Posted by Jim on February 10, 2018
Contrasting views of the North’s Civil Rights Association and how it
relates to where we are as we approach the 50th anniversary of its first
‘WE HAVE COME FULL CIRCLE’
By Sinn Fein Chairman Declan Kearney (for eamonnmallie.com)
Billy Nelis was an ordinary man. He was a child of the orange state;
born in 1932.
He and his generation and their parents experienced first hand the
injustice of the northern state.
When the Civil Rights Movement was formed they stood up in their tens of
thousands to support its demands.
Billy died on Friday and his burial yesterday coincided with the 46th
anniversary weekend of the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry city.
That was apposite. He took part in the march and stood in the killing
grounds of the Bogside.
That day in 1972 British soldiers killed 14 unarmed marchers who were
engaged in peaceful protest against internment without trial in the
north of Ireland.
One week previously another anti-internment protest was attacked by
British soldiers on Magilligan strand.
Civil rights protestors had been attacked since the first demonstrations
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the famous marches from
Coalisland to Dungannon, and at Duke Street in Derry city.
Infamous images of the RUC beating protestors at Duke Street were
broadcast around the world by the international media.
The Civil Rights Movement gave expression to the popular outrage against
the injustice and discrimination in housing, jobs and right to vote
which were systemic within the northern state.
As the repression of democratic rights intensified alongside the
redeployment of British combat forces and reintroduction of internment,
northern nationalism rose to challenge the actions of the state.
The popular momentum of the Civil Rights Movement swept right across
society, especially in the north, but importantly it also reached into
the southern state.
I have memories as a wee fella attending Civil Rights Movement
anti-internment protests in Toomebridge among other children and people
of all generations. I can remember being sworn to secrecy when being
brought to a location where civil rights leaflets and pamphlets were
being discreetly printed… (and thinking for many years afterwards that
the monks were terrible cooks!)
Years later I upset a very superficial university seminar discussion on
the origins of the Civil Rights Movement by setting out the historic
reality that the civil rights campaign was inspired by the Campaign for
Social Justice, and also directly by the strategic decision of the IRA
and Sinn Fein leaderships at that time.
Through the medium of the Wolfe Tone Society the Army and Sinn Fein
committed to building alliances with other democrats, trade unionists,
communists and many others to demand state reform.
That culminated in the formation of the NI Civil Rights Association, or
Civil Rights Movement in 1967.
The leaderships of both the IRA and Sinn Fein encouraged their activists
to organise and support the Civil Rights Movement.
Veteran republicans like Kevin Agnew and Pat Shivers whom I grew up
knowing well played key roles in developing the Civil Rights Movement in
counties Antrim and Derry.
Kevin’s former home in Maghera is synonymous with the earliest meetings
to establish the Civil Rights Movement.
Republicans recognised the importance of progressive coalitions to
successfully advance the common ground of equality and rights for all
Ironically it’s now quite common to hear a revisionist narrative today
which glosses over that.
The role of the IRA and Sinn Fein may well sit uncomfortably with some
but the reality is the SDLP didn’t exist in 1967/’68. Of course the SDLP
is entitled to claim inspiration for its formation from the Civil Rights
Movement but it was only formed in August 1970, after the Civil Rights
Movement was launched by republicans, human rights activists, trade
unionists and other political activists.
Today 50 years on from the Civil Rights Movement, rights are still being
denied in the north of Ireland.
The political and violent opposition which the Civil Rights Movement
faced amidst mounting injustices eventually gave way to political
People like Billy, Kevin and Pat understood very well why tens of
thousands of a new generation turned to armed struggle.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement . It
drew a line under the political conflict here by setting out a framework
to enshrine equality, parity of esteem and mutual respect on the basis
of proper power sharing and All-Ireland political institutions in the
form of an international treaty.
In ways the promise and principles of the Good Friday Agreement
addressed what the Civil Rights Movement did not get resolved.
Just as the unionist state opposed the Civil Rights Movement, powerful
sections of political unionism have resisted and pushed back against the
Good Friday Agreement since 1998. Now the Good Friday Agreement faces
its greatest ever threat from the DUP/Tory government alliance, and
their shared support for Brexit and austerity, and opposition to
equality and dealing with the past.
This current political crisis stems from a refusal by the northern state
to embrace the requirements of the Good Friday Agreement.
The Irish peace process is the most important political project in
It came about because northern nationalism and other strands of
democratic and progressive opinion, with the support of Irish America
and the Irish government created the circumstances which led to the Good
Friday Agreement receiving overwhelming popular support of the Irish
people north and south.
Today the progressive and democratic coalitions which led to the Good
Friday Agreement are needed again to defend and implement the Good
As a co-guarantor of the agreement the Irish government has a huge
responsibility to get onto that position.
Irish America also has a very important role to play once more.
The 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement this April should be a
landmark anniversary in the transformation of this society.
