“The Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement”

Saturday 28 August 2010


Holy Trinity Church, Carlingford, Co Louth

Speakers include:

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

To RSVP or for further information contact:
Tim Attwood 07802 279939 or Email:


9.30am             Registration and Refreshments


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

Chair: Dr. Brendan Lynn

Austin Currie

Danny Morrison


II.  What is the Future of Constitutional Nationalism?

Chair: Dr. Eamon Phoenix

Margaret Ritchie MP MLA

Dr. Martin Mansergh TD


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

Chair: Prof. Arthur Aughey

Tom Elliot MLA

Roy Garland


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

(Can we go back to the centre?)

Chair: A.N. Other

Alex Attwood MLA

David McKittrick


Presentation of the Con McCluskey Civil Rights Award


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

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

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

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