It was forty years ago today…

It wasn’t Bunker Hill nor Bastille Day nor yet Easter Monday because there was no victory, not many were hurt nor was there a clear outcome. But October 5th 1968 has to be the landmark day of the death of a kind of innocence when the civil rights march in shabby little Duke St in Derry was batoned by the police, launching more or less continuous violence that never really stopped for thirty years. It was too an early example of the power of television. Northern Ireland was suddenly famous. We could all pile in and create our own nasty little Truman Show. The civil rights were to come tumbling in right enough, but too little too late, and disastrously dismissed as a sign of weakness in the State not only by the beneficiaries but by the State’s own supporters. Each side brought about the other’s worst fears. The best hummed and ha’d, the worst were full of divilment. The movement of “ too many chiefs” (right Edwina), they had tactics but no strategy and even worse, neither had the government, beyond affronted arrogance and total ineptitude.

Adds Bernadette is still in struggle, wants to remain a living icon not a celluloid one. “At the Cannes film festival this year a biopic of Devlin was announced, to be called The Roaring Girl. She will be played by Sally Hawkins, star of Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky, apparently. But not if Bernadette Devlin McAliskey (as she has been for years) gets her way. “The whole concept is abhorrent to me,” she says, revealing that her lawyers are challenging the film. “How dare anybody make a pretend life for me while I’m still living the real one?”

On the “might have beens”

“Lord Paul Bew argued that an opportunity was lost sometime between the October 5th civil rights march in Derry and the attack on the People’s Democracy march from Belfast to Derry at Burntollet the following January. He felt the then unionist prime minister, Terence O’Neill, had taken on his hardliners and was preparing to reform the Northern state. “Burntollet changed it all,” he argued, adding that the response to the challenge posed by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was amateurish.”
“Amateurish” is too kind. On the other hand, “the jackboot heel of the of unionism” is an absurd exaggeration. The RUC had only 4000 officers and the B Specials of the post war, post 1956-62 IRA campaign were barely in existence as a disciplined force. It might have been John Bull’s political slum, but it was a sleepy slum most of the time. And as for the downtrodden? Who am I to deny them, but as a student at the time I had learned the maxim of Tocqueville, the peerless early historian of both the French and American revolutions, that revolutions happen among people on the rise.

We all have our preferred version of the political reform that never was. My dream counterfactual question is: Had O’Neill gone into the February 69 election offering a temporary grand coalition with the nationalists or the young civil righters who became the SDLP, could he have gained a majority of the 52 Stormont seats? It would have been worth a try, better than hoping that his threadbare charisma could have pulled it off with “O’Neill Unionists” alone. Instead, incited by the paranoid Paisley, the unionist split opened wide and never healed. Nothing has so far taken its place, not even an empowered civil society.

And so today at an anniversary event, the former chief of staff posing as an inheritor of the civil rights movement, scolds the successors of the supposed unionist monolith for their pusillanimity.

Two last thoughts. Some lessons have been learned, at enormous cost. The governments whose agents attacked demonstrators in the US, France and Northern Ireland in that era all paid a heavy price. Governments are cannier now. And two: the superstructure of the Northern Ireland state collapsed quite quickly into the chaos of three decades, but the infrastructure proved surprisingly durable, surviving to be recast, albeit with painful slowness today. Nowhere better than NI provides a better example of the wisdom of political evolution over revolution. The terrible pity of it that it took nearly 40 years to learn it , and even now, not everybody has fully grasped the point. It wasn’t a terrible beauty. It was a terrible bloody waste of time and no one should dignify it as some great international object lesson for the sake of some politician’s ego.

  • Hugh Dubh Oneill

    “the B Specials of the post war, post 1956-62 IRA campaign were barely in existence as a disciplined force.”-the b specials since their incption were never a disciplined force.that was the fundamental problem with them.
    paul bews revisionest outlook is hilarious as well.they shouldnt have demanded their equal rights because oneill was about to triumph over his hardliners!!!

  • Mark McGregor

    I don’t know Brian, the 6 county ‘administration’ is possibly more disempowering and incestuous than the Unionist only regime way back then. Neither operated in the interests of all and this one doesn’t operate at all. Direct challenges from people to a failed politcal elite should really have a much broader base of potential support and revolutions tend to come from nowhere.

  • steve

    he B Specials of the post war, post 1956-62 IRA campaign were barely in existence as a disciplined force

    When were they ever a disciplined force. murderers in uniforms is what they were

  • “The governments whose agents attacked demonstrators in the US, France and Northern Ireland in that era all paid a heavy price.”

