Former President Praises The Pioneering Civil Rights Activists

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Remembering 1968 – 40th anniversary of civil rights movement
By Ashleigh McDonald Irish News 25 August 2008

FORMER president Mary Robinson has paid tribute to those who took part in a Civil Rights march 40 years ago, saying their actions “took us out of the shadows and into the sun”.

She was speaking yesterday at the McCluskey Civil Rights Summer School in Carlingford, Co Louth, which commemorated the 40th anniversary of the 1968 Civil Rights movement.

The two-day event was held at the weekend in Carlingford’s Heritage Centre, where a number of guest speakers including Bernadette McAliskey and former SDLP minister Brid Rodgers – who both played active parts during the campaign – addressed issues of civil rights both past and present.

Mrs Robinson, who now lives in the US, was key speaker at the summer school and was introduced by Nobel Peace Laureate and former SDLP leader John Hume as a woman known for her “unflagging and tireless commitment to human rights and social justice”.

The former president and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was fitting to speak on the 40th anniversary of the first ever civil rights march when people took to the streets and walked from Coalisland to Dungannon.

“If I look back at 40 years ago today, I think of 2,000 people beginning a tidal sea of change that would lead to the fact that we are now out of the shadows and in to the sun,” Mrs Robinson said.

Thanking the Civil Rights 1968 Commemoration committee for highlighting the importance of what happened 40 years ago, she said: “There is a need for memory and for reflection.

“I believe we must always remember to pay appropriate tribute to the men and women who for many years fought in the shadows for rights and dignity.”

Mrs Robinson also addressed the issue of racism against migrant workers in Ireland – a subject which Mrs McAliskey spoke about during Saturday’s session of the summer school.

The McCluskey Civil Rights Summer School was named after the Dungannon doctor Dr Con McCluskey and his wife Patricia who formed the Homeless Citizens League in Co Tyrone in the early 1960s.

The work they undertook recording and compiling statistics highlighted the nature of discrimination in jobs and housing against Catholics under the then Unionist regime.

Also present at yesterday’s event was former Stormont MP Austin Currie, who said the “worst violation of human rights” during the Troubles were those of the Disappeared.

Telling those gathered he was a friend of one of

the Disappeared, Columba McVeigh, Mr Currie said: “His mother went to her grave having spent 30 years mourning for Columba.

“Her headstone has Columba’s name on it, without the appropriate final date.

“We should take every opportunity, when human rights are being considered, to remember this category of people who have been denied a Christian burial.”

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