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

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Originally published: Reality, No. 7, Centre Pages

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

Dr. Conn and Mrs. Patricia McCluskey

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Dr. Conn and Mrs. Patricia McCluskey of Dungannon, Co. Tyrone, were founders of the Campaign for Social Justice in N. Ireland. After extensive lobbying, in Tyrone and other counties, and despite several disappointments it was launched at a press conference in the Wellington Park Hotel, Belfast on 14 January 1964. It undoubtedly was the fore-runner of the N. Ireland Civil Rights Association. Nicra was established. three years later, in January 1967. Mrs. McCluskey (nee McShane), prior to the establishment of CSJ was one of sixty-seven people, mainly women, who founded the Homeless Citizens’ League. After unsuccessful representations to the Urban Council their first marches in Dungannon took place in June 1963. The League was then led by a youthful Mrs. Angela McCrystal.

The League and Campaign’s activities are recorded in Up Off Their Knees. Written by Conn McCluskey, it was published in 1989.

Original 1968 Civil Rights Poster

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This poster was printed as part of the mobilisation for Derry’s first-ever Civil Rights demo on Oct. 5th 1968. Some years later its designer, Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh, pointed out that such was the haste to obtain it off the presses that it was not properly inspected, and admitted it was only after many months he discovered that the word “Meeting” had been misspelt. He revealed that the colours he choose were quite deliberate. Black, symbolic of the on-going struggles against racism in America, South Africa and elsewhere. Red and blue on a white background were incorporated in a bid to widen and deeper what few links that then existed with working-class unionist families, who also suffered poor housing conditions across the city.

Ó Dochartaigh was secretary to of the Derry Housing Action Committee [D.H.A.C], and editor of its periodic newsletter, priced one-shilling. Following the successful Coalisland to Dungannon march the D.H.A.C called on the Nicra executive to organise a demo to highlight diverse social issues, particularly the dire shortage of houses and the need for boundary extension. It played a pivotal role in raising public awareness, not least through its newsletter REALITY, by frequently disrupting Corporation meetings at the Guildhall, court appearances and two members being incarcerated, pickets, street protests and other actions which attracted widespread media attention.

Women played a prominent part in its creation and development. The most outstanding of these was the late Mrs. Bridget Bond. Both she and her husband Johnny were key activists since the D.H.A.C’s inception. Mrs. Bond later unveiled the Bloody Sunday Monument dedicated to the 13 people shot dead during the civil rights march on January 30, 1972. Also remembered is Johnny Johnson who died of his injuries, soon afterwards. 17 civilians were reported wounded by the 1st Paratroops Regiment which opened fire on the demonstration after entering the Bogside.

Rebecca McGlade – A Tribute in the Northern People 1989

The hundreds of people who attended Rebecca McGlade’s funeral last Sunday was testimony to the love and respect she had built up during her life.

Rebecca was a Republican in the truest sense of the word and she was fiercely proud of her beliefs. Her republicanism was that of Wolfe Tone and she spent her life arguing, campaigning and working whatever way she could for the unity of Catholic, Protestant and dissenter. Rebecca hated bigotry and sectarianism and in order to rid Northern Ireland of this evil she devoted much of her life to the civil rights movement. She was a prominent figure on all the marches and for many years was a member of the Executive of NICRA.

Rebecca and her husband Big Frank worked tirelessly on behalf of their class. They carried the socialist message that working class strength lay in working class unity to the streets of Ardoyne and North Belfast. In the early seventies as sectarianism, communal strife, and the activities of bigots gathered momentum, they became more determined to get the socialist message across. They held positively and loudly to non-sectarian principles and convictions when lesser people would have chosen silence.

The only fear they knew was the fear of failing and this they did not do. That there is a continued voice of opposition to narrow mindedness and bigotry in this city of Belfast and that the voice is daily growing louder is a tribute to the people like Frank and Rebecca. People who had the vision to see the evil that was developing in our midst and the courage to stand against it.

To her friends and comrades Rebecca was gentle and quiet spoken, yet fiercely determined in her views. She did not require glasnost to express her opinions. Her commonsense and ability to relate politics to the lives of people enriched many a political debate.

Rebecca was also a deeply spiritual woman. She loved music and shared with Frank an appreciation of the Irish language and its literature. Her spirituality was an essential part of her humanity which she shared with us all.

Goodbye Rebecca. We will miss you but are enriched by having known you.

Cathy Harkin: An Appreciation

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Cathy Harkin died on 22nd July, 1985

On her headstone are the words:
“It was as brief as it was difficult.”

Though the words were placed by Cathy in memory of her greatly loved mother, no words could better sum up Cathy’s own life.

Cathy worked for many years in a shirt factory in Derry, a hard life, badly paid, but not uncommon in Derry. She married and had one son, Terence, and a daughter, Molly, who was an infant cot death.

Cathy was involved in the Derry Labour Party for many years and was in the Derry Housing Action Committee which was linked to the start of the Civil Rights Movement.

But it is probably for her part in Women’s Aid that she will be most remembered. Any woman who came to her for help was sure not only to find a sympathetic helper, but a friend. She was available at any time, day or night, for any woman in trouble. She used to say that she would get arthritis of the shoulder from the many tears that were cried on her. However, she never complained.

She worried greatly about many people, from the young prostitutes that were being cruelly treated in her home town of Derry, to those people who were crushed by poverty, trying to bring up children on not enough money. You could always be sure that Cathy would put the interests of anyone else before herself.

When she got the opportunity to avail of formal education, she chose to study history, graduating with a degree in the late 1070s. Cathy was always up to date on Welfare Law and appeared often with claimants at Tribunals, getting whatever was possible for the applicants though often despairing at what was available.

Cathy was imaginative. You could never be bored in her company. Her mind could see angles to every situation that would not normally strike you. She was fun to be with and, after talking to her, you went away refreshed and uplifted.

Cathy was a feminist, a socialist and a trade unionist but mostly Cathy was a beautiful Derry woman. She will be greatly missed.

“It was as brief as it was difficult”.

Written by Avila Kilmurray. Source: City of Change by Dermot Kelly, 2007. Yes! Publication, 10-12 Bishop St., Derry.

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).