A commemorative plaque marking the achievements and the founding of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights movement has been unveiled in Belfast. The event also coincided with the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday ( see below).
The history of the struggle for civil rights has been re-written, distorted and deliberately misrepresented almost since it began.
The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) set out to reform and democratise Northern Ireland – not to overthrow it. In doing so its programme was also revolutionary in that it would fundamentally change the nature of the state.
NICRA’s five basic demands were
- To defend the basic freedoms of all citizens
- To protect the rights of the individual
- To highlight all possible abuses of power
- To demand guarantees for freedom of speech, assembly and association
- To inform the public of their lawful rights.
Despite the often medieval responses and oppressive reactions to the the civil rights campaign by the then Stormont government many of thr early demands had been conceded by the early 1970’s.
Among the civil rights demands that were introduced were the establishment of the Housing Executive and the fair allocation of public housing, universal franchise – ‘One Man One Vote’ – and the end of multiple votes for business owners, the disbanding of the Special Constabulary (B Specials) and the disarming of the police.
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 hijacked 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.
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.
The commemorative plaque is located at Donegall Street Place off Lr. Donegal Street in Belfast city centre
Picture: Professor Patrick Murphy and Deirdre O’Doherty unveil the commemorative plaque at Commercial Court, Donegall Street, Belfast. Looking on is Marian Donnelly, former President of the Workers Party and Secretary of the South Derry Civil Rights Association in the late 1960s
50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the deaths of 13 people at a civil rights march in Derry.
The events of that day are now well known. 13 people were murdered in cold blood by members of the Parachute Regiment, a 14th person died later from his injuries. Many were wounded and others arrested. This was a brutal military effort to repress a peaceful campaign for civil and democratic rights.
It was no accident. It was planned and deliberate. The government could deal with violence but it could not countenance peaceful and united mass democratic action.
50 years on the Workers Party remembers the massacre at Derry and all those innocent people who were murdered and injured. They have waited a long time for justice but their names will stand as a memorial to the struggle for civil and democratic rights.
Marian Donnelly, a Workers Party stalwart and veteran of the civil rights movement, who was present at the Derry march that terrible day, believes that the struggle for civil rights was a mass struggle and that its legacy continues in those whose ongoing fight for social progress and peace is based on the unity of the working class, free from the taint of sectarianism and confident in their own future. That remains the political goal of our times.
Our thoughts today are with the families and friends of those who were murdered and with all those across the world who continue to struggle for civil and democratic rights.
The background and the context to Bloody Sunday: