April 2017        

The civil rights movement: A missed opportunity

A meeting to mark the anniversary of the establishment of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association will be held in the Linen Hall Library, 17 Donegall Square, North, Belfast, on Saturday 8 April at 1:30 p.m.
     The speakers will be Anthony Coughlan, associate professor emeritus, Trinity College, Dublin, and Kevin McCorry, former organiser of NICRA.
     NICRA was unique as a political movement in the Northern Ireland experience. It was not a political party—indeed all shades of Northern political opinion were represented on its first executive: liberal, labour, nationalist, republican, communist, and trade unionist. A Young Unionist was co-opted at its formal launch on 9 April 1967. The Cameron Commission described it as a “novel phenomenon.”
     “British rights for British citizens” was its focus. This was a demand for equal treatment for nationalists and unionists within the existing constitution.
     Successive governments in London had been happy since the 1920s to ignore the abuses of the unionist majority-rule regime in what some called Britain’s “political slum.” Marches sponsored by NICRA brought these practices to the world’s attention.
     The prime minister of Northern Ireland, Terence O’Neill, was forced to concede in principle all NICRA’s demands, though it would take years for some of them to work through, and no attempt was made towards a comprehensive gesture to remove once and for all the grievances that brought people onto the streets.
     But by 1971 the civil rights movement was virtually sidelined. British, Irish and international public opinion, which earlier had been behind the non-violent civil rights campaign, now saw the northern problem as one of “containing IRA violence” rather than establishing a regime of equality.
     The political framework established by the Belfast Agreement in 1998 is in some ways a return to the values of the civil rights movement. But can it lead to a coming together of the two northern communities on the basis of real equality and make possible the political and social progress that was the aspiration of those who set up NICRA fifty years ago?
     Only time will tell.
     This event is organised by the Annual Desmond Greaves School. Now in its twenty-ninth year, the school provides a forum for political discussion. The 2017 school will be held on 8, 9 and 10 September in the Pearse Centre, 27 Pearse Street, Dublin.
     Desmond Greaves was a labour historian and activist who influenced some of those who established NICRA.

Home page  >  Socialist Voice  >  April 2017  >  The civil rights movement: A missed opportunity
Baile  >  Socialist Voice  >  Aibreán 2017  >  The civil rights movement: A missed opportunity