, I’d move a family in to squat. I’d an electrician, a joiner, a plumber, step-ladders and a bag of tools. We’d go along and do up the house to make it habitable.”

Despite the seriousness of the campaign, McClenaghan also remembers the crack and camaraderie: “Jan Palach burned himself to death in Prague’s Wenceslas Square in protest as Russian tanks rolled in. A man in Derry threatened to burn himself to death in Derry’s Guildhall Square if he didn’t get a decent house by a certain date. He was very hard to please. When the deadline day arrived, he woke up to find six cans of petrol placed by local people on his doorstep.”

Wrong

Inez McCormack, a 21-year-old Protestant with strong security-force family connections, was an unlikely civil rights activist. “A cousin in the B Specials was shot dead during the IRA’s border campaign. I had no active knowledge of meeting or speaking to a Catholic until I was a teenager. I had no sense anything was wrong with the place I lived,” she says.

After finishing college in 1968, she spent the summer in London. There, she met and fell in love with Vinnie, a Derry Catholic and civil rights activist, and became involved in anti-Vietnam demonstrations. “After what happened the Derry marchers on 5 October, I came home. There was no point in protesting about events in foreign countries while ignoring the situation in your own.”

The first demonstration she took part in was a protest in Belfast’s Shaftesbury Square: “I looked over to RUC lines and saw my cousin who was a policeman. Our eyes met but we both made the decision not to acknowledge each other. He didn’t want to know me and I didn’t want to know him.

“On the Burntollet march [in 1969], there were loyalist counter-demonstrators with nail-studded cudgels. I saw the police and thought they would act but they started chatting amicably to the counter-demonstrators. I was witnessing what later came to be called collusion.

“I remember when we reached Derry being hit with something and running into the doorway of a unionist-owned department store, screaming as the blood ran down my face, and the shop assistants laughing at my terror. They’d dehumanised me.”

McCormack, who later became president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, recalls individual acts of defiance: “I can still see my father-in-law putting on his good suit to go on a march. It was his way of dealing with the humiliation he met in his daily life, of asserting his dignity and that of his family.

“I remain in awe of women like Sadie Campbell who marched into the mayor’s parlour in Derry to demand better housing and was arrested. There was such courage from people who owned nothing, who had nothing in the world but themselves. Women who endured rather than enjoyed life, who washed the dishes, and went out to protest on the streets, and went home and washed more dishes.”

Cathy Harkin, who left school at 14 and worked in a shirt factory, was in the thick of the civil rights movement. Her son Terry, who was six years old on 5 October, 1968, recalls her coming home from the march badly bruised: “We lived with my granny. My mother sold the United Irishman newspaper. Before 5 October, I remember my mother having to sit on the street waiting for it to arrive because granny wouldn’t let it into the house.

“After 5 October, my granny changed. All sorts of rebels and radicals were allowed to come and go from our house around the clock. Civil rights posters were made in our livingroom. The house was always full of the smell of ink and paint.

“Even though I was no age, I’d be carted to civil rights meetings in Dungannon, Strabane, and Belfast because there was no such thing as crèches or childminders. I remember making my first confession and then watching police drenching demonstrators with the water cannon.”

Bloodstains

Harkin was 10 when British paratroopers shot dead 13 unarmed civilians in Derry. “A few days later, my mother and I visited the home of civil rights activist Brigid Bond. I went to the bathroom and sitting there was one of the banners carried on Bloody Sunday. It was covered in bloodstains, and in the corner was a white goo which I later found out was part of the eye of one of those killed.

“I’d been an avid reader of British Commando comics. I went home, gathered them and my toy Action Men, put them into a biscuit tin and burned them all.”

Several months later, Harkin was hit with a rubber bullet while stoning the British army. While his mother went on to become one of the founder members of Women’s Aid and a staunch critic of the armed struggle, Harkin joined the INLA. Cathy Harkin died of cancer aged 45.

Her son is immensely proud of his mother and stresses that the civil rights movement wasn’t universally popular: “There were Uncle Toms in America and there were Castle Catholics here. There were plenty of fence-sitters and plenty who said the civil rights activists had brought all the trouble on themselves. But there were also more idealists than there are today. People have become less politicised and more complacent.”

Willie Breslin and Dermy McClenaghan acknowledge the North has changed significantly but insist there’s still more work to be done. “The PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) is an improvement on the RUC, there are more decent people in the force,” says Breslin. “But there remains an old Special Branch element which exerts a hold at a senior level, and crime in nationalist areas isn’t tackled adequately because some of the criminals are informers.”