    So what price did the Dublin government pay in 1966, Brian, when the Guards batoned folks off the streets?

  • Yvette Doll

    “When were they ever a disciplined force. murderers in uniforms is what they were”

    Well, they were a cheap paramilitary, the IRA were also cheap, the money wasn’t there for salaried conflict.

    When General Collins people bombed shipyard workers in trams, what part of the Laws and Customs of War on Land was tram splintering in?

    A yardie, is a prod, is a UVFer, I suppose so, many were armed, in many cases, but the same goes for tossing a grenade into a bar on the Falls Road.

    I don’t see the the profit ( or the glory) in low-intensity civil war, it doesn’t fix anything quickly enough to be worth the trouble.

    I predict that very few Catholic youngsters in the future will attend upon the last thirty years as a patriotic journey, because it wasn’t.

  • Dewi

    “So what price did the Dublin government pay in 1966, Brian, when the Guards batoned folks off the streets? ”

    Nevin – where and when was this? And in what context?
    (codeword – ill !!!)

  • Danny O’Connor

    Certainly thought provoking.I know that some of my own relatives were subjected to the brutality of the B-Specials,and harassment,men who had known them all their lives,stoppinng them and searching them and asking their personal details- when they already knew them,for no other reason than their Catholicism,which was perceived as anti state.
    Truth be told a bag of potatoes cost the same in Derry as it did in Londonderry ,and the poor were kept that way.
    Had Unionism seriously tried to address the concerns that were arising,the last 40 years could have been avoided,and,the protagonists of violence would not have had the excuse that it was their(the Unionist Government’s) fault and therefore somehow justifiable .
    No cause can ever justify those who claim to be Irishmen killing their fellow Irishmen.

  • Brian Walker

    It’s a pity I think to get too hung on the Specials in the context of the whole Troubles starting from October 5. The comparative point I had in mind was their role in the border campaign of 1956 -61 in which they were mainly deployed in border patrolling unlike the 20s, doing the things Danny describes above. The NI government learned the wrong lesson from that campaign, believing firm military type action plus internment mainly had defeated it, whereas the crucial factor had been the opposition of the great majority of the Catholic community. It was clearly counter-productive for the NI government, even by their own lights, quite apart from the views of those of many Slugger contributors, to retain a fundamentally untrained force with access to arms into the late sixties in what was a military, not a policing role. Their survival was one of the best examples of the failure of politics to reform the state after its emergence. As a student in Derry Aug 69, I froze at the sight of young men in ill-fitting uniforms, waving batons in Waterloo Place, clearly at sea, immediately attracting a hail of petrol bombs which threatened to engulf the whole city centre, only thankfully to be stopped by the arrival of the troops. I also don’t forget the sight of one of them brandishing a lighted petrol bomb on the city walls and throwing into the Bogside. This deployment was made very reluctantly by the NI government because PM Wilson and Defence Secretary Healy would not send in the troops until all local resources had been exhausted.

    “So what price did the Dublin government pay in 1966, Brian, when the Guards batoned folks off the streets?” Nevin, I’m scratching my head here. Do you mean by any chance:

    “Rioting in Dublin in protest at the marching of the Orange Order on Sat February 25th 2006..
    A crowd of 500 counter-demonstrators burnt cars, smashed British-owned businesses and threw missiles and a petrol bomb at Gardai in the center of Dublin as they attempted to stop the march by the loyalist paramilitary associated “LoveUlster” group. Several Gardai were hospitalised.”

    Embarrassment and concern is the answer, but it wasn’t going to rock the State.

  • Dewi and Brian, can I suggest you try the noble tradition of googling 😉 How’s about a little search with, er, ‘garda baton dublin 1966’ and then click on ‘more results …’ under the first item on the list.

    Inquiry into Dublin street incidents

    Dr. O’Connell: Does the Minister agree that this baton-swinging democracy serves as a showpiece as suggested by the Taoiseach, when we have disturbances like this provoked by the police?

    Mr. B. Lenihan: The Deputy and certain other members of his Party appear to want to bring parliamentary democracy in Ireland into a state of anarchy in which anything might happen.

    Do you suppose any member of the Republican fraternity got clattered in Dublin in 1966 and Derry in 1968 and if it was noted which of the baton-wielding forces delivered the greater oomph?

    Did RTE bring both of these displays of ‘brutality’ to the attention of the world’s press?


