force feeding hunger strikers: Frank Stagg documentary on TG4

Tonight TG4 is screening a documentary about Frank Stagg in the Finné series. The programme will look at the events that followed Stagg’s death on hunger strike on 12th February 1976. His brother George will tell the story of how Frank’s remains were seized by the Irish government in an attempt to prevent him receiving a republican funeral.

Stagg had been arrested in England in April 1973, charged with conspiracy to carry out bombing attacks and given a ten year sentence. Moved around various prisons, in March 1974 he and Michael Gaughan joined Gerry Kelly, Hugh Feeney, Paul Holmes, Dolours Price and Marion Price on hunger strike in protest at the refusal to grant them political status including setting a date at which they would be moved to prisons in the north (such movements, in either direction, were being routinely facilitated for non-republicans).

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Frank Stagg

Like the others, Stagg was subjected to force feeding during his hunger strike. Force feeding was believed to be a factor in Michael Gaughan’s death on 3rd June 1974.  While the others were moved to prisons in Ireland after Gaughan’s death, Stagg was moved to Long Lartin then Wakefield. He and his family claimed they were subjected to humiliating body searches prior to visits there and he spent much of the time in solitary confinement, as did many other republican prisoners. He participated in a number of further hunger strikes and was again subjected to force feeding. His last hunger strike  began on 14th December 1975 along with others like Gerry Mealy.

Force feeding of prisoners is described in various accounts. In the past Thomas Ashe and Terence MacSwiney had both been subject to force-feeding while on hunger-strike and it had contributed to their deaths. It had been introduced, and used, by the prison authorities during the hunger strikes by imprisoned suffragettes from 1909 to 1914. Afterwards, prison regulations in England appear to have permitted or directed the authorities to forcibly feed a prisoner from the sixth day of a hunger strike. Conor MacNessa, who led an IRA hunger strike in Parkhurst in 1940, states that this was the regulation in force at the time and gives an account of the impact force feeding had on Joe Malone (from Belfast). MacNessa states that the injuries sustained by Malone were left untreated by the prison authorities and ultimately led to his death the next year. In 1946, the prison authorities in Belfast force fed David Fleming when he was on hunger strike (Fleming’s case disproves the claim that force feeding was not used here after 1917).

Clamp

Clamp used in force feeding (drawn based on recollection Conor MacNessa, An Phoblacht, 17th May 1974)

The edition of Republican News published on 10th January 1976 carried an account of force feeding in it’s ‘Brownie’ column, based on information supplied by Gerry Kelly and Hugh Feeney.

If, as is likely, Frank Staff is force fed again he will suffer the following torture and, because his throat and stomach in particular cannot have healed properly, his health will deteriorate more quickly than it is doing at present.

He will face the possibility of at least one and maybe two ‘feedings’ daily. Force feeding is always brutal. No matter how often it occurs the victim does not get used to it. Some sessions are worse than others, but all are terrible experiences. If the ‘feedings’ are not at regular times each day, and usually they are not, then he spends his entire day trying to prepare himself emotionally. Trying to re-stock his determination to fight.

A team of screws are the first to appear. They come into the cell with varying expressions on their faces. These range from snarls, through impassive indifference to the odd sheepish apologetic smile. He will be ‘fed’ either in his cell or dragged outside into another one. He will be held in a bed or on a chair. Usually six or eight screws are involved. They swoop in an obviously planned manner, holding and pressing down on arms and legs. He will struggle as best he can even though he knows it is useless. One grabs him by the hair and forces his head back, and when he is finally pinned down in the proper manner the doctor and his assistant arrive.

Various methods will be employed to open Frank’s mouth. His nose will be covered to cut off air, or a screw or doctor will bunch their fists and bore their knuckles into the joints on each side of the jaws. A Ryle’s tube will be used. This is a very long thin tube which is pushed through the nose. It is supposedly for nasal feeding, but, in forced feedings it is simply a torture weapon used to force open the jaws. It rubs against the membrane at the back of the nose and, if not coated in a lubricant (which it seldom is), it causes a searing pain, akin to a red hot needle being pushed into one’s head.

If Frank cries out with this pain, a wooden clamp will immediately be pushed very forcibly between his teeth. If this fails to work, the doctor will use a large pair of forceps to cut into the gums, the ensuing pain again forcing the jaws to open sufficiently for the clamp to be forced in. Sometimes a metal clamp, rather like a bulldog clip, is used. It is forced between the teeth and a bolt is turned, forcing a spring and the jaws to open.

When Frank’s jaws are finally pried open, a wooden bit, rather like a horse bit, is forced into his mouth. This bit has two pointed ends which are used to force and to hold an opening. It ‘sits’ across his mouth with a screw holding each end, and there is a hole in the centre of it through which the feeding tube is forced. A flat piece of wood is inserted first to press the tongue down and then a three foot long rubber tube, coated in liquid paraffin, is shoved in and down his throat. A funnel is place on the open end and the will pour some water in. If the water bubbles, they know they tube is in Frank’s lungs. If so, the tube is removed and the whole process starts again.

Michael Gaughan was murdered in this way. When the tube is eventually fixed properly, it is pushed down into Frank’s stomach. There are different widths of tube and obviously the wider they are, the more painful the torture. Doctor’s usually use the widest as food goes down quicker and they don’t have to delay overlong. Frank will feel his stomach filling up and stretching, an experience has undergone before. Automatically he will vomit up, the disgorged food being caught in a kidney dish. If the doctor in charge is especially sadistic the vomit will be forced back down his throat again (this happened to Gerry Kelly). As the tube is removed it tears at the back of the throat, more so than before because the liquid paraffin has worn off on the way down. The last few inches will be ghastly.