Breslin regrets there is no cross-community, left-wing party. McClenaghan says “DUP antics” at Stormont show sectarianism still prevails. He believes the Belfast Agreement institutionalised sectarianism. He regrets that most jobs created in Derry are “low-paid, mind-numbing ones in call centres or the service industries.”

The establishment of the North’s Housing Executive ended most housing discrimination but there are still injustices. In north Belfast, 83% of those on the housing lists are nationalists.

Inez McCormack recently visited Catholic women living in the Seven Towers flats. “It felt like I was back in the Derry slums,” she says. “There was damp on the walls, pigeon waste on the landings, and sewage coming through the sinks.

She is concerned about those remaining outside “the golden bubble of the new good times.” Nineteen of Northern Ireland’s top 20 most deprived areas are in north and west Belfast or Derry. Catholics make up 72% of those in the North’s 500 most deprived areas, and only 20% of those in the 500 most affluent.

McCormack’s civil rights days taught her much. “I learned when injustice exists, never accept the authorities saying ‘Now isn’t the right time for change’ or ‘We need to move slowly.’

“I discovered people can settle for reform when their own comfort is secured but you should never be satisfied until the most excluded in society get justice. I learned that injustice can provoke anger, and there’s nothing wrong with anger if used constructively. There is a great deal to be said for not knowing your place.”

October 5, 2008

How a phoenix lit the troubles flames

(by Liam Clarke, Sunday Times 5 October 2008)

A senior British civil servant reviewing Republican News – strictly in the line of duty – was surprised to see a picture of himself, hair a little longer, paunch a little shorter, being lifted bodily by the RUC from a civil rights demonstration in the late 60s. The man, who went on to join the police reserve and held many sensitive posts throughout the years of conflict, was proud to be reminded of his active role, generally seen as the launching pad for the Troubles.

Others now familiar in quite different contexts were also involved. Lord Bew, a former adviser to David Trimble and Professor of Politics at Queens University, has been prominent in the commemorations. Bew was one of forty members of the People’s Democracy movement whose march from Belfast to Londonderry was attacked by loyalist mobs and off duty police in January 1969.

Despite the diversity of the civil rights movement, which for a time caught the imagination of a generation, there is a determined effort by Sinn Féin to claim it as part of the pre-history of the Provisional IRA. A T-shirt on sale in Sinn Féin’s bookshop carries the slogan “1968-2008 The Struggle Continues” above the rising phoenix symbol of the IRA.

The precise date and time they are thinking of is 3.30 pm on October 5th 1968 and the place is Duke Street in Derry. There, a civil rights march which is frequently regarded as the starting point of the troubles took place. But was it inevitable? Or did a series of errors and wrong moves result in events that could not have been predicted?

In a pamphlet entitled “Civil Rights – Reform or Revolution” historian Ultan Gillen recently examined the period in the context of the republican movement’s “new direction” which was launched after the collapse of the border campaign of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

After the campaign failed to attract sufficient support, the IRA and Sinn Féin concluded a non violent form of struggle which could build broad popular support for limited demands was the way forward. In co-operation with the Communist Party of Ireland and various local groups agitating on housing and human rights issues, they tried to create a broad alliance which would bring working people and the liberal left together on a reform programme.

The meeting which launched the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was held in Belfast’s International Hotel on January 29th 1967. Every political party in Northern Ireland was represented at the meeting and although Liam McMillan, the Officer Commanding the IRA in the city at the time, admitted he had enough members there to pack the executive, he held back to ensure that the movement remained broadly based.

The first executive included trades unionists, members of civil liberties groups like the Campaign for Social Justice, a representative of the Young Unionists, the Northern Ireland Labour Party, Gerry Fitt’s Republican Labour Party and the Ulster Liberals. Few of these groups are popularly remembered as founders of the civil rights movement, and a good many no longer exist.

Objectives agreed were irreproachably reformist and moderate in tone. They would defend the basic freedoms of all citizens, to protect the rights of the individual, highlight all possible abuses of power, demand guarantees for the freedom of speech, assembly and association and inform the public of their lawful rights.

Disaffected republicans – those who would soon form the Provos – regarded it with disdain and young radicals attempted to push the NICRA leadership into more radical action which would bring things to a head by confronting the Stormont government and exposing its shortcomings.