    Mr. Corish: Surely we have a right to ask questions in this House without the Minister’s alleging sinister motives about the putting down of a question?

    Mr. B. Lenihan: I have to know the facts surrounding this and other matters connected with recent subversive activities in the State.

    So it was all the fault of those bloody Socialists. Unionists and Nationalists, on the other hand, were more inclined to performance art ie getting ‘Stoned’.

  • “the landmark day of the death of a kind of innocence”

    Ah, yes, good old (Stratton) Mills and Boon.

  • [aside]Imagined comment on an imagined scene from the Roaring Girl involving the young Bernadette and the younger Ian:

    We filmed it with and without the kiss, so he had both options.

    “But by that point of the story you’re just so desperate for them to get it together. And I was desperate for it to happen,” she laughs again. “He had no choice. I came at him. No, it was lovely. It was a kind of magic. And I’m really glad it was kept in.”

    She adds: “I think the purists will have something to say about that but I hope they’re forgiving and understand that we’re appealing to a modern audience who expect it now.

  • Brian,

    As a primary school student, didn’t you learn to tell the difference between dates, between October 1968 and August 1969? The Troublse did not start as a result of Duke Street – absolutely not, and to suggest that they did is frankly indefensible. What did happen as a result of Duke Street was the end of the old Stormont regime of discrimination, which became untenable as a result of the pictures of police brutality being flashed round the world. Just as Eamon Melaugh had predicted when he secured the agreement of NICRA to sponsor the march.

    I heard Melaugh talk yesterday about this at The Workers’ Party Northern Ireland Regional conference. Yes, he and the other organisers knew that by attempting to march into the Diamond they would be banned, and meet a heavy-handed response. But that heavy handed response was a long way from the Troubles. Although the UVF carried out some murders in 1966, no shots were fired again until August 1969, and the situation even then would not have been irretreviable but for a number of mistakes made, which gave encouragement and a breeding ground for support for a small number of people on both sides to acrry out terrorists campaigns.

    After Duke Street, the unionist regime was finished. That much is clear. London was insisting on reform, and O’Neill and others knew they would have to give in, though very significant sections of unionism remained intransigent. If we want to understand why the Troubles broke out when they did, let’s look at what London and Belfast were doing between October 5th and August 1969. The answer is not moving fast enough. That is why the Troubles did not begin in October 1968 – had they moved fast enough, there wouldn’t have been any Troubles.

  • “had they moved fast enough, there wouldn’t have been any Troubles”

    No. Really? That other socialist, Eamonn McCann, was on Sunday Sequence this morning. He invited listeners to read the banners that were being carried on October 5. Perhaps someone could post a selection of the slogans. They might help to explain Lenihan’s anxieties about anarchy back in 1966.

  • McCann on the significance of the Oct 5 date in Sunday Sequence:

    “It is the day commonly identified with the day the Troubles, you know, actually began … and it’s as good a day as any other ..”

  • Greenflag

    brian walker,

    ‘The terrible pity of it that it took nearly 40 years to learn it , and even now, not everybody has fully grasped the point. It wasn’t a terrible beauty. It was a terrible bloody waste of time’

    And it’s still a waste of time even if much less bloody:(. The NI State in it’s present format remains a nonsense .


    ‘ If we want to understand why the Troubles broke out when they did, let’s look at what London and Belfast were doing between October 5th and August 1969. The answer is not moving fast enough.

    Fast forward to 2008 . Note the deja vu as the DUP struggle with the parts of devolution they don’t want . Most DUP members and some of their politicians would prefer to break a blackthorn stick over the heads of SF than yield another millimetre . The ‘battle of 40 years’ has now evolved to a ‘battle a day’ in the words of First Minister Robinson.

    ‘Governments are cannier now.’

    Perhaps in the UK and ROI and elsewhere . The evidence from Stormont would suggest that the degree of canniness is directly correlated to the least amount of time the DUP actually have to talk directly to SF and vice versa .

    Both parties will achieve the highest level of canniness -out cannying even both governments if they stop talking to each other completely .

    It sounds like a plan .

  • Here are a few of the slogans on the placards that Eamonn highlighted as being from the Labour tradition. They complement Lenihan’s comments about anarchy and state subversion in the earlier post.

    “Tories out, North and South”

    “Terence O’Neill is a two-faced Tory trickster”

    “Tories are vermin”

    Much of the nuance is lost in any simplistic ‘two sides’ analysis.

