50 years on : celebrating and discussing the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement

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‘We Shall Overcome – a section of  the audience at the Party’s NICRA commemoration event in Ranfurly House, Dungannon. Co Tyrone

The 50th anniversary of the first civil rights march from Coalisland to Dunagnnon in 1968 has been marked at a Party event at Ranfurly House, the march’s planned destination.

Setting the record straight                                                                          Alternative histories and the passage of time combine to blur the nature, the purpose and the successes of the Northern Ireland civil rights movement. The meeting in Ranfurly House set that record straight.

The evening’s  three speakers, Hugh Scullion, Marian Donnelly and Dr Ultan Gillen (Teesside University) mapped out the development of the early civil rights strategy, focused on its anti-sectarian inclusive nature and placed it’s demands in a clear and considered class context.

‘Deceitful and distorted’                                                                                         Dr Ultan Gillen dispelled the myths around the civil rights movement, created on one hand by Irish nationalists and on the other by their unionist counterparts.

” To believe, as Sinn Fein and others claim, that the civil rights movement simply ran its course, was beaten off the streets and left no alternative other than the thirty odd years of terror and carnage which followed is to buy into a lie. It is simply not true and the historical evidence from the day proves that”, he said

“Similarly, the myths peddled, then and now, by some sections of unionism that there was no discrimination, no gerrymandering nor a crisis in housing allocation is equally untrue”, Ultan said.

Both forms of nationalism  have invented their separate, but complimentary, versions of events to justify their own positions and their own actions. They are as deceitful and distorted now as they were then”, he added


Marian Donnelly, an original member of NICRA and a participant in the 1968 Coalisland to Dungannon march, highlighted the purpose and the early successes of the movement .

Basic reforms – revolutionary demands                                                                 “NICRA was about the democratic reform of the Northern Ireland state. It was about the rights of all people n Northern Ireland, of all our citizens. It sought reforms to secure voting rights for all, the allocation of housing on need not creed, an end to gerrymandering, the right to free assembly and political activity  and the repeal of repressive legislation. These were basic reforms but revolutionary demands “, she said

“Within a very short time, NICRA had secured major reform in the Northern Ireland  state,” Marian explained

Reform secured                                                                                                           The RUC was disarmed, the B Specials disbanded, local government reformed, ’one man one vote’ introduced, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive was formed, and by 1972, the Special Powers Act repealed.

All these gains and the changes they laid the basis for, were to be undone. This was the result of a combination of recalcitrant unionism, reactionary armed nationalism, loyalist terror and state militarism”. Marian said


Still divided                                                                                                                As he introduced a video specially produced by the Party to mark the 50th anniversary of NICRA Hugh Scullion said,

“Opportunities were missed and opportunists have left us with a sad legacy. Fifty years on, our community is still divided: segregated education and segregated housing are still with us. Thirty per cent of our children are living in poverty. Low income homes are the norm, and forty per cent of the population is blighted by fuel poverty. Life expectancy is a post code lottery’.


NICRA won many reforms but the fundamental change required to bring about real equality has yet to be realised. That can only come with the creation of a new future, based on a united working class, a bill of rights that rejects sectarianism and racism and that builds a democratic, secular and socialist society.







Workers Party event at Ranfurly House, Dungannon to mark the Civil Rights Movement’s 50th anniversary 

The Workers Party will mark the 50th anniversary of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association with a meeting in Ranfurly House, Dungannon on Friday 24th August 2018 at 7pm – the date of the first civil rights march from Coalisland to Dungannon in 1968.
Speakers include Marian Donnelly and Eamon Melaugh both of whom were actively involved in the civil rights campaign fifty years ago and historian and academic Dr Ultan Gillen of Teesside University,  author of the booklet ‘Civil Rights – reform or revolution?’
The evening will also feature a specially commissioned video highlighting the role played by the Party in the formation and development of the civil rights movement.
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Fifty year journey for Maghera 4