Frank will get violent pains in his chest. He will choke, and, at this point, he will be sicker than before, as the tube coming out triggers more retching (Marion Price passed out at this stage once). After ‘feeding’ Frank will find it impossible to stand up, to sit up, or to move in any way.

You can watch the documentary on Frank Stagg on TG4 at 9.30 pm tonight.
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BBC apology to the British Army over its coverage of the British Army’s killing of Fr Hugh Mullan, #BallymurphyMassacre

On the 10th August 1971 the BBC was already reporting on the killings in Ballymurphy from the previous day and stating that an eyewitness was “…putting the blame fairly and squarely on the British Army”. The BBC quickly became the subject of attacks by the British government for its reporting on the actions of the Parachute Regiment. The British Defence Minister Lord Carrington even accused the BBC of “sniping” at the British Army and indulging in propaganda. The BBC called it an “error of judgement”.

On 9th August 1971, a neighbour of Fr Hugh Mullan, Bobby Clarke, was shot by soldiers after lifting a child to safety during the violence that followed the mass arrest of ‘Catholics’ that morning. After ringing the British Army HQ to advise them that he was going out to administer the last rites to Clarke, Fr Mullan ventured out, waving a white cloth and dressed as a priest, only to discover that Clarke was not fatally injured. He attempted to leave to get an ambulance for Clarke at which point he was shot by a British soldier. Frank Quinn, who attempted to provide assistance, was also shot dead.

Coverage of Fr Mullan’s death included an interview with the local Catholic bishop, William Philbin, broadcast on BBC the next day. The same day Bobby Clarke was also interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 programme, World at One, where he gave an eye witness account of Fr Mullan being shot in the back by a British soldier. Reporting of Fr Mullan’s death in many of the British newspapers repeated the claim that he had been shot as he went to administer the last rites to a wounded gunman.

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Fr Hugh Mullan

After the items were broadcast the Conservative MP for Dorset South, Evelyn King, wrote to Lord Carrington accusing the BBC of irresponsibility and “sniping” at the Army. Obviously, the use of the word ‘sniping’ was deliberate as this was the term conventionally used by reporters when describing physical attacks on the British Army in the north. The intention was clearly to use the term to associate the views of the BBC with those that were actually ‘sniping’ at the British Army. This is pretty unsophisticated censorship in that it is intended to diminish future reporting critical of the British Army as merely ‘sniping’ from the BBC.

Carrington responded to King’s letter by writing to the head of the BBC, Lord Hill, and King, stating that the radio interview in particular “…fell below the standard of fairness and accuracy people were entitled to expect” although he included other unspecified BBC items in his criticism. Carrington also seemed to be concerned that the items were also an attack on him personally since he had expressed his ‘utmost gratitude’ on the BBC for what the British Army had done. In his letter, Carrington admonished the BBC that when its “reporting falls below the standard of fairness and accuracy which we are entitled to expect, the main effect is to damage the corporation’s own standing with the public”. It should be borne in mind that, at this time in 1971, British public opinion on the deployment troops in the north wasn’t clear as there were calls for troops to be withdrawn both from the likes of the New Statesman and the National Front (see, eg, Irish Press, 24th August 1971). The latter even advocated Irish reunification, although it also wanted the forced repatriation of all Irish from Britain on the grounds that they were all mere “white wogs”.

The BBC accepted Carrington and Kings criticism and stated that “We do not defend the use of the item on the shooting of Fr Mullan. In our view it was an error of judgement to use this part of the interview.” However the BBC did reject the overall criticism.

You can read the letter here (thanks to @papertrailpro): https://twitter.com/papertrailpro/status/1042342802867347457?s=21

While this may seem like another footnote to the broader issue of the behaviour of the parachute regiment in Ballymurphy between 9th and 11th August 1971, it points to one of the wider issues that is not yet satisfactorily addressed. The role of the media lies both in reporting events and ensuring that those in positions of responsibility are suitably held to account. This means it is critical to understand how the media subsequently reported on events and what influenced how the media framed their reporting. The potential chilling effect of criticism, such as came from Lord Carrington, is fairly obvious. The long term repercussions, though, are significant. A glaring omission from contemporary media coverage of ‘legacy’ cases involving individuals killed or injured by state forces is a clear articulation by the media of what differentiates these cases from other violent conflict deaths. For those unsure what that means: when a meaningful inquest or investigation of the circumstances has not occurred the default position is that the information given by the British Army (etc) becomes the official account of a death. Fr Hugh Mullan, like others killed by the state, is thus deemed as being culpable in his own death unless the British Army itself, or some legal process, formally recognises the killing was unjustified. It is solely victims of the state that are, in this way, deemed guilty until proven otherwise. The repeated failures to hold the state and its leading figures to account is one legacy of the real error in judgement of the BBC (and media in general) in allowing itself to become the propaganda tool of the likes of Lord Carrington.

You can read a balanced item about Fr Hugh Mullan on the BBC here along with footage of the interview with the Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr William Philbin, on the day following his death (note the video may not work in every territory).

Here is the full text of a longish article on the BBC admitting an “error judgement” following Lord Carrington’s letter, as published in the Birmingham Daily Post 20th August 1971:

Interview about shot priest was an error: BBC

The BBC admitted yesterday that its use of part of an interview on the death of a Roman Catholic priest in Northern Ireland was an error in judgement.
BBC Radio 4’s The Word at One programme on August 10 carried an item on the death of a Roman Catholic priest, Fr Hugh Mullan, the day before.
The item took the form of an interview with an unnamed Irishman who claimed to be the man to whom the priest was giving the last rites when he was shot. The man alleged that the priest had been shot in the back by a British soldier.