  • Nevin,

    There were of course people who wanted revolution, sectarian violence, a campaign against Britain, etc but the point is that the conditions for them to develop support would never have emerged had there been reform in time. And is October 5th commonly identified with teh start of the Troubles? I genuinely don’t think so. Hence the dates people usually give for the Troubles being 1969.

  • Garibaldy, IIRC local government reform had been progressing very slowly in Stormont from about 1966. The Stormont papers are online.

    I spotted a proposal from Phelim O’Neill in early 1968(?) for IIRC the retention of a local authority in Belfast alongside six county authorities. It seems this was too radical for political and other vested interests here.

    You’ve already noted that the organisers of the October 5 march had confrontation in mind and, historically, confrontation was likely to lead to riots and, seemingly, everyone is surprised when stones are replaced by guns. Check out A T Q Stewart’s “Narrow Ground” sometime if you have time for his reflections on sermons in stones.

  • Greenflag

    Benadette Devlin answers the point re Oct 68 or Aug 69 in an interview in the English Independent with Cole Moreton .

    She can’t help herself, though. McAliskey (nee Devlin ) loves to talk. The march in Derry on 5 October 1968 was, she says, “the beginning of it all. I can still see, in my mind, the absolute hatred on the faces of police officers. My understanding of the society I was in was irrevocably changed.”

    It had been organised by the newly formed Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, to protest at discrimination against Catholics. Some participants have admitted they were trying to provoke the authorities.

    Not her. “Until then I thought of policemen as the ones who kept the rowdy drinkers in line at my grandmother’s pub.”

    Newspaper reports described a baton charge by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. “This wasn’t a baton charge,” she says bitterly. “This was a pent-up hatred. This was naked violence. This was three or four men with long cudgels standing over someone on the ground and hitting and hitting them.”

    This is the old Bernie Devlin, phrase-making through clenched teeth. “This was police following those who had dragged away the injured, and beating them up as well. This was a realisation that your worst enemy was in a uniform and had the power,” she almost spits it out, “to kill you.” She still feels deeply about it. “I hate them. Hate the police.” Surely she has to work with them now? “It’s not personal. But it is my deepest prejudice.”

    In 1968 Devlin had just begun her last year studying psychology at Queen’s University. “I was a first-class honours profile student. Then it was all swept away. My degree and my career. It says something about the cataclysmic impact things had on me at the time that I just didn’t care.”

    She started a radical student movement called People’s Democracy, and was taken up by the media.

    Remarkable things happened within a year. She was thrown out of university, but elected as a unity candidate for Mid Ulster. She wrote a book. She was carried on the shoulders of Irish Americans on a trip to New York. She was jailed for inciting a riot and served six months in prison. She also started to upset a lot of people who had voted for her. “I went away to London and knocked about with the socialists and the Gypsies and the feminists. Best education I could have. But people here said, ‘Confine yourself to our issues. And please cut your hair and lengthen your skirt. And don’t smoke.’ I said, ‘I think youse were looking for somebody else!'”

    She horrified them further by having a daughter, Roisin, out of wedlock (although she married the father, Michael McAliskey. They are still together). She was defeated in the next general election, by which time Bloody Sunday had happened. “That was when the civil rights movement ended and the armed struggle began.”

    How so? “That was the point of realisation for me that the penalty for demanding equal rights in your society was that your government would kill you. Then you say,

    ‘If it’s OK for the government to declare war on the people, the people have a right to declare war on the government’

  • Brian Walker

    Garibaldi, No, I do believe there was a continuum from October 5, not an IRA conspiracy but as Prince puts it quite well, an even which proved to be a trigger point. Nothing is inevitable except death so I don’t think it was quite inevitable that O’Neill was immediately doomed. I acceptthough that firm and sensitive intervention from Westminster to bring unionists and nationalist together in the manner of later negotiation might have helped but nobody in London knew the music; they knew more about Aden than Belfast.There were a few moments of hope left I would suggest, at the time of the O’Neill election of Feb 69 – and there would have been more hope still if there had been PR, because this was one election in which cross community voting might have made an impact. The final glimpse of hope might have been the Give Peace a Chance surge just before Aug 69, but this had no political expression. I fear there were enough in the Bogside who had their dander up and enough in Belfast on both sides who wanted to set the highly combustible situation alight. In other words, enough wanted a fight without having any idea of the outcome.

  • “not an IRA conspiracy” – Brian Walker

    So what were the subversive activities that Lenihan appeared to be dealing with in 1966, other than those referred to by Sean Garland and printed in Stormont Hansard prior to October 5, 1968? Why was there a need to form the Derry Citizens Action Committee a few days after the march?