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Fifty years on: (L:R)Tony Crilly, John Mulholland, Gerry Mulholland and Will Gribben
 Four members of the then Republican Clubs from Maghera who travelled together to the march that day in a 1950’s Ford Popular car will also be come together again at Ranfurly House to mark the anniversary. 
Technical issues permitting they also intend to arrive in that same car, fifty years on.
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Where is it?
Ranfulry House is located at
26 Market Square, Dungannon, Co. Tyrone BT70 1AB

Call to take up cancer screening appointments


People living in socially deprived areas are also 10% more likely to contract cancer
than people in more affluent areas

Almost 30% of women do not take up the offer of free cancer screening services: despite the fact that the disease accounts for almost a third of deaths here.

Now,the Workers Party’s  Joanne Lowry  is urging all women between 25 and 64 years of age to take regular cervical smear tests and to attend for breast screening when called.

“Research by the McMillan Cancer organisation and Queens University has shown that the diagnosis of a number of cancers, including cervical cancer, is higher in west Belfast than in other areas of Northern Ireland”, she said.

Social deprivation                                                                                              “People living in socially deprived areas are also 10% more likely to contract cancer than people in more affluent areas”, Joanne said.

“Screening is one way in which cervical and breast cancer can be identified at an early stage. The earlier the detection, the better chance there is of overcoming it.

“Cervical smear tests prevent 75% of diseased cells from developing. These can be lifesaving appointments”, she said

“However, nearly 30% of women miss their screening appointments. The tests are free, they are offered to all women in the „at risk‟ age groups and they can save lives”.

“I would urge all women to go along, have the screening tests and look after their health and well-being”, said Joanne .

Awareness                                                                                                                    I have been in touch with the Public Health Agency (PHA) to ask them to consider ways of raising awareness amongst local women about the availability and importance of these screenings”,

They have told me that they intent to:

“…raise awareness by highlighting the availability and importance of attending cervical screening and breast screening appointments through the PHA’s social media channels this Autumn and also in the New Year”.

“In addition to this activity they will be promoting the importance of looking out for changes and being aware of symptoms in between screening appointments (breast awareness) through posters which will be distributed to pharmacies and GP surgeries in October”, Joanne  concluded



The Left mostly whispers

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Talking class politics: Workers Party’s Gemma Weir with panel chairperson Fergus O’Hare 

Billed as ‘The Left Speaks’,  it should have been one of the showpiece debates of the West Belfast Festival / Feile an Phobail. It was more of a whimper than a bang.

Five parties were represented on the panel: the Greens, Sinn Fein, People Before Profit, Progressive Unionists and the Workers Party.

In her opening remarks the Party’s representative Gemma Weir set out a position that was to put the other parties on the back foot.

One of the main ‘difficulties’ about being the Left is that anyone can claim to be so and many do” she said.   

“The acid test, the touchstone and the confirmation  comes not with the claims but with the realities.  It’s not what people and parties claim to be – it’s what they are that counts. Don’t listen to the rhetoric – examine the policies”, argued Gemma.

The left credentials of the other panelists were exposed by questions from the audience and by their own admissions.

People Before Profit, the Greens and the PUP could not understand how demonstrations  like PRIDE, abortion rallies and the result of the Same Sex Marriage referendum in the Republic had not translated into major political change: mistaking a desire for social evolution with radical class based politics.

Sinn Fein was repeatedly challenged about its socialist credentials, its support for lower corporation tax and its collapsing of the Executive.  It’s representative, Senator Niall O’Donnghaile, was less than convincing as he effectively apologised for his Party’s position on tax breaks for big business and bluffed his way through a response on Sinn Fein’s socialist credentials. The audience was largely unimpressed by his efforts.

While comfortable with the trappings and rhetoric of socialism it was clear that only one of the panel understood the realities of class politics and the nature of the struggle.