Army blamed
The programme chairman, Mr William Hardcastle, summed up: “An eyewitness putting the blame fairly and squarely on the British Army.”
But the Defence Secretary, Lord Carrington in letters to a Conservative MP Mr Evelyn King (Dorset S) and the BBC chairman, Lord Hill, has said that the item fell below the standard of fairness and accuracy people were entitled to expect.
Mr King had written to Lord Carrington accusing the BBC of irresponsibility and “sniping” at the Army in its coverage of the Northern Ireland crisis.
In his reply to Mr King, Lord Carrington said: “I can assure you that the BBC items on Northern Ireland which you mention have not gone unnoticed by my Department. They are not the only items in this category.”
He then cited as an additional example, the item arising from the death of Fr Mullan and recalled that he had taken part in an interview on BBC Television News.
“I took the opportunity to express the utmost gratitude for the work of the Army in Northern Ireland. I believe quite firmly that this admiration and gratitude is shared by the vast majority of the people of this country and that, on those occasions when the BBC’s reporting falls below the standard of fairness and accuracy which we are entitled to expect, the main effect is to damage the corporation’s own standing with the public.”
In his letter to Lord Hill, Lord Carrington said: “I hope my letter to Mr King makes it clear that I certainly do not regard all the BBC’s recent reports and discussions on Northern Ireland as unbalanced and unfair.”
But he was concerned about the instances cited.
“I hope you will agree that they are unsatisfactory and that everything possible should be done to prevent repetitions.”
Last night a BBC spokesman said “We do not defend the use of the item on the shooting of Fr Mullan. In our view it was an error of judgement to use this part of the interview.”

Difficult task
But the BBC reacted sharply to Mr King’s accusations of daily “sniping” and indulging in propaganda.
The spokesman said, “These accusations are deeply wounding to staff who are engaged in the difficult task of reporting the terrible events in Northern Ireland. Much that we have to report will be unwelcome to one of the many conflicting interests involved and there will be occasional errors of judgement. But to accuse the BBC of sniping and propaganda is unworthy. We reject the accusation entirely.”

The Irish Press editorial, 11/8/1971: #BallymurphyMassacre

This is the editorial from The Irish Press two days after the mass internment of Catholics on 9th August 1971.

THE MESSAGE FROM BELFAST

Either the British Army has assumed the role of the B Specials or the orders given to the soldiers on the ground in the North do not specify their peacekeeping role. After the last two days, no other explanation is possible for their behaviour which has included easy fraternisation with armed loyalists and armed attacks on Catholic areas which have been defending themselves against loyalist attacks. In a day of trying to assess both the political situation and conditions on the ground, this is by far the most frightening aspect of the present conduct of the war that one can see. An inspection of Monday night’s and Tuesday morning’s battlefield which verified the consistent reports of eye-witnesses confirms that the British Army used wildly indiscriminate and heavy gunfire on the inhabitants in the Moyard Estate, after lorry loads of loyalists had been clearly seen spraying automatic fire from the Springmartin Estate overlooking Moyard, which is above Ballymurphy and New Barnsley. The only conclusion that any observer who has actually travelled round Belfast can come to is that the soldiers have either independently decided after the experience of the last 18 months, that the Catholic areas contain the “enemy”, or that their orders do not include the searching and arrest of all those suspected of or actually seen carrying weapons.

The only other judgment that can be made is that it is the intention of Stormont and Westminster to crush the Catholic areas into submission. Certainly the hitherto bitter split of Provisional and “Officials” has been healed so that both sides are now co-operating in the face of this threat.

The fact that the Stormont Cabinet is “stunned” by the violence of the last two days leaves open the consideration that they may have utterly underestimated the degree of alienation and the capacity for resistance in these areas. If it really is their intention to crush the minority, then they can succeed; because the embattled Catholics haven’t got the ammunition available to the Protestants nor do they have the ability to move what they have from one threatened area to another.

Nor can their food supplies hold out indefinitely. But the price of gaining submission will be a phenomenal death toll, economically unbearable damage, total alienation for at least a generation and a complete change in the nature of Anglo-Irish relations. The position of the Irish Government is also a source of great worry to the threatened community. The scant news from yesterday’s Cabinet meeting and the obscurity of Dr. Hillery’s purpose in visiting London, results in speculation varying from a possible breakthrough to the ultimate betrayal in the form of internment of Republicans in the South.

Journalists from Dublin papers are asked in Belfast what Mr. Lynch is going to do to help, and any suggestion about his sending medical aid as in 1969 are greeted with derision. The more hopeful and the more desperate try to believe that he will inform both London and Belfast that the Irish Army does not simply exist to comfort Irish refugees from a part of Ireland.

These are considerations of the most profound nature in Irish politics, but the crisis is now the most profound since at least 1916, if not before. Talks of reconciliation now, or restoring “normality” reveals utter ignorance of the situation; the political situation is being processed at legal and illegal gun points, and reconciliation cannot even begin until there is a political breakthrough.

The situation today is analogus to that when the British tried to introduce Conscription after 1916. They united all shades of Irish opinion against them. Internment is the modern equivalent of Conscription. The Croppies didn’t lie down then and they won’t lie down now.

The Stormont Government has now extended its options, and Westminster’s scope for initiative is now limited to something in the tripartite arena—assuming, and it might be quite an assumption that the straightforward suppression of the Northern minority is not going to be continued.

The solution which must be sought now, must be sought at least as publicly as the solution being processed in the streets of Belfast. Manoeuvres in the underworld of diplomacy, however well intentioned, or however ultimately successful, only give rise in the Northern situation at present to false hopes or false rumours, and these can be as murderous as any of the weaponry now so horribly visible. Stormont, as we know it, must go, Faulkner must be sacked, the internment decision rescinded and talks must be set in motion to end the whole rotten set-up. This is the minimum formula for a beginning to deal with the present crisis.