  • Brian,

    Death and taxes surely? Sorry for my rather narked tone earlier by the way. But I cannot see how October 5th triggered anything. Except that London made clear in meetings with Stormont in the weeks that followed that the situation could no longer go unaddressed. In that sense, October 5th is not the beginning of anything, but it is the end of the unionist regime as it had existed since 1921.

    From what I remember of his book, Prince is contradicting himself here, because I think he argues in the book that it is the Long March organised by a faction of the PDs, and the loyalist attacks on it, that mean that the Troubles will follow. But again, I want to see someone outline what this chain of events actually is, and how it follows that either a civil rights march on October 5th or in January 1969 led to a loyal order procession in Derry sparking such massive violence not only in Derry but also in Armagh, and especially Belfast. The trigger was not Duke Street,or Burntollet. It was the Apprentice Boys march – and let’s not forget that the grounds given for the ban on the October 5th march was that the Apprentice Boys (though it may have been another of the loyal orders) moved a march traditionally held in the morning to the afternoon to clash with the NICRA march.

    What made the riots in August the start of something new was the fact that the forces of the state not only attacked those challenging the status quo, they did so fairly indiscriminately in the Bogside and in the lower Falls and Springfield Road, and allowed the loyalist mob – a constant presence in NI politics since the Divis Street riots in 1964 and something that had reared its head in opposition to every peaceful civil rights march – to attack and burn houses. Without the actions of the state forces in doing this, the riots may have remained just that. But in facilitating the attack on Bombay Street et al, the forces of the state created a new situation.

  • Garibaldy, O’Neill resigned on 28 April 1969 and the day before the Sunday Times Insight team reported:

    The monster of sectarian violence is well out of its cage. The issue now is no longer Civil Rights or even houses and jobs. The issue now is whether the state should exist and who should have the power, and how it should be defended; and this is an issue on which the wild men on both sides have sworn for 40 years, frequently in blood, that they will never back down. [Bardon: “A History of Ulster”]

    The genie would appear to have been out of the bottle quite some time before events of August 1969.

  • Greenflag


    ‘The genie would appear to have been out of the bottle quite some time before events of August 1969. ‘

    Indeed the UVF were the first to go for the guns in 1912 with the ‘smuggling in’ a shipload of arms from Germany.

    The genie could have been put back in the bottle in 1974 with Sunningdale. That failed too . The latest attempt is also failing .

    This unloosed ‘genie’ will never again go back into the NI bottle as it is presently constituted .

  • Greenflag, guns were in use here prior to 1912.

    It had been a popular movement in rural Donegal where it provided a secret network for the poteen makers, and was transplanted into the Bogside from the early 1800s. It came to public notoriety in Derry in 1813 after armed Ribbonmen clashed with the Catholic Bishop of Derry, whom they termed ‘Orange Charlie’ (Charles O’Donnell, 1747-1823), and with Apprentice Boys in 1822.

    Lenihan was very concerned for the fate of the genie in 1966 [see earlier post].

  • Dewi

    Nevin – I admit the 1966 Dublin baton charge passed me by – thanks for the link.

  • Nevin,

    Certainly there was low-level sectarian violence, some of which had been stirred up by demands for British rights for British citizens, and some of which was the same old nonsense that had been going on, and continues to go on. But again. Is this really part of The Troubles? If it was, why was the phrase not in use, the way it became in use quickly after August 1969? Did people feel that there had been a definite change in circumstances, and they were in an era of unprecedented conflict? I don’t believe so. I could, for example, counterbalance the Insight report with Professor Marianne Elliott’s introduction to The Catholics of Ulster where she talks about her memories of how a peaceful country turned into a warzone after August.

    There are a number of agendas at work in trying to push the Troubles back. One is to blame the civil rights marchers for what susbequently happened. This is an old story going back to classical times, where those who seek reform are blamed for the violence produced by resistance to it, and given more intellectual respectibility in the last century by Lewis Namier’s Revolution of the Intellectuals about 1848. Another is ulta-left elements of the civil rights movement who were and who remain egocentric, and would like to think they were engaged in events comparable to France in 1968. Another is the usual thing of historians to say they have revised everything and offered a new explanation, when in fact quite often they are saying old things in slightly new language. As I say, until someone explains how marching for civil rights in Derry in 1968 led the RUC to fire machine guns into houses in Belfast killing a child in August 1969, then I will refuse to accept this argument for anything other than it is. An attempt to rewrite history for less than credible reasons.