The organiser of the Duke Street march was Eamon Melaugh, later an Official republican but then a non aligned housing activist, who worked closely with Eamon McCann and the Derry Labour Party. They invited the Belfast-based NICRA leadership to sponsor the march and settled a route which would go through Derry’s walls, where normally only unionist parades were held.

NICRA, represented by communist trade union veterans like Berry Sinclair and Edwina Stewart, didn’t know Derry and missed the significance until the march was banned. Locally, John Hume advised against it and declined to attend.

NICRA tried to call it off but were forced to acquiesce when McCann and his colleagues said they would march regardless. Ivan Cooper, one of the organisers who had left the Unionist Party to join Labour, recalls that when he and McCann were briefly arrested that morning, the police warned them that they were determined to enforce the ban but then released them in time to attend.

At Duke Street, the RUC even handed Cooper a loud hailer which he used to read out the Civil Rights demands to the demonstrators. Betty Sinclair, a communist trade union official, jailed for sedition in the 40s for publicly supporting the IRA, congratulated the crowd on their good behaviour, said they had made their point and asked them to go home. Her remarks, which were echoed by other speakers including Cooper. Buit McCann says the strategy of some local activists was “to provoke the police into over reaction” and this was easily achieved.

After placards were hurled at police lines, the RUC responded with water cannons and baton charges. Melaugh remarked prophetically: “This is the end of Stormont”.

The episode was caught on film by Gay O’Brien, an RTE cameraman, whose images went round the world. Gerry Fitt, then an MP, was seen with his shirt covered in blood. Paddy Douglas, besuited Tyrone businessman, was shown being dug in the groin by an RUC baton moments after remonstrating with an officer.

Mickey Devine, who joined the INLA and eventually died on hunger strike in 1981, said his life was “turned upside down” by O’Brien’s images. “I didn’t even know there was a Civil Rights march; I saw it on television. But that night I was down the town smashing shop windows and stoning the RUC … Within a month everyone was a political activist. I had never had a political thought in my life but now we talked of nothing else.”

Martin McGuinness, now deputy first minister at Stormont and a strong supporter of the return of policing powers, concluded that reform was impossible and took the paramilitary path. He said he was soon convinced that “justice could only be achieved in the context of a 32 county united Ireland”. The unionist regime and loyalist paramilitaries, claiming that they faced an IRA and communist takeover, responded viciously. IRA dissidents seized their chance to recruit youths like McGuinness and Devine, and within months, the promising cross community alliance forged by NICRA had been replaced by sectarian paranoia and violence.

This outcome was neither inevitable nor even likely. Sinclair and Cooper might have been obeyed, the police might have held back and the Stormont government might have kept a cooler head in the months that followed. Nobody could have predicted that a movement for equal rights would spark 30 years of violence.

Ironically, NICRA was one of the most successful political movements in the history of Ireland. Its demands were all met by the mid 70s and now no party would suggest that measures it championed, such as equality of opportunity and one man one vote, should be rescinded.

Former members of NICRA are proud of their roles; many who poured scorn on it are now scrambling to claim its legacy.

Yet, thanks to a series of flukes and misjudgements, the short lived movement will always be remembered as the spark which lit the bonfire that claimed more than 3,000 lives.

The deepest irony of all is that the IRA campaign, far from being the culmination of the civil rights project turned out to be its grave-digger.

October 6, 2008

Campbell: I was intimidated

Newlsetter 6 October 2008

STORMONT DUP minister Gregory Campbell sparks outrage with speech on discrimination against Protestants.

The East Londonderry MP was said to have caused “uproar” when he spoke at a 40th anniversary conference for the Northern Ireland civil rights movement.

Backlash

He suffered a vigorous backlash in Londonderry’s Guildhall on Saturday when he spoke of the poverty and intimidation he and his family suffered growing up as Protestants in Londonderry.

He also told the audience how he was refused a job in the city because of his religion and how discrimination by law continues today against Protestants in Northern Ireland.

“It was certainly the most lively part of the day,” said Mr Campbell, who is also Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure.

“I held up a letter for everyone to see from the Housing Executive in 1978 which told me I had qualified for a job and that I would be put on the reserve register to be called when a position opened.

Discrimination

“But that was at the time that discrimination against Protestants in the Housing Executive was beginning and I told the audience that the job never came – because I was a Protestant.

“Austin Currie (a former SDLP MP] then asked me if I should not have joined the civil rights movement.