But Éire, our Éire shall be free: Edward Tierney, Belfast and 1916

Among those listed as interned in Frongoch in 1916 is an Edward Tierney whose address is given as the Falls Road, Belfast. There is also a Tierney tentatively listed among the Belfast Battalion volunteers who mobilised that Easter. So who was Edward Tierney?

Tierney’s name and address appear in the list of Frongoch internees compiled by Sean O’Mahony (in Frongoch: University of Revolution). No other details, other than the surname appears on the list of Belfast Battalion volunteers who mobilised in 1916 that is held in the Military Archives in Dublin. However, it is clear from the internment records that the Edward Tierney in Frongoch was more usually known by a Gaelicised form of the name, ‘Eamon O’Tierney’. O’Tierney had arrived in Frongoch quite late, having been transferred there in July. Harry Colley recalled that he and O’Tierney were taken into military custody from the hospital in Dublin Castle. They were marched to Kilmainham before their transfer to Frongoch. According to Colley, he and O’Tierney struggled to complete the next march from Kilmainham to the North Wall, where they were shipped to Frongoch (below). O’Tierney had been in the hospital since the surrender of the republican forces at the end of the Rising.

O’Tierney, who was described by Jeremiah O’Leary as always having being highly-strung, had suffered some form of collapse after being taken prisoner. One account states he was unconscious for as many as six weeks in the hospital. For a number of weeks afterwards, O’Tierney was also subject to severe headaches and what was described as ‘confused episodes’ and ‘loss of reason’. An account of his experience during the Rising appeared in the Irish Independent in January 1953. The area in which he fought, North King Street, witnessed some of the fiercest fighting of the Rising. O’Tierney was called the ‘Hero of Reilly’s Fort’ for his exploits in recovering an Irish Republic flag under fire. The flag had been placed on a lance that had been stuck into the ground at the centre of the North King Street and Church Street crossroads. F Company had used a pub on one of the corners of the crossroads as a stronghold which became known as Reilly’s Fort. It had come under sustained attack from British troops supported by armoured cars.

By the Friday, Reilly’s Fort had been under constant fire for sixteen hours and the decision was taken to evacuate it and retreat up Church Street to a barricade outside the Franciscan Church. The defenders were then joined by O’Tierney and others who had been defending the barricade in Mary’s Lane. When the Reilly’s Fort garrison was criticised for not bringing the Irish Republic flag and lance with them, O’Tierney went out, apparently under intense fire, and retrieved the flag and lance.

O’Tierney’s collapse after the Rising seems to be a manifestation of post-traumatic stress, presumably arising from his combat experience. In Frongoch, O’Tierney took part in the hunger-strike which began in early November. After several days on the hunger-strike, O’Tierney began to present further psychological reactions, but due to the conflict with the authorities in Frongoch he was denied medical care. For some ten days he experienced further confused episodes, including paranoid delusions about being conscripted. On the 20th November he again collapsed, which the other prisoners again described as being down to ‘loss of reason’. A few days later, on 24th November, the internees’ leaders, including Michael Collins, wrote to the authorities expressing their concern at O’Tierney’s condition and stating that he had been denied medical treatment. On 25th November, he was moved to an asylum at Denbigh where he stayed until 1917.

The 1953 series by Piaras Beaslaí that described the ‘Hero of Reilly’s Fort’.

So how had O’Tierney ended up in Dublin for the Rising?

Despite his recorded address, O’Tierney had actually arrived in Dublin from London, not Belfast. Immediately prior to the Rising, he had been in a party of eight that carried over twelve suitcases of arms and ammunition, arriving in Dublin on Good Friday 1916. Realising the Rising was about to take place, he refused to leave. O’Tierney had used the cover of a G.R. (Georgius Rex) armband of the British Home Guard when travelling between London and Dublin. The role of London-based Irish republicans in the Rising and subsequent independence campaigns has often been overlooked (eg Michael Collins spent over nine years in London).

O’Tierney had been one of those who had built up connections with Germany using letters addressed to prisoners of war. This was possible through his work in shipping as he was directly in contact with boats and captains travelling to Scandinavia and Germany. O’Tierney’s shipping connections meant he was invaluable in the attempts to procure arms and he was involved in organising the shipment of arms that was to come with Casement prior to the Easter Rising. He had even brought back one consignment of ammunition from Hamburg personally.

He had also been among the original members of the Irish Volunteers in London, commanded by Michael Collins. Their volunteer unit had, at first, created a relief committee for those affected by the 1913 lockout which then became the United Irish Associations (with O’Tierney as secretary). O’Tierney was also active in the Irish Self-Determination League.

Another one of the early recruits to the Irish Volunteers in London, Jeremiah O’Leary, records that Eamon O’Tierney had actually been born Edward Turnley. In the 1940s, Seamus Kavanagh recalled that Turnley had told him that his family background lay in Fermanagh and Monaghan and that his father was Grand Master of a Masonic Lodge there (Turnley himself was Presbyterian although he apparently converted to Catholicism while in hospital in Dublin Castle). Turnley reputedly said he had come over to London as a child to be educated and ended up fluent in twelve languages. His obituary, though, states that he came from a prominent unionist family in Antrim, rather than Fermanagh or Monaghan. Piaras Beaslaí (in the 1953 Irish Independent article) states that Turnley originally came from Fermanagh and that his father was a freemason and he had uncle who was an admiral. However, the quality of Beaslaí’s information is shown by him mistakenly giving the English form of Turnley’s surname as ‘Tormley’.

