October 5th sees the fortieth anniversary of the second march sponsored by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. The march was held in Derry on October 5th 1968, and before it could get going, it was brutally attacked by the RUC from both ends to prevent it marching in the city centre. There are some who regard it as the ‘real’ start of the Troubles, wrongly in my opinion. In the next while, I’ll put up a piece on NICRA and the civil rights movement more generally. The history of NICRA has always been a disputed one (NICRA’s own version from 1978 is available here), with claim and counter-claim as to who was the prime movers in the organisation, what its goals were, was it a front for the Republican Movement under Cathal Goulding seeking to overthrow the state, etc. The fortieth anniversary is seeing the emergence of a reactionary new narrative, one which seeks to blame the civil rights marchers, especially the ultra-left elements, for the violent reaction the civil rights protests garnered from the state, and for the Troubles. I’ll come back to that in the next piece, but my criticism of part of a recent article of one of those making this argument, Simon Prince of Oxford University, can be found over at Cedar Lounge Revolution, here. Today, I mainly want to note some of the activities taking place, and encourage people to attend them where possible.
In Derry itself, the SDLP-dominated but broad-based Civil Rights Commemoration Committee is sponsoring a two day event, the details of which can be found here. The opening event actually takes place the night before, and is the screening of a documentary The Day the Troubles Began which seems to be linked to the BBC and the historian Simon Prince, criticised at Cedar Lounge Revolution. The event itself takes place in the Guildhall in Derry, and includes on October 4th as speakers John Hume, some of the participants in the march, and Mark Durkan, Martin Mc Guinness, and a prseumably very off-message Gregory Campbell. It also includes Mary Mc Aleese. Incidentally, she used to work in a bar frequented by republicans, and one Workers’ Party member once told me how on returning from a NICRA march he had been stewarding and was discussing it with others. She had asked them what they knew about it only to be told they were the stewards. Clearly the republican movement’s desire not to be seen to be dominant in NICRA was working rather too well, and has done so since. I’m not really sure what she has to add, but hopefully it won’t be anything about the Nazis and unionism. On October 5th, the conference takes a perspective on civil rights today with trade union and voluntary scetor speakers, as well as international activists.
Also on October 4th, The Workers’ Party is holding its annual northern regional conference in The Wellington Park hotel. The northern regional conference is a discussion day open to the public, so feel free to come along. The morning will focus on the prospect for socialist politics ten years after the Good Friday Agreement, with speakers from The WP, Socialist Party and British Labour in Northern Ireland. The afternoon will be dedicated to the civil rights movement, with a panel discussion involving Professor Patrick Murphy, Des O’Hagan of The WP, and Edwina Stewart of the CPI. All three were prominent in NICRA, and Murphy wrote the history referred to above. There will also be a talk on the role of republicans in NICRA, and presentations to republicans involved in civil rights, including Eugene Little who was involved in the Caledon protests that led to the first civil rights march, and Eamon Melaugh, one of the two main organisers of the Duke Street march.
All this matters. It was not violence that destroyed the bigoted Stormont regime, but the mass peaceful protests organised by NICRA. In the current climate of political apathy, as governments across the world rush to give taxpayers’ money to bail out corporations while destroying what is left of the welfare state, the strength of a mobilised and organised popular movement is a lesson worth remembering.