“But I responded that 40 years ago there was not the wide range of anti-discrimination legislation and commissions to stop discrimination on grounds of race or religion.

“And yet now we have discrimination against people on grounds of their religion set down in law in Northern Ireland.

“I pointed at the audience and said that their community never suffered discrimination by statutory provision the way Protestants are now discriminated against when trying to join the police. There was uproar in the hall. Even Mark Durkan did not contradict me, but calm was eventually restored.”

PSNI slammed

Mr Campbell said that many suitably qualified Protestants are today refused jobs in the PSNI under the 50:50 rule because they can only be employed if there are equal numbers of suitably qualified Catholics applying to join.

His view now is that equality legislation means nationalists “are more likely to be successful at becoming police officers than unionists are at becoming housing officers”.

Reflecting on the 1960s in Londonderry, Mr Campbell told the News Letter he was raised in York Street in the Waterside in a rented two-up-two-down terrace which only had an outside toilet, a ‘scullery’ for a kitchen and no central heating.

As a typical young unionist lad, he said he attended technical college and then started work in a shop.

Intimidated

“I used to go to the Brandywell quite regularly until I got physically intimidated at several games. Other friends suffered likewise,” he said.

“I can recall that during August 1969, cousins of my mother who lived in Windmill Terrace near the Bogside arrived to stay with us. I, as a teenager, was unsure what was happening.

“I remember my cousins recounting people arriving at their door and informing them in no uncertain terms they would be better off leaving the area

A night time trip to Great James Street to see the Presbyterian church under siege left me even more frustrated as I heard on the radio how nationalists were protesting about how they felt under siege.

“Working class Protestants and Roman Catholics were completely divided in relation to the campaign as it took hold. It began just a few years after the defeat of the 1956-1962 IRA campaign.”

He was typical of working class unionist thinking, he says, in that as the civil rights protests grew so did his resentment and anger.

“That smouldering simmering resentment has never been extinguished,” he said.

“It wasn’t simply that we weren’t first class citizens, it was anger that the nationalist finger of blame was being pointed at us for nationalist deprivation while our disadvantage wasn’t even recognised.”A night time trip to Great James Street to see the Presbyterian church under siege left me even more frustrated as I heard on the radio how nationalists were protesting about how they felt under siege.

“Working class Protestants and Roman Catholics were completely divided in relation to the campaign as it took hold. It began just a few years after the defeat of the 1956-1962 IRA campaign.”

He was typical of working class unionist thinking, he says, in that as the civil rights protests grew so did his resentment and anger.

“That smouldering simmering resentment has never been extinguished,” he said.

“It wasn’t simply that we weren’t first class citizens, it was anger that the nationalist finger of blame was being pointed at us for nationalist deprivation while our disadvantage wasn’t even recognised.”A night time trip to Great James Street to see the Presbyterian church under siege left me even more frustrated as I heard on the radio how nationalists were protesting about how they felt under siege.

“Working class Protestants and Roman Catholics were completely divided in relation to the campaign as it took hold. It began just a few years after the defeat of the 1956-1962 IRA campaign.”

He was typical of working class unionist thinking, he says, in that as the civil rights protests grew so did his resentment and anger.

“That smouldering simmering resentment has never been extinguished,” he said.

“It wasn’t simply that we weren’t first class citizens, it was anger that the nationalist finger of blame was being pointed at us for nationalist deprivation while our disadvantage wasn’t even recognised.”

Those who “falsely accused” his community of depriving Catholics of their rights prompted his entry into politics.

After October 1968, he said that some in the nationalist/republican community intimidated, attacked and murdered unionists, which along with the triumphalist activities of many political representatives resulted in virtually the complete elimination of unionists from parts of Londonderry.

The civil rights movement achieved its objectives within a few months but intimidation, attacks and murder of unionists, along with the triumphalist activities of politicians, still led to the mass movement of thousands of Protestants to make the “river crossing”, he said.

Two traditions in divided city
Editorial Newsletter: 06 October 2008

THE Civil Rights movement in Northern Ireland has always been portrayed as an Irish nationalist/republican struggle against unionist structures and institutions and scant regard is given to the situation of Protestants living in places like Londonderry when the street agitation began 40 years ago.

East Londonderry DUP MP Gregory Campbell, who was growing up in the Maiden City at the time, provides a graphic account in today’s News Letter of what life was like for the minority Protestant community there with a catalogue of intimidation and attacks by militant republicans.