Seamus Kavanagh states that Turnley did first joined the Gaelic League to learn Irish, then, as he met various active republicans including some with Belfast connections like Henry Shiels, Alf Monaghan and the Wards, he became an active republican himself. His interest in the Irish language supposedly arose after a period of time in which he had been a heavy gambler and  was drinking excessively. During one such night, a British army officer made, and then lost, a huge gamble. The officer immediately left the room and shot himself. Seemingly, that turned Turnley from drinking and gambling and he took up the study of Irish instead. In the Gaelic League he met Michael Collins and it was Collins that is said to have made an Irish nationalist out of Turnley. Turnley remained active in the Gaelic League as well as the Irish Self Determination League in London. He had first joined the Clapham branch of the Gaelic League in 1910.

In 1917, Turnley was eventually discharged from Denbigh asylum. A letter writer to the Irish Independent in 1953 (in response to Beaslaí’s article) recalled that Turnley was then constantly followed by Scotland Yard in London. His professional skills were such, though, that even after his release, he was still in demand by employers. At the same time, and despite the surveillance, he remained heavily involved in republican activities in London under Sean McGrath and Sam Maguire. He also gave political speeches at various events, such as one where we spoke with Countess Markievicz and Herbert Devine at the Roger Casement Sinn Féin Club in London on 5th December 1919 and was promiment at various Gaelic League and Irish Self-Determination League events.

Aodh de Blacam, who knew Turnley well in London, mentions him in his novel about the London Irish, Holy Romans. He also included a brief memoir of Turnley in the London Gaelic League’s occasional magazine, Guth na nGaedheal, in March 1922. He quoted what he claimed to be Turnley’s own words, “…That we shall win our freedom I have no doubt; that we shall use it well I am not so certain… That should be our final consideration, and we should make this a resolution – our future history shall be more glorious than that of any contemporary State. We shall look for prosperity, no doubt, but let our enthusiasm be for beautiful living; … we shall take pride in our institutions …. as securing happiness of the citizens, and we shall lead Europe again as we led it of old. We shall rouse the world from a wicked dream of material good, of tyrannical power, of corrupt and callous politics to the wonder of a regenerated spirit, a new and beautiful dream; and we shall establish our State in a true freedom that will endure for ever.

Also included in the article were what de Blacam described as verses that Turnley had loved:

I cannot count the years

That you must drink like me

The cup of blood and tears,

Till she to you appears-

But Éire, our Éire shall be free !

 

You consecrate your lives

To her, and you shall be

The food on which she thrive

Till her great day arrives :

When Éire, our Éire, shall be free.

 

She ask you but for faith :

Your faith in her takes she,

Amidst defeat and death

As draughts of Heaven’s breath –

And Éire, our Éire shall be free!

In 1920 Turnley moved from London to Cork where he transferred to the local I.R.A. unit (2nd Battalion). After a bout of appendicitis he needed an operation from which he didn’t recover and he died on 17th December 1920.

So who was Eamon O’Tierney?

Eamonn O’Tierney was indeed born as Edward Douglas Turnley at St George Hanover Square in London in 1890 (this was also the name under which his death was registered in Cork in 1920). His family moved to Ashford, Staines in Middlesex around 1894 after his brother Alfred was born, although their mother died soon after Alfred’s birth. His father, Edward Echlin Turnley remarried in 1895, to Emmie, and had four further children and continued to live in Ashford. Edward Turnley was a senior civil servant. A clue to his Irish connection is given in the name of his house in Ashford, ‘Drumnasole’. Drumnasole, near Glenarm, was the Irish seat of the Turnley family. Edward Turnley himself had been in born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1855 to William Echlin Turnley and Maria White. William Turnley was a British soldier who had join the 54th Foot at the age of 14 in 1845, rising through the ranks to become Quartermaster in 1863 (with the equivalent rank of Captain) and then transferring to the more prestigious 1st Foot Regiment in 1871 and retiring with the equivalent rank of Major. After his retirement he lived in East Brixton and Lambeth in London. Turnley’s military records show that he was born in Belfast in 1831. At his marriage in 1851, his father’s name is given as John Turnley. The name Echlin used by the family suggests that there is some connection here between the Turnley and Echlin families, both of whom had residences near the mouth of Strangford Lough (where John Turnley and John Echlin were Justices of the Peace in the late 18th and early 19th century).

John Turnley had built a new house for himself, Rockport House (now a school), at Craigavad on Belfast Lough while his brother Francis, who had amassed a fortune in the East Indies, built Drumnasole House. The Turnleys were actively involved in Belfast’s business community and there was even a Turnley Street in the city centre (roughly where Stewart Street meets East Bridge Street today).

William (Edward Douglas Turnley’s grandfather) may have been a son of John Turnley of Rockport, although references to him suggest he had no legitimate children. Either way, the Turnley family clearly had some connection to the Drumnasole Turnleys. William, a retired army major, lived not far from his son Edward Echlin Turnley and his grandson Edward Douglas Turnley and died in 1904. It is possible Edward was given some sense of his Belfast roots by his grandfather. This is presumably what later prompted Edward Turnley to give his address as Belfast. How far the Turnley’s were prominent in unionism isn’t clear, though. The surname and Drumnasole appears on the lists of donors to the UVF in the 1910s but there is nothing to indicate that the Turnleys were particularly prominent in unionist politics.

Some of the inaccurate memoirs recorded about Turnley may have been badly remembered. But he may also have casually gave out misleading information about himself as a standard security precaution. Certainly the cumulative impact of his clandestine work importing arms and the physical danger of the Rising itself appears to have brought on some sort of breakdown. At least the Gaelic League in London did remember him, though. From 1937, Feis Lonndhain included an annual essay competition named in his honour which continued until at least the late 1950s.

 

postscript

More recently, another member of the Turnley family, John Turnley, was active in the SDLP in the 1970s, leaving to help found the Irish Independence Party in 1977 (his father tried to disinherit him over his political views). He was shot dead by the UDA in June 1980 after arriving at a public meeting in Carnlough. He was one of two prominent Protestant supporters of political status for prisoners in the H Blocks and Armagh to be shot dead around that time. One of those convicted over his death, Robert McConnell was prominent in the Ulster Unionist Party on his release.