  • Garibaldy, ‘Troubles’ is a fairly innocuous term, it fails to adequately describe the trauma inflicted and experienced.

    It’s interesting to compare Liam O Comain’s reflections on the formation of NICRA [Graves should be Greaves] with Elliot’s understated: “In 1967 the McCluskey’s low-key efforts developed into the Northern Ireland Civil Rights association (NICRA)” [the Catholics of Ulster p412]

    You can also set her dismissive remarks about Bill Craig alongside the words of Sean Garland, Liam O Comain and the earlier ones by Brian Lenihan in the Dáil in 1966:

    “Home Affairs Minister William Craig was already making the usual Unionist assumption that NICRA was a front for the enemies of the state (a claim which Cameron utterly dismissed).” [op cit p413]

    I think you’ll find that any time the constitutional question is raised guns have followed stones as sure as night follows day.

    “Additionally, by raising the civil rights demands in Britain, and by directing these demands at the British government, the overall responsibility of Britain for the north was placed to the fore. This would inevitably bring into question the 1920 Westminster government of Ireland Act, which set up partition.

    This was the strategy of Desmond Greaves, and he later explained it in his pamphlet The Irish Question and the British People, published in 1963…” Irish Democrat

  • Greenflag

    Nevin ,

    ‘I think you’ll find that any time the constitutional question is raised guns have followed stones as sure as night follows day.’

    Are you suggesting that the constitutional question should never be raised and if not why not ? I mentioned 1912 as a starting point for the ‘present’ era. You countered with the Ribbinmen of the 19th century . I could push it further back to 1690 and you to 1641 and so on all the way back to 1169 ? But why stop there why not go all the way back to the emergence of the first africanus australopithecus who first picked up a heavy stone and used it as a weapon ?

    The point is and this is becoming increasingly clear even to many Unionists is that the first partition was a failure both in design , execution and in follow through .

    The only question is what will or can replace it? As the DUP and UUP withdraw via a ‘battle a day ‘from power sharing, they never wanted it in the first place that question will be developing a new sense of urgency in coming months .

  • Why do you pluck 1912 out of the lucky dip, Greenflag?

    Who really wants power-sharing, apart from, maybe, the Alliance Party? Unionists and Nationalists are well and truly hooked on their ‘aspirations’.

    I’ve suggested devolution under shared sovereignty et al as a means of best accommodating the two opposing aspirations.

    Do you suppose the Irish government will ‘do a runner’ in 2016 much as they did in 1966? Will they be able to blame the Socialists this time?

  • Nevin,

    Elliott is wrong to suggest that the initiative for NICRA came from the Mc Cluskey’s, who did play an excellent role in the struggle for civil rights. The initiative for NICRA came from The Wolfe Tone Societies and the Belfast District and Trades Council, although some form of NICRA – as Bob Purdie points out – was inevitable. So the initiative for NICRA came primarily from republican sources. The question is what the republican sources were at. The answer as far as I can see is that they were extending their programme of social and civil agitation for more rights that was flourishing in the south in the fish-ins, ground rent campaigns etc into the north.

    NICRA was no more designed to overthrow the state than the Dublin Housing Action Committee. What both were intended to do were to achieve real reform that would improve people’s everyday lives, while at the same time build class consciousness both within and beyond the republican movement, which was trying to rebuild itself after the disaster of the Border Campaign by a turn to politics and peaceful methods. And gain support for the longer term republican project of a socialist republic. But the aims of NICRA and in of itself were extremely limited.

  • “The question is what the republican sources were at.”

    Garibaldy, Sean Garland provides a fuller view of (socialist) republican intentions:

    “Therefore we should be leading the people by means of the civil wings in agitating for better working, living and social conditions, in agitating for land, showing them in all these fights that their enemies are their landlords, their bosses and their gombeen exploiters and finally get them to understand that all these opposing forces are banded together in an organisation called the establishment.This changes drastically our traditional line of tactics. There are no longer two different types of republicans; physical force men and politicians. We in the Republican Movement must be politically aware of our objectives and must also be prepared to take the appropriate educational, economic, political and finally military action to achieve them.”

    It would appear that Lenihan and conservative Unionists were very conscious of this particular mindset.

    O Comain also highlights the need for these Republicans to maintain a very low public profile but that’s probably impossible to do in such a small community as exists here.