Mr Campbell recalls that as a working class unionist, just as much disenfranchised in employment prospects as his nationalist city-dwellers, nothing about the Civil Rights’ movement attracted him; rather as the protests grew so did his resentment and anger.

And with it a mass exodus of Protestants and unionists from the mainly nationalist West Bank of the River Foyle.

As Mr Campbell points out, there were undoubtedly other factors in the exodus, but shooting, bombing and intimidation were the primary reasons.

Lessons of Derry civil rights march relevant still, conference hears

Dan Keenan, Irish Times 4 October 2008

THE MARKING of the 40th anniversary of the Derry civil rights march of October 5th, 1968, should help provide lessons for the modern era, a Belfast conference has heard.

Michael Farrell, a lawyer, author, rights campaigner and student activist in 1968 told a special seminar at Queen’s University the anniversary should not be marked by triumphalism or a reopening of old wounds.

He told the conference, 1968: Civil Rights, Then and Now, that the NI Civil Rights Association was born out of anger at unionist corporations mainly in small towns across the North over issues such as housing, jobs, gerrymandering and local democracy. He denied it was sectarian or had anything to do with a united Ireland.

Placing it in an international context, he linked the anniversary with the 60th anniversary of the UN declaration on human rights. Civil rights activists in Northern Ireland in 1968 identified with blacks in the southern US and with “a Baptist minister named after Martin Luther”, he said.

He contended that the Northern state was “too brittle” to accommodate the demands of the Civil Rights Movement, while the British government ignored it as best it could. The vast array of national and international tools and instruments which are now available for the purposes of seeking redress were simply unavailable in the late 1960s.

Simon Price, author of Northern Ireland’s 1968, warned against reliance on memory of those involved to assess the impact of the Civil Rights Movement.

“The past cannot be remembered as it was,” he argued. “All memories are of equal value; all historical sources, however, are not.” He continued: “Collective memory reconstructs the past as myth rather than fact – to serve the interests of a particular group. It provides consolation, confirms and reinforces values and conjures up a wider political vision.”

Queen’s University academic Lord Paul Bew argued that an opportunity was lost sometime between the October 5th civil rights march in Derry and the attack on the People’s Democracy march from Belfast to Derry at Burntollet the following January.

He felt the then unionist prime minister, Terence O’Neill, had taken on his hardliners and was preparing to reform the Northern state. “Burntollet changed it all,” he argued, adding that the response to the challenge posed by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was amateurish.

University of Ulster academic Paul Arthur discussed the diversity of the original Civil Rights Movement, suggesting it was a broad organisation which suffered from having “too many chiefs”.

Questions on Terence O’Neill’s sincerity were not as relevant as his ability to deal with the challenge of change, he said.

Bob Purdie, author of Politics in the Street, doubted that Capt O’Neill “could have pulled it off”, arguing that the former leader’s determination was not enough. Like Dr Purdie, Edwina Stewart, a NICRA member, admitted that she and many of the 1968 generation had made “many mistakes”. She told the conference of a sense of naivety which marked the early days of the movement and the first marches in Northern Ireland.

Kevin Boyle, of the University of Essex, said the Civil Rights Movement preceded “the human rights era” and argued that ideas were now transferred globally and rapidly thanks to the extraordinary development in information and communications technology.

Tom Hadden, of Queen’s University, said those agitating for civil rights had to ask how best to do this without stoking terrorism.

Margaret Ward of the Women’s Resource and Development Agency said the issue of civil rights now had to be “gendered”. She argued that much of the intervening period was marked by a realisation of the need to recognise the division between Catholics and Protestants. Such determination had to be given to the separate needs of men and women.

The weekend’s commemorations continue this weekend with a major international conference in Derry on the civil rights legacy.

DUP element trying to undermine NI power-sharing – SF

Irish times 4 October 2008

Elements of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) hark back to the days of unionist rule and hope to undermine Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government, Sinn Féin claimed today.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness used a speech at a major event commemorating the 1960s Civil Rights Movement to launch an attack on the DUP.

He called on DUP leader Peter Robinson to agree a deal to secure the government and warned that failure to share power would see unionists robbed of any political control.

The Civil Rights movement protested against anti-Catholic discrimination by the then unionist government, but it was attacked by loyalists and police in scenes that preceded the outbreak of the Troubles.

Mr McGuinness told an international conference in Londonderry marking the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights campaign that some unionists still believed the period of unionist rule was a “golden age”.