Summing up, Gemma said, “It is class politics that differentiates the left from all other political philosophies and class politics that differentiates between those who claim to be on the left and those who actually are. It is class politics, not identity or cultural politics, which really shape our world”

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The Left Speaks panel: Fergus O’Hare (Chairperson), Niall O’Donnghaile, (Sinn Fein). Brian Smyth (Greens), Gemma Weir (Workers Party), Matthew Collins ( People Before Profit) and Hugh Ennis (Progressive Unionists)


Gemma’s opening remarks:  The Left Speaks

Why PRIDE will always be important

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The struggle for equality goes well beyond same sex marriage

It’s a fun-filled day, but it carries many important messages.

Northern Ireland is the only part of these islands where same sex marriage is neither recognised nor an option.  More than 150 homophobic attacks were reported to the police last yea. Verbal abuse and discrimination against the LGBT community is commonplace.

Fifty years after the start  of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland much remains outstanding. Among that list are the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. They are citizens of this country: they deserve the same legal protections,  safeguards and rights as everyone else.

PRIDE is a celebration but it is also a protest at the inequalities and hatred which still persist.

The struggle for equality goes well beyond same sex marriage. Protection from discrimination in employment, health and  housing, access to  goods and services must be secured. Family rights must be safeguarded and upheld. Sexual orientation and gender identity should never be a case for abuse or prejudice.

Northern Ireland still has no Bill of Rights. That in large measure is down to the continuing refusal of the DUP and Sinn Fein to implement one. It is a major human rights issue for everyone in Northern Ireland and everyone including the LGBT community should contribute to the camapign for its introduction.



Civil Rights campaign ‘deliberately cut short’


‘Opportunities were missed and opportunists have left us with a sad legacy’, Hugh Scullion

A meeting in west Belfast has heard claims that the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland was deliberately cut short to justify what became known as ‘The Troubles’

Speaking at a public debate on ‘Civil Rights – Lost Opportunities’ as part of the West Belfast Festival / Féile an Phobail, Hugh Scullion of the Workers Party said

Unjustifiable                                                                                                         Had the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and other progressive forces been allowed to pursue their legitimate demands, then those who engaged in the bloody and unnecessary carnage inflicted over three decades could never have purloined the issue of civil rights as a pretext to justify their despicable and unjustifiable campaign of terror.

Thousands of lives were lost as was the opportunity for a united approach to tackling the social injustices of our society”

Divided community                                                                                     Opportunities were missed”, he said “and opportunists have left us with a sad legacy. Fifty years on, our community is still divided: segregated education and segregated housing are still with us. Thirty per cent of our children are living in poverty. Low income homes are the norm, and forty percent of the population is blighted by fuel poverty. Life expectancy is a postcode lottery.

Socialist society                                                                                                “NICRA won many reforms but the fundamental change required to bring about real equality has yet to be realised. That can only come with the creation of a new future, based on a united working class, a bill of rights that rejects sectarianism and racism and that builds a democratic, secular and socialist society”, he concluded

Full Text: Civil Rights_Missed Opportunity

Belfast Newsletter


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Panel members: Nelson McCauseland, Brid Rodgers, David McCann (Deputy Editor of the Slugger O’Toole website), Francie Molly and Hugh Scullion

NICRA – the struggle for democracy

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At the ‘Billy McMillen Memorial Lecture’: Gerry Grainger, Eamon Melaugh, Marian Donnelly, Mickey McCorry  and Tom Gillen

Marion Donnelly and Eamon Melaugh, both key figures in the early civil rights campaign, were guests speakers at a Workers Party event to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association*.

Both gave personal accounts of their involvement, of the politics and the issues of the time and of the struggle for democracy Northern Ireland

The event, the Billy McMllen Memorial Lecture,was preceded by the showing of a  documentary film made by the Party to record and review the civil rights movement.

*Organised as part of the West Belfast Festival / Feile an Phobail