  • Sure Nevin, but the question is what is meant by finally. It’s clear that this is envisioned not as a terrorist campaign, or an attack on NI, but a revolutionary situation, where the only way to secure the final victory of socialism is to be in a position to combat the forces of reaction. No violence is envisioned until then. This is clear from documents going back as far as 1964.

    Conservative unionists were of the opinion that opposition of any sort to the existence of NI, violent or peaceful, invalidated the points about civil rights. This can be seen not only in the Paisleyites, but also in the Unionist Party itself.

  • Garibaldy, Garland described some of the violence that had already taken place:

    “He went on to enumerate the burning of eight buses and the E.I. Shannon dispute as the sort of activities in which the civil wing should be engaged.”

    Wasn’t some German owned property attacked too?

    I think Greaves’ strategy indicates that civil rights were going to be used as a smokescreen and that the real intent was to sweep away the conservative establishments in Belfast and Dublin.

    The presence of militant republicans in the initiation of NICRA demonstrates a cynical contempt for civil rights. [see O Comain article]

    In the light of historical experience, I’m not sure why leading lights in the CRM thought that there would be a coming together of the working classes on an all-island basis.

  • Nevin,

    I guess it was the 1960s, the world was chaning, Vietnam, Cuba, US civil rights, people were hopeful, power of new ideas etc.

    There was indeed some direct action in support of striking workers, and some attacks on holiday homes. But also a stated commitment to move away from violence (which is what happened of course).

    I think that Greaves’ strategy can be read in another way, which is that unionism was too intransigent to inaugurate serious reform, and that by agitating in Britain it would convince Westminster that it had not only the right, but the duty to intervene. This was also the strategy of the Mc Cluskeys and the CSJ, who were neither republican nor communist. And Gerry Fitt for that matter.

    People did hope to see the establishments swept away, but the civil rights campaign was a first step, not in itself a revolutionary strategy. In the same way that nationalising banks or creating a welfare state could be the first steps towards socialism. In and of themselves, not changing the system.

  • Garibaldy, I don’t see how Unionists could have ‘reformed’ the Republic and I see no call for the latter’s territorial claim to be removed.

    IIRC ‘military’ violence was the third phase proposed by Roy Johnston as part of the revolutionary strategy that you seek to gloss over.

    It’s also fairly clear that ‘Irish unity’ and ‘civil rights’ were linked:

    “Among the Irish, we were accused by some of ignoring partition. We therefore had to show the connection between national unity and civil rights. In the early 1960s, the Association began to hold an annual rally in Trafalgar Square, and while the demands made at these rallies were concerned with civil rights, they were always held close to June 20th and the event was called Wolfe Tone Sunday.” [Irish Democrat link]

    I think it’s fair to say that the McCluskeys were mere pawns in the wider scheme of things. Their selective choice of acts of discrimination did little to inform the wider public.

  • Civil rights and national unity may have been linked for the Connolly Association, but not for the unionist members of NICRA, and nowhere is there any reference to unity in NICRA’s programme.

    Military violence in the programme adopted by the leadership was far in teh future – as I say, only in a revolutionary struggle. And remember they were trying to wean people away from violence slowly, and avoid a split.

  • “nowhere is there any reference to unity in NICRA’s programme”

    That was part of the deception, Garibaldy. It appears that some were conned.

    I suspect Bill Craig would have agreed with Brian Lenihan’s 1966 comments, despite their opposing political aspirations.

    Liam O Comain also refers to the formation of the Derry Citizens Action Committee within days of the October 5 march and it would appear that John Hume was in step with the Irish Catholic hierarchy’s reaction to the potential revolutionary struggle:

    In response to a question that I put to John Hume in later years as to why the DCAC never affiliated to NICRA, he replied that he knew that the republicans controlled the latter with the help of the Communists and some independents, and for the DCAC to affiliate it would find itself under the control of the republicans, which he strongly opposed.

    The republicans, at that time, were under socialist leadership unlike the later ‘Catholic Ireland’ PRM.

  • Greenflag

    Nevin ,

    ‘Why do you pluck 1912 out of the lucky dip’

    Because thereafter the only other possibility to accomodate moderate Irish nationalism’s political demands within the Union i.e Home Rule lost out to militant republicanism .

    ‘I’ve suggested devolution under shared sovereignty et al as a means of best accommodating the two opposing aspirations.’

    I know . Music teachers and civil administration officials – fire safety department , in ancient Rome suggested things would improve if only Nero ‘fiddled’ a little more 🙁

    ‘ Do you suppose the Irish government will ‘do a runner’ in 2016 much as they did in 1966?’

