‘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

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

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