The Troubles in Northern Ireland
The Irish Civil War
Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association
The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was an organisation which campaigned for civil rights for Northern Ireland's Catholic minority during the 1960s and early 1970s. The organization's demands for reform, and the subsequent backlash by some in the unionist majority, can be considered to have been one of the causes of the Troubles, a violent conflict, akin to a civil war that lasted for more than thirty years.
The NICRA was founded on 29 January 1967 at a public meeting in the International Hotel, Belfast. The meeting was attended by all political parties in Northern Ireland, although the Ulster Unionist Party delegate Nelson Elder withdrew over a dispute about capital punishment.
The meeting elected a 13-member committee to draw up a constitution for the new organization. This committee contained representatives from the Republican Clubs, Northern Ireland Labour Party, the Ulster Liberal Party, the Committee for Social Justice, the Communist Party of Ireland, and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Notably, the National Party of Northern Ireland was not represented.
The new organization's demands included:
* the repeal of the Special Powers Acts of 1922, 1933, and 1943
In a conscious imitation of tactics used by the American Civil Rights Movement, the new organization held marches, pickets, sit-ins and protests to pressure the government of Northern Ireland to grant these demands. The first civil rights march in Northern Ireland was held on 24 August 1968 between Coalisland and Dungannon.
In September 1968, the NICRA and the Derry Housing Action Committee organised a march to be held in Derry on 5 October 1968. On the 1st of October, the Protestant fraternal organization, the Apprentice Boys of Derry, announced their intention to march the same route on the same day and time, in an attempt to get the civil rights march banned. William Craig, the Northern Ireland Home Affairs Minister, obliged them and banned the civil rights march from the city centre.
When the civil rights marchers attempted to defy the ban, they were baton-charged by the Royal Ulster Constabulary who injured many marchers, including West Belfast MP Gerry Fitt. Television pictures of the march taken by an RTÉ cameraman shocked viewers across the world. Two days of rioting in nationalist areas of Derry followed. Students such as Bernadette Devlin at Queen's University, Belfast were radicalized by these events and formed a more radical civil rights organization People's Democracy.
On 22 November 1968, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Terence O'Neill announced a series of minor reforms, including a promise to abolish the Special Powers Acts "when it was safe to do so" as well as some changes in the local government franchise and the allocation of local government housing. Following a televised appeal for calm by O'Neill on 9 December, the more moderate civil rights associations declared a month-long halt to marches.
The People's Democracy group did not take part in this halt to marching. In imitation of Martin Luther King's Selma to Montgomery marches, about 40 PD members held a march between Belfast and Derry starting on 1 January 1969. The march was repeatedly attacked by loyalists (including off-duty members of the Ulster Special Constabulary) along its route. The most violent incident occurred at Burntollet bridge where the marchers were attacked by about 200 unionists armed with iron bars, bottles and stones while police did little to protect them.
Rioting and civil disorder continued in Northern Ireland's cities, culminating in the Battle of the Bogside in Derry and the Northern Ireland riots of August 1969. The non-violent politics of the NICRA rapidly became submerged. Some Unionists hold the NICRA itself responsible for the subsequent outbreak of the Troubles. In particular, they point to the Civil Rights movement's call for demonstrations in support of the Bogsiders during the battle of the Bogside. Some parts of the nationalist population increasingly looked to the moribund Irish Republican Army to protect their areas from loyalist attacks. The Marxist-influenced IRA leadership attempted to defend some areas but had few arms and little capacity to fight back against rioters who were often also members of the police.
In the subsequent rush to get arms some of the leading IRA members who opposed such ideas as an "anti-Imperialist front" with protestant/unionist workers and instead favoured traditional republican methods, were in effect sponsored by members of Fianna Fail and led a split in the organisation, creating the (Marxian) Official IRA and the (traditional republican) Provisional IRA. The PIRA was determined not only to use force in defence of Catholic areas, but also launch an armed campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland.
Main article: Bloody Sunday (1972)
The NICRA campaigned against internment following its introduction on 9 August 1971. At a NICRA anti-internment march in Derry on 30 January 1972, 13 unarmed demonstrators were shot dead by British troops, in what became known as Bloody Sunday. The demonstration marked the effective end of NICRA, though also led to the end of Stormont Parliament that had passed the discriminatory legislation in the first place.
* Key Events - Civil Rights Campaign (1964-1972) — from the University
of Ulster's CAIN project
1. ^ 1968: Londonderry march ends in violence — BBC On This Day article
Original article cited: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Ireland_Civil_Rights_Association