And Rockport House school, which that John Turnley had attended, was based in the house originally built by one of his forebearers and namesake. The school itself was founded by Geoffrey Bing whose own son of the same name attended the school and was later a Labour MP for Hornchurch. In 1950 he published “John Bull’s Other Ireland” a widely read critique of the Unionists abuses of civil rights in Ireland.

Internment, 9 August, 1971

On 9th August, 1971, the Unionist government used the Section 12 of the Special Powers Act to arrest and intern hundreds of men. The arrest policy concentrated almost uniquely on Catholics, targeting those believed to be republicans although it included some other individuals such as anarchist John McGuffin (you can read his book on Internment here on Irish Resistance Books).

Previously the Unionists had used the same powers, the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act to intern large groups of men on a number of occasions. This was done from 1922 to 1924, in 1925 (during the collapse of the Boundary Commission), from 1938 to 1945, in 1951, from 1956 to 1961 and in August 1969. Frequently, individuals or small groups of two or three men were interned. Given that arrest could mean being held in prison for up to four weeks before a formal internment order was served, a policy of administrative detentions was continually operated that meant that the Unionists and R.U.C. could imprison people for significant periods of time without ever formalising their internment, never mind bringing formal charges through the courts. This tactic was almost exclusively used against republicans although it was utilised against socialists and communists on occasions in the 1920s and 1930s. Notably campaigns to highlight the Unionists’ arrest and detention policies, treatment of prisoners and right to assemble (i.e. to protest about these issues) provided a greater contribution to the civil rights movement of the 1960s than many would like to acknowledge.
torture

One outcome of the phase of internments that started on 9th August 1971 was the experimentation in torture that was summarised in the report published by the Association for Legal Justice and Northern Aid in 1971. Entitled, Torture: The Record of British Brutality in Ireland. Torture details the experiences of those taken and physical and psychologically abused by British Army personnel and RUC personnel and is discussed in more detail here. The Irish government took a case against the British government in the European Court of Human Rights over the torture which is still not resolved.

The Northern Aid/Association for Legal Justice book can be viewed below. Anyone wishing to find out more could also read another of John McGuffin’s books, The Guinea Pigs, which can also be read on Irish Resistance Books.

And in case anyone needs a reminder of the catastrophic impact of the phase of internment that began on 9th August 1971, here is the front page of the next day’s Irish Independent.

IndoAug9.png

“a position paralleled only by continental dictatorships”: the abuses that prompted the Civil Rights campaign

Much of the recent commentary has focused on debating the origins and ‘ownership’ of the civil rights campaign. What has been missing from the discussion has been a timely reminder of the actual abuses that prompted the campaign.

At heart, the civil rights campaign was addressing a fundamental democratic deficit created by Unionists limiting the right to vote. This is starkly visible in comparisons of the registered electorate for Westminster elections at which Unionism had no facility to curtail voting rights, and, Stormont and local government elections at which the qualification to vote could be manipulated and controlled. Taking the 1970 Westminster elections and 1969 Stormont elections into account, the former had a total electorate of 1,017,303 while the latter, only one year earlier, was 784,242. This is a difference of 233,061 votes, or almost 22.9% of the electorate. Qualification for the franchise was rooted in eligibility to pay rates and other restrictions that had long been lifted elsewhere. And economic status was the key to eligibility.

Unionism viewed this issue as explicitly rooted in religious identities. But in the United Kingdom, overt religious discrimination was, and is, only formally permitted at the highest levels (in terms of its monarchy and, technically, political offices such as Prime Minister and Lord Chancellor). So this could not be done in public. Instead, Unionism had to curate and exploit economic barriers to acquiring the right to vote, like employment, access to education and training (Catholic schools only received equality of resource allocation in the 1990s) and housing rights. Irish language rights were entirely suppressed. Conveniently for Unionism, the UK as happens elsewhere, happily tolerates overt income-based discrimination while prohibiting other forms of discriminatory practice.

Unionism wasn’t particularly shy in articulating the relationship between economic status, religion and politics. In 1933, writing in the Northern Whig, the Unionist Party’s Sir Joseph Davison neatly links votes, religion and employment: “…it is time Protestant employers of Northern Ireland realised that whenever a Roman Catholic is brought into their employment it means one Protestant vote less… I suggest the slogan should be ‘Protestants employ Protestants'”. Unionist boasts of ‘a Protestant Government for a Protestant People’ were usually in the context of demanding the employment of Protestants over Catholics (who were described as 99% disloyal) to ensure continuation of that same government.

And Unionist language on the issue could be brutal, with little fear of public rebuke. “The Nationalist majority in the county, i.e., Fermanagh … stands at 3,684. We must ultimately reduce and liquidate that majority. This county, I think it can be safely said, is a Unionist county. The atmosphere is Unionist. The Boards and properties are nearly all controlled by Unionists. But there is still this millstone [the Nationalist majority] around our necks.”, this was said by the Unionist MP for Enniskillen, Erne Ferguson, in 1948. Ferguson later resigned as an MP to take up the role of Crown Solicitor for Fermanagh.