That ought to be a shared objective for all democrats and progressives.
During the last three weeks the Sinn Fein leadership has organised eight
meetings across the north of Ireland. Over 1200 from all walks of life
in civic nationalism have attended.
Some who participated were veteran civil rights activists themselves
from that era and many more were the children and grand children of
civil rights activists.
One clear and consistent message came through from each meeting: civic
nationalism wants the political institutions restored but only on the
A year after Martin McGuinness’s resignation popular nationalist and
progressive opinion are saying that parity of esteem, the rights agenda,
dealing with the past, equality and mutual respect, and proper power
sharing must be delivered: there can be no return to the status quo.
The reality of financial scandal, and continued denial of rights and
respect by the DUP, supported by the Tories has remobilised northern
There is a new popular momentum within civic nationalism. It is
demanding the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement: nothing
less will be acceptable.
We have come full circle. The war is over but there will be no return to
second-class citizenship in this place.
Billy Nelis’ generation refused to accept second class citizenship and
the post civil rights generations have never been more determined and
They are not going to be put back into the box – they will never again
be pushed to the back of the bus.
‘PEOPLE UNITED DESPITE DIFFERENCES’
By former MP Bernadette McAliskey (for Irish News)
In August 1968 the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA)
organised its first march from Coalisland to Dungannon. On February 6
1972, Nicra organised what was effectively its last civil rights march,
in Newry, to protest the State killing of unarmed civilians taking part
in the Derry march on what became Bloody Sunday.
Nicra was formed by people who were members of political parties and
groups who united, despite other differences, to collectively campaign
for basic reforms which they believed would provide basic equality of
citizenship within the political structures of the north.
Founding members were drawn from the Northern Ireland Liberal Party; N.
Ireland Labour Party; Republican Labour Party; Communist Party of
Ireland; Nationalist Party and the various Republican Clubs, which were
the northern membership of Sinn Fein (headquartered in Gardiner Place,
The Nicra ‘strapline’ was ‘non-violent; non-sectarian; non-political’.
At that time there was no Provisional Sinn Fein/IRA, no SDLP, no IRSP,
no Alliance party, no TUV, no People before Profit, no Green Party, no
DUP either. Except for the Unionist party all the political parties
currently making up Stormont are post-Nicra and are a product of the
fragmentation of the Unionist Party on the one hand, the Nationalist
Party and Republican Movement on the other and the emergence of
different political configurations whose starting point is not
necessarily the constitutional status of N. Ireland.
Nicra’s basic agenda was one family, one house; one man (sic), one
vote; one man, one job; an end to gerrymandering (electoral boundaries
which created the housing/ voting problem) and an end to the Special
Powers Act, which effectively criminalised any opposition, however
peaceful, to Stormont policy and practice and to the constitutional
These demands for fair distribution and equal access were so modest
that, while supporting them, the more radical and impatient voices of
youth, including my own, pushed for more through the People’s Democracy
and other small radical/socialist groupings. There was insufficient
housing, so equality of distribution was not, to my mind, enough. There
was insufficient work for decent wages, so distribution of existing work
was not enough.
The response of the N.I. administration at Stormont and of the UK
government in London to the demand for equality of access to democracy;
equality of social and economic opportunity and an end to repression,
was to increase repression in the hope of silencing the demand and to
further reduce the opportunity to effect change through democratic and
They bear the brunt of historic responsibility for the period between
1972 and 1998. From 1998 onwards responsibility, like power, lies closer
to home and is shared by those with the duty of managing and
administering shared government, a duty they actively sought, negotiated
and seek to maintain, and from which, with deliberation, they seek to
Fifty years on from 1968, emergency legislation remains on the statute
books. People are still imprisoned without fair trial. The housing
crisis – overcrowding, homelessness and social exclusion – are all
greater now than in 1968.
The Northern Ireland Housing Executive, created in 1971 to address fair
allocation of Social Housing based on need and to redress the shortage
of affordable homes, has been decimated, starved of resources and
stripped of assets.
There can be no equal opportunity in employment where those in work earn
insufficient wages to adequately feed themselves and their families and
pay rent to an on unregulated private sector or inappropriately
regulated social sector.
An examination of collective conscience on how the damage done over 50
years by the actions of the State and those employed to do their bidding
officially, and as we now know furtively, within the militarist
organisations on all sides of the conflict is to be addressed and truth
and justice extracted from and secured for those who have now girded
themselves with the belt of peace.
Without openness, transparency, accountability and participation in
decision making, leadership becomes no more than the power to control.
Power without accountability becomes corruption.
Those claiming bragging rights from 1968 might reflect with greater
humility on the price paid against the degree of progress made since
that first march and examine their actual contribution to the reality of
2018 – a stagnant, sectarian dysfunctional Stormont making the rich
richer and the poor poorer; a damaged, demoralised and divided
community; justice denied; truth distorted; and controlled management of
conflict and corruption mistaken for peace.