“That mindset – of no surrender and not an inch – still exists in some elements of political unionism today, and especially within the DUP,” said Mr McGuinness.

“The fact is that there are still those within the DUP who do not agree with power sharing as a concept or as a matter of political practice.

“They do not accept that the days of unionist majority rule are gone and gone forever.

“They believe that by stalling and delaying they can hollow out the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements. And that is what is at the heart of the current crisis.”

The DUP and Sinn Fein are divided over a range of issues including the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Assembly. The dispute has seen republicans block meetings of the Executive since June.

But Mr McGuinness said: “If one party does not believe in partnership government and power sharing on the basis of equality then it is they who are placing the political institutions at risk.

“The Unionist political system needs to understand and come to terms with the reality that life has changed for everybody.

“The only way any unionist politician will ever hold any semblance of real political power now or in the future is in partnership with nationalists and republicans.”

Mr McGuinness said he had attended the British-Irish Council meeting in Edinburgh last week despite the deadlock, but was disappointed the DUP blocked yesterday’s North-South Ministerial Council after an Executive meeting was cancelled.

He said that since Mr Robinson emerged as leader of the DUP in June his party had yet to engage in meaningful negotiation and had cherry-picked from the St Andrews agreement.

Mr McGuinness claimed this analysis was supported by recent comments from former taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British prime minister Gordon Brown

“If partnership government is beyond the DUP then it will fall to the two governments to take the necessary decisions and implement the necessary policy changes to ensure political progress in the all-Ireland context envisaged in the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements,” he said.

Mr McGuinness added: “The resolution is DUP agreement to work the partnership arrangements and to agree a timeframe for the transfer of power on policing and justice.”

The DUP has said there is a lack of confidence in the unionist community for a move on policing, but Mr McGuinness said this was a bogus argument.

“I believe that an agreement forged between myself and Peter Robinson would send out a powerful and hopeful message for the future,” he said.

“But if we are to move forward it will take political courage and political leadership. It will need real and meaningful partnership government and power sharing.”

His comments came as Secretary of State Shaun Woodward said both governments remained ready to help, but believed the parties could yet find a way out of the deadlock.

A transforming moment in Irish history, 40 years on

Events in the North will mark the anniversary of the iconic civil rights march in Derry in 1968, writes Gerry Moriarty

STALWARTS OF the Northern Ireland civil rights movement – older, greyer, perhaps even wiser – are currently reminiscing about October 5th, 1968, a Saturday 40 years ago that turned out to be a transforming moment in modern Irish history. Some believe it was the day the Troubles officially began.

It was a heady, exciting time for sure in many corners of the world, what with the Vietnam War protests, the US presidential election, Martin Luther King and the American civil rights marches, the rioting in Paris, and let us mention too the music: Dylan, Hendrix, the Beatles, Cream.

Even the dreary steeples couldn’t escape the hope and exhilaration of the period. As Barack Obama might say, it was a time for change. In Northern Ireland in 1968 the change was real and dynamic.

The memories this weekend will be of Duke Street in Derry when the RUC turned on the marchers, a place that is rather like the GPO on Easter Week 1916: if all the people who said or thought they were there were there you would cram Croke Park, or the Brandywell in Derry, several times over.

The agitators are 40 years older now. Some are dead.

You’ll be familiar with the names who were there or thereabouts on October 5th, 1968, or on other key dates around that frenetic time: John Hume, Austin Currie, Ivan Cooper, Bernadette Devlin, Eamonn McCann, Nell McCafferty, Michael Farrell, Paul Arthur, Paul Bew.

Some are taking part in events marking the anniversary this weekend, the biggest of which is a three-day commemoration in the Guild Hall in Derry, which President Mary McAleese will address.

A conference, Civil Rights – Then and Now , is taking place in Queen’s University, Belfast, tomorrow. The Workers’ Party will also reflect on October 5th, 1968, at their Northern regional conference in Belfast on Saturday. Other events are also taking place recalling the day.

Glasses will be lifted to former Irish Times journalist Mary Holland, who reported from Derry on the day for the Observer , and to the RTÉ cameraman Gay O’Brien, whose footage of the RUC batoning marchers was flashed across the world, and to former West Belfast MP Gerry Fitt, the image of him with blood streaming down his face after he was truncheoned being part of the iconic impressions of October 5th. All dead now.