    I can’t recall 1966 but then I’d never heard of Northern Ireland before 1969 . It did not ‘exist’.

    ‘Will they be able to blame the Socialists this time? ‘

    What ‘socialists ‘ ? The Irish Labour Party ? Sinn Fein ? Together both parties can’t even get 20% of the vote ? By 2016 I suspect we’ll be living in a different political world largely shaped by the outcome of the present world wide crisis of the Milton Friedman school of capitalism and the political response to present events .

    Brave new world on the way ? We’ll see .

    As for NI and it’s Assembly wrap it up and call in the cartographers for the ‘final carve up ‘ and lets all move on with our separate aspirations without having to jump through the convoluted hoops of a system of power sharing that just can’t work given the local history and lack of trust .

  • I thought Home Rule was still in position until 1916, Greenflag.

    You can see from the political demographics that the cartographers would be on a mission impossible.

    You don’t have to recall 1966; I posted Lenihan’s comments further up the thread.

  • Nevin,

    You see the absence of reference to unity as deception. I see it as a way of ensuring that the maximum possible unity behind perfectly reasonable and constitutional demands could be achieved without needlessly clouding the issue. As for Bill Craig. It was the attitude displayed by him and others like him to the protestors that helped get us to the situation we are in today in terms of preventing timely reform. They ended up doing their own cause the most damage.

    You are of course totally correct about John Hume’s motivations, and those of the church in Derry. They set up the DCAC in opposition to the Derry Housing Action Committee people who had formed the local branch of NICRA for the October 5th march. And for exactly the reasons you outline – to keep things sensibly middle class, and communalist. It seems to me that was the more reprehensible vision.

  • Yet, as we’ve seen, the essential issue was Irish unity, Garibaldy, and under a Cuban-style of government. Or, at least, that’s the impression conveyed by Brian Lenihan. His remarks do seem OTT but perhaps he was privy to information that we’re not.

    Another destabilising factor at the time that we haven’t mentioned was ecumenism, a softening of the boundaries that was much influenced by the short-lived liberalism of Pope John XXIII and the formation of the Corrymeela Community. It certainly fed the Paisleyite hysteria and didn’t go down too well in ‘Catholic-Ireland’ republican quarters.

  • Was unity the overriding issue? Does not the outcome of the peace process – never mind the political development of The Workers’ Party – show that for the majority of people who wanted unity in NI, the immediate and most important issue was fairness within NI, despite the longer-term aim of unity?

    Ecumenism is an interesting one. I have a vague memory of condemnations of Paisley’s behaviour on this front emanating from NICRA but may be wrong. But while we’re on the subject, it’s a reminder that any movement that looked to be weakening the protestant and unionist nature of the state was liable to produce a nasty reaction, and from well before the foundation of NICRA as Paisley’s behaviour over the 1964 election showed, and before that the government and RUC attitude to the Wolfe Tone bicenntenial commemorations.

  • Garibaldy, the Alliance Party is about the only party that in any way is promoting unity here; the others, as I’ve already said, are hooked on their respective national aspirations.

    I’ve also said on a number of occasions that the 1998 constitutional ‘settlement’ has reinforced a tug-of-war relationship between the aspirations.

    Ray Davey, one of the founders of Corrymeela, was my inspiration and working the common ground, my strategy.

    I don’t think you could easily argue that Paisley or the initiators of NICRA contributed to a sense of togetherness here.

    Did you see the Eamonn McCann Show on BBC1 at 9pm? Where did they dig up all those old socialists? 🙂

  • Alliance defines itself as non-sectarian. I’m interested in anti-sectarianism. Which is the message that many of those involved in founding NICRA were promoting with The WP programme of peace, work, democracy, and class politics. As for those old socialists, from look of some of them, they got them from the golf clubs and country clubs of NI 🙂

  • RepublicanStones

    ‘Where did they dig up all those old socialists?’

    Nevin its easy to find the reds now what with so many banks going under and the shine taken off capitalism. Red is the new black !

  • frank

    ‘never mind the political development of The Workers’ Party’

    Strange party the WP, after the Civil Rights movement they spent the next three decades counterfeiting money and running extortion rackets.

    Maybe it was a socialist thing!

  • Garibaldy, class politics is just another expression of sectarianism …

    No sects please; we’re British and Irish.

    Interesting that Prince and I have both drawn attention to Greaves yet he failed to get a mention on the Beeb.

  • “Red is the new black!”

    Neither is in the pink (of condition), RS, and The Pink has disappeared into oblivion.