When the British government appointed Sir John Cameron, a Scottish judge, to look at the violence that had been used against the early civil rights campaign, he stated (in his 1969 report, Disturbances in Northern Ireland) that: “We are satisfied that all these Unionist controlled councils have used and use their power to make appointments in a way which benefited Protestants. In the figures available for October 1968 only thirty per cent of Londonderry Corporations administrative, clerical and technical employees were Catholics. Out of the ten best-paid posts only one was held by a Catholic. In Dungannon Urban District none of the Council’s administrative, clerical and technical employees was a Catholic. In County Fermanagh no senior council posts (and relatively few others) were held by Catholics: this was rationalised by reference to ‘proven loyalty’ as a necessary test for local authority appointments. In that County, among about seventy-five drivers of school buses, at most seven were Catholics. This would appear to be a very clear case of sectarian and political discrimination. Armagh Urban District employed very few Catholics in its salaried posts, but did not appear to discriminate at lower levels. Omagh Urban District showed no clear-cut pattern of discrimination, though we have seen what would appear to be undoubted evidence of employment discrimination by Tyrone County Council.”
As well as the economic measures, the civil rights campaign also addressed inequities and inequalities in the administration of justice. Back in April 1922, the Unionists had enacted supposedly temporary measures in the Civil Authorities (Special Powers Act) which was intended to ‘restore order’. But the Act was continually renewed until it was just made permanent. It contained provisions to intern individuals without a charge, a trial or a release date. Hundreds were interned from 1922-24, 1938-45 and 1956-62 with smaller groups interned on other, lesser known, occasions (such as 1925 and 1951). Sentencing policy varied relative to your political background. An identical firearms offence attracting a £2-£5 fine for a Protestant would become a ten year penal servitude sentence (possibly including 10 strokes of the whip) for a republican. Habeus Corpus could be suspended, meaning, among other things, that it was possible to take and hold prisoners and refuse to admit they were being held prisoner.

Other measures were continually used to suppress opposition political activity. Public meetings and assemblies could be, and were repeatedly, banned. Individuals could be expelled from the north if they refused to abide by a restriction making them live in either Limavady if they were a republican or Clogher if they were a communist [Ed – No, I’ve no idea why Limavady and Clogher]. Publications including posters could be banned. Anything the Unionists’ deemed seditious, including concerts, memorials, publications, emblems and flags could be banned, seized and the owner prosecuted. In practice, under the Special Powers Act, individuals were detained and held for up to 7-8 weeks without charges or any form of hearing. The RUC could even deny holding them. Nor was there any form of redress once released if they weren’t charged or interned.

After the first ten years of operation of the Act, there were a series of unemployment protests in Britain, culminating in the hunger marches and rally in Hyde Park which was broken up by the police, injuring 75 people. This coincided with the Outdoor Relief riots in Belfast. The long term impact of the hunger marches was the formation of the British National Council for Civil Liberties in 1934. It’s focus was on abuses by the state including the suppression of political opposition, the use of police, and the promotion of democratic norms. After thousands of Catholics were attacked and forced from their homes and jobs in Belfast in the summer of 1935, the Council for Civil Liberties created a commission to report on the use of emergency powers and draconian legislation by the Unionists. It delivered its report on 23rd May 1936 and the main conclusions were:—

  • Firstly, that through the operation of the Special Powers Acts contempt has been begotten for the representative institutions of Government.
  • Secondly, that through the use of special powers individual liberty is no longer protected by law, but is at the arbitrary disposition of the Executive. This abrogation of the rule of law has been so practised as to bring the freedom of the subject into contempt.
  • Thirdly, that the Northern Irish Government has used special powers towards securing the domination of one particular political faction and, at the same time, towards curtailing the lawful activities of its opponents.
  • Fourthly, that the Northern Irish Government, despite its assurances that special powers are intended for use only against law-breakers, has frequently employed them against innocent and law-abiding people, often in humble circumstances, whose injuries, inflicted without cause or justification, have gone unrecompensed and disregarded.

It believed that the Unionists were “…in a position paralleled only by continental dictatorships…”.

With no sense of irony, the Belfast Newsletter (25 May 1936) dismissed the report as ‘bitter attacks on Ulster’. It then followed the Commission’s conclusions with a response from the County Grand Master of Belfast Orangemen, Sir Joseph Davison (same as above), who stated that “…to the best of his knowledge responsible members of the Protestant community did not give evidence at the inquiry which could, therefore, scarcely be impartial. ‘I have not made a careful study of the report of the Commission,’ he said, ‘but it is clearly very one-sided.’”

The British National Council for Civil Liberties report was regularly cited for the next twenty years in reference to the failures of Unionism to administer justice. None of the political groupings in the north initially embraced any form of rights-based campaign. Certainly individual issues were cited by the likes of the Nationalists and various Labour political factions. Republicans, politically disengaged from the structures of the northern state, highlighted the nature of the administration of justice. As republican meetings, commemorations and publications were regularly banned and led to arrests, the mere act of protest often was restricted by the Unionists’ use of the Special Powers Act. This included campaigning for political status for prisoners and the release of internees and political prisoners. Campaigns to release internees and sentenced prisoners took place from around 1944 to 1950 and again from 1957 to 1962. The end of the latter campaign saw republicans co-operate with the British National Council for Civil Liberties to highlight the Unionists’ use of the Special Powers Act.

In 1950, Geoffrey Bing, a Belfast born Labour MP for Hornchurch who was associated with the Council for Civil Liberties, published a 24 page pamphlet called John Bull’s OtherIrelandhighlighting what he saw as the abuses the Tories enabled Unionism to perpetrate.  He wrote that “The outward and visible manifestation of Tory policy in Northern Ireland is sectarianism. The Catholics are, like the Jews under Hitler, to blame for everything. A politician has only to wave the Orange flag and there is no need for him to concern himself with tiresome questions of national welfare.” Several million copies of Bings’ pamphlet were sold. He concluded that “…the creation of Northern Ireland was the greatest of all gerrymanders.” and that the British government and parliament, ultimately, was enabling the Unionists to carry on in this way and needed to take the lead in forcing change to take place.