The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) was formed in early 1967 to protest against discrimination of Catholics and to campaign for five key demands: “one man, one vote”; an end to gerrymandering of council boundaries; an end to housing discrimination; an end to discrimination by public authorities; and the abolition of the B Specials police reserve.

The following year nationalist MP Austin Currie, later an SDLP minister and later still a Fine Gael minister, staged a sit-in in Caledon, protesting that Catholics were being discriminated against in the allocation of housing.

That August he was the central figure behind a march from Coalisland to Dungannon. Some 4,000 participated but it did not gain significant coverage. The world was more concerned with the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia a few days earlier.

October 5th in Derry attracted some 300-400 marchers. Currie remembered the day as being like “The Charge of the Light Brigade: policemen to the front of us, policemen to the back of us, no way out”.

Historian Paul Arthur, then a 23-year-old just back from an Israeli kibbutz, had a similar memory of being hemmed in on both sides by the police. “There was a huge innocence about the day,” he said, recalling the prevailing youthful fervour of 1968. “Beforehand no one had any sense that the police would attack us,” he added.

Arthur said similar incidents had happened previously “on a much more minor scale” with the RUC wading in with batons when, say, Irish Tricolours were displayed at St Patrick’s Day parades. “But the huge difference was that Gay O’Brien captured what happened. His presence was what made the 5th of October.”

The reports by Mary Holland also had a significant impact. Previously the British government, to its great relief, left what happened in Northern Ireland to the unionist Stormont administration, as was the Pontius Pilate political protocol of the day, but not any more.

At the debates this weekend in Derry and Belfast the likes of Farrell, Currie, Arthur and fellow historian Lord (Paul) Bew will discuss that past. One can expect that the predominant opinion will be celebrating the civil rights movement but there will be other views. Gregory Campbell will be there.

Paul Bew had just begun college in Cambridge in October 1968, having been involved in the socialist movement in Northern Ireland with the likes of Farrell and McCann. At the Belfast event he may also offer a cautious divergent take on the period.

He missed the Derry march but was marching at Burntollet when it was attacked by loyalists in January 1969, precipitating a period of rioting and disturbances across Northern Ireland that culminated in the Battle of the Bogside in August 1969 and the arrival of British troops on the streets of Derry to try to restore civil order.

Subsequently, there was the IRA split and the formation of the Provisional IRA, and all the toxic history and 3,700 deaths that came afterwards.

Bew wonders was an opportunity lost between October 5th and Burntollet. If Burntollet could have been avoided, could unionist prime minister Terence O’Neill have succeeded with his moderate and modest programme of reform when he appeared willing to take on his hardliners?

Bew, with a raft of caveats, may enter his “what if” into the debating mix this weekend and no doubt will be politely but robustly challenged by the likes of Currie and Arthur, who argue that O’Neill was just too weak to implement reform.

Currie said O’Neill was regularly warned of the inevitability of the floodgates opening if Catholics were not accorded civil rights, but that he just didn’t have the political strength to prevent the damburst.

He feels too that more precipitate action by the British government could have prevented a hopeful enterprise being overtaken by a violent sectarian conflict, which was the antithesis of what civil rights was about. There will be plenty to talk about.

• Gerry Moriarty is Northern Editor of The Irish Times

Marching through Derry to the sound of ‘We Shall Overcome’

It’s 40 years since police broke up the Civil Rights protest in Derry. Martin Cowley Irish Times, 30 September 2008,recalls his part in an event that flashed around the world

BLACK AND white news film of Derry in the 1960s coats the city in a sickly pallor.

But it was exhilarating time for a teenager gripped by twin bugs of politics and news.

Political tension on the doorstep, turmoil in international capitals, East-West confrontation, impending epochal change worldwide. That was 1968.

Anybody worth their salt was radical then. Derry Labour Party chanted “Tories Out North and South” and demanded nationalisation of banks.

The Establishment gave them the brush-off with a sniffy smile. No one’s laughing now, comrade.

October 5th, 1968 heralded the bloody baptism of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement, which took its inspiration from the struggles of black America. The movement’s guiding principle was non-violence and its leaders stuck to it.

Many other forces and influences quickly bore down on the sorry state of Northern Ireland, however, and that peaceful and dignified demand for equality was overtaken by a nightmare of strife that lasted 35 years.

When I heard last week that Claude Wilton had died, I rummaged among the detritus of a reporter’s past – such as dog-eared notebooks, Stormont press gallery tickets, a rubber bullet and Christmas cards from 10 Downing Street.

