Saturday, January 14, 2006

Civil Rights: In The Beginning

In June 1968, Ulster Unionist Party employee Emily Beattie was allocated a council house in Caledon, Co. Tyrone. She was a 19-year-old single woman and could not be described as a “priority tenant” and was given the house ahead of older married Catholic families with children.

Austin Currie, Nationalist MP for East Tyrone and founder of the SDLP two years later, was one of those who occupied the house in protest before being removed by a policeman (who happened to be Miss Beattie's brother).

A protest meeting by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) followed in Dungannon on 22nd June. NICRA and the Campaign for Social Justice organised a march from Coalisland to Dungannon on 24th August. Loyalists held a counter-demonstration at the entrance to Dungannon, and the police prevented the civil rights marchers from entering the town.

Another march in Derry was arranged for 5th October 1968, but was banned by the Unionist Stormont government. The march went ahead and included Gerry Fitt and three other Westminster MPs, as well as a number of Stormont MPs.

In Duke Street the police advanced on the marchers and struck them with batons. They used water cannon to spray peaceful marchers, spectators and television crews.

Radio Telefis Éireann cameraman Gay O'Brien filmed protesters including Gerry Fitt being beaten by RUC men- the images were beamed across the world. Pictures of police attacking unarmed demonstrators horrified viewers, many of whom may have been unaware of the situation in the north.

On 9th October two-thousand students from Queen's tried to march to Belfast City Hall to protest against the police brutality in Derry. The march was blocked by a counter demonstration led by Ian Paisley. A peaceful three-hour sit-down demonstration followed the blocking of the march.

On the same day, the Derry Citizen's Action Committee (DCAC) was formed from five protest organisations which had been active in the area. Future SDLP founders Ivan Cooper and John Hume were the first chairman and first vice-chairman respectively of the DCAC.

Never again would things be the same. Never again would nationalists let themselves be forced into a corner by the elective dictatorship of the Unionist Stormont Regime and their unaccountable militias.

[Image Copyright © 'Derry Journal' 1968]


David said...

Peacefully, the way it should always have been done.

Parnell said...

Ivan Cooper and John Hume: Two political giants that rocked the world and two gentlemen of democratic Nationalism.

When change was needed, they made change, without the need for armed conflict.

iluvni said...

In need of a little MOPE session, this morning?

Parnell said...

iluvni: There was no need to be yourself. Who rattled your cage and whats tour point? Man Utd fan are you? Hee Hee :0)

Parnell said...

iluvni: Forgive the misspell, " Whats tour point" should read. " Whats your point".

El Matador said...


The point is, often you criticise the SDLP for wanting to include Sinn Féin in the democratic process. You argue that the SDLP should go into an Assembly as a minority with the UUP and DUP.

It is the memory of events such as these which remind nationalists that they can never agree to let unionists dominate in such a way again.

As regards the 'MOPEry' the essence of the post is what civil rights activists did to begin change in NI.

iluvni said...

No, definitely not a Man Ure fan.

Do you see Sinn Fein as 'on your side' or something?...despite their record over the decades, right up to the present day, it appears sdlp will stand with them as some counterweight to the other side of the fence.
Surely any claims to be anything less than a sectarian party go out the wondow with this attitude?

El Matador said...

"despite their record over the decades"

Although I may happen to agree, is this not a similar performance of MOPEry on your part?

iluvni said...

How could that even remotely be called MOPE-ery?...all sections of our community suffered at the hands of Sinn fein, not just the Prods!

I enjoy this blogsite and the chance to discuss the ideas and thinking of sdlp-minded (!) Irish Nationalists...i'm becoming more and more concerned at the results though! :o)

Parnell said...

iluvni: Don't be. We will share this piece of land whatever the outcome. We breath in the same air, share the space and we will make things work.

El Matador said...

i'm becoming more and more concerned at the results though!

We get criticised by the provos for being anti-SF. We get criticised by the unionists for being pro-SF.

It's great craic altogether ;)

United Irelander said...

Good post. The pictures described really brought home to the world just how serious unionist discrimination was and what a dismal failure the NI state had been.