I unearthed a 1966 diary that confirmed a vivid recollection of Claude in those early days of street politics. Claude was a good soul.

Highly principled and respected by all, he was a solicitor of Protestant stock.

He instinctively practised civil rights long before the term was coined, and long before legal aid. He loved Derry well and helped all who sought his aid, especially the men and women of no property.

The diary also confirmed – though unrecognised then – what could even have been a minor scoop for a budding reporter; a report of what must have been one the North’s first public airings of the Civil Rights anthem, We Shall Overcome .

The year 1968 was marked by international turmoil. Student riots in Paris, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the Soviet Union’s humiliation of Dubcek and its crushing of the Prague Spring, and much more.

On October 5th the world saw the ugly face of Northern Ireland, and Britain had to open its eyes to excesses on its western reaches. The course of this island’s history, and British-Irish relations, was changed forever.

“Gentlemen, please,” pleaded a protester facing a phalanx of Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers as they blocked civil rights marchers who were calling for wholesale reform of voting and housing allocation procedures, and an end job discrimination.

Batons flailed as the police broke up the demonstration after some early scuffling. The police had the marchers hemmed in on both sides. Protesters tried to dodge blows to the body and head deliberately aimed or doled out gratuitously to anyone within reach.

News cameraman Gay O’Brien of RTÉ shot the famous footage that flashed around the world.

I happened to be in his line of sight, and was filmed being sent sprawling by a burly policeman wielding a blackthorn stick after I had taken other baton blows to the head.

I had deliberately walked on the pavement and was among the crowd on the footpath as the police charged.

I was a young reporter with the Derry Journal and had not been assigned to cover the march, but I certainly wasn’t going to miss it.

The marchers’ grievances were shared by Catholic nationalists and liberal Protestants: demands for an end to a system that gave business-owners extra votes in council elections and demands for houses for hundreds of families crowded into crumbling, unsanitary flats.

Some time before October 5th, my editor sent me to speak to an old woman who lived alone in a tiny run-down house that had an outside lavatory with cracked bowl.

A Protestant, she lived in a unionist enclave. Her plight was sad. Working-class Protestants also endured rotten housing, too silently, perhaps, for the greater cause of unionist unity.

Unionist Party apparatchiks had ward boundaries sewn up so that they controlled the corporation, despite the nationalist voting majority.

The ruling forces turned their backs on the homeless and helped to perpetuate job discrimination.

Derry was out on a limb. Vital shipping and rail links had been axed.

A second city was earmarked – “Craigavon”.

The galvanising factor that uniquely united Derry’s citizens was a decision to locate the North’s second university in Coleraine.

This host of issues drove Claude Wilton into politics, in two unsuccessful attempts to win seats from incumbent unionists.

My friends and I joined the campaigning for him and in 1966 I took note of the craic in the small green diary.

It was then that I heard the civil rights anthem sung on the streets of Derry for the first time.

May 14th, 1966: Went down with Seamus Coyle to Claude Wilton’s HQ. Delivered election addresses for two hours. I delivered to Sir Basil and Lady McFarland (local unionist grandees).

May 18th: Went to Claude’s final rally with (my cousin) John Healy. Johnny Hume and Ivan Cooper spoke. While John Hume was speaking . . . (unionist) supporters and bands passed by. Claude, etc, sang We Shall Overcome.

May 19th: Was out knocking up people all day. McLaughlin’s (more cousins) was . . . area HQ.

The next page reads: “Claude was beaten by 443 votes. After result, all supporters sang We Shall Overcome walking down the Strand Road.” Stirring times.

• Martin Cowley was a reporter on The Irish Times from 1971 until 1989. He was the newspaper’s London editor in 1978-81. Later he joined Reuters as Ireland correspondent

Protests veteran reviews history

BBC  October 2008

The civil rights movement would have been more successful if it had been properly structured, according to a leading figure.

Journalist Eamon McCann helped organise many early demonstrations.

He said marchers ended up reacting to things happening around them – rather than pursuing their own agenda.

“We were making it up as we went along,” he said, speaking at the time of the 40th anniversary commemorations of the Civil Rights movement.

“And of course once the events got out of hand, so to speak, after 5 October we were tossed around like flotsam and jetsam on the tide of events rather than shaping and channelling events ourselves.”

Mr McCann said that the main lesson he would draw from the mistakes made by the movement “was the need for clear and consistant organisation”.