Later, in the 1960s, at the preliminary meeting in Belfast that agreed on the need to found the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, a Dublin-based lawyer, Ciaran McAnally, identified the range of civil rights that should be upheld by society (as reported in the Irish Democrat, January 1967):

  1. The right to personal liberty and freedom of movement. This should only be forfeited following conviction in a fair trial on known charges;
  2. The right to freedom of expression in speech, writing or publication subjects to the norms of truth and justice. In other words, this right should not be used to the (legal) injury of others;
  3. The right to freedom of conscience to hold and change religious beliefs, and the right to proselytise;
  4. The right to assembly. This right is implicit in the right to free expression and personal liberty;
  5. The right to form associations that not harmful to society. This follows from the right of assembly;
  6. The right of access to courts of law to obtain the enforcement of the aforesaid rights. This entailed the provision of legal aid to people who otherwise would be prevented from having access to the courts;
  7. The right to protection against discrimination in public employment and fair and impartial access to the public services, housing, social security and the other facilities provided today by central and local government authorities.
  8. The right to freedom from conscription for conscientious objectors.

The initial press releases from the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association concentrated mainly on the administration of justice, rather than the socio-economic issues. These were: to defend the basic freedom of all citizens; to protest 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.

But as the civil rights campaign developed, the socioeconomic issues began to be equally stressed drawing together what was to form the two most recognizable strands of the civil rights campaign.

A history of NICRA by its first treasurer, Fred Heatley, published in Fortnight in 1974

Fred Heatley, who was for a number of years an executive member of NICRA, wrote a series of articles on the growth and development of the Association which were published across five issues of the magazine Fortnight in 1974, starting with issue 80 on 22nd March with the last instalment in issue 84 on 7th June.

NICRA

I had recently posted on the Wolfe Tone Societies and their antecedents, the civil liberties and republican prisoner release groups, as being part of the formative learning that fed into the thinking behind the formation of NICRA. Heatley describes the Wolfe Tone Societies as ‘an autonomous adjunct’ of the republican movement. Tracing its engagement with other civil liberties groups, he states that it was decided to stop using the ‘Wolfe Tone Society’ name in November 1966 and the name Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was adopted in January 1967. Heatley records how invitations were sent out to the various groups who then joined NICRA, the development of the NICRA officer board and how its strategies evolved.

In terms of IRA involvement, Heatley notes that while some of those involved in both wings of the IRA in 1970 had been involved in NICRA, only those who later were involved in the Official IRA had been on the officer board. This appears consistent with the divisions among republicans in the 1960s, with those supporting Goulding’s strategies remaining in leadership positions (and taking on roles in NICRA) while those that were disaffected left, only rejoining the Provisionals when the link with Goulding and those around him was broken. By the time his account of NICRA was written in the spring of 1974, Heatley claims it had been taken over by the Officials and Communists (dating the takeover from around 1970).

In terms of the involvement of various other groups, Heatley sets out a rough chronology below. The diverse range of groups that were invited to participate, or coalesced with NICRA at some point, is probably one source of the competing claims to the origins of the NICRA. A more useful exercise might actually be to remind people of the civil rights abuses NICRA sought to address and apply the same energy to countering civil rights abuses today.

Here are Heatley’s articles on the growth and development of NICRA compiled into one single article.

 

THE BEGINNING 1964 – FEB. 1968.

Millions of words have been written as to how the ‘troubles’ began, and the instant-history writers have flooded the market with their views. Most of these historians date everything back to the Derry Civil Rights march of October 5th 1968, or to that of a few months later which led to the ambush at Burntollet Bridge. Few have even attempted to trace the civil rights campaign beyond those dates and it is this writer’s intention to put on record something of what had taken place prior to then.

THE WOLFE TONE SOCIETIES

Theobald Wolfe Tone, a middle class radical Protestant who, many years after his death became the father figure of Irish Republicanism, was born in 1763. In the bicentenary year of his birth a number of committees were set up to commemorate that event including one in Belfast, a place which Tone knew well. The Belfast Bicentenary Committee drew support from across the religious divide and a special commemorative newspaper that was published had a two-and-two editorial body. By mid-1964 the commemorations had finished and it was decided by some of those involved to stay together and form what became Wolfe Tone societies, the strongest of which were in Dublin and Belfast. They were small groupings. Belfast never had any more than a dozen members and their aims were to foster republicanism by educating the masses in their cultural and political heritage. To that end they sponsored the commemorations for the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Belfast Presbyterian United Irishman, Henry Joy McCracken; and in the following year they were responsible for the ceremonies connected with the centenary of the birth of James Connolly. It should be emphasised that the Belfast Wolfe Tone Society was not controlled by either the IRA or Sinn Fein but was an autonomous adjunct of the republican movement.

FOUNDING OF NICRA

During the weekend 13th/14th August 1966 at a joint meeting of all Wolfe Tone societies held in Maghera a decision was taken to launch a civil rights body in Belfast. The initial moves for this were made by the Belfast society and the Queen’s Hall of the War Memorial Building in Belfast’s Waring Street was booked for a meeting on November 28th under their auspices, but following some discussion with other non-WTS members drawn into the ad hoc civil rights grouping as we had now become it was decided to drop the Wolfe Tone Society title from any future correspondence.

At the meeting, which was better attended than we had hoped, John D. Stewart took the chair. He was not a member of the Wolfe Tone Society and neither, to my knowledge, were the two speakers, Kader Asmal and Ciaran Mac an Aili. The former was a South African Indian, President of the Irish anti-apartheid movement, and a lecturer in International Law at Trinity College, Dublin. Mac an Aili was President of the Irish Pacifist Association, a member of the International Federation of Jurists and a well-known Dublin solicitor, although a Derry man by birth. Asmal spoke on “Human Rights: an International Perspective” and Mac an Aili on “Civil Liberty in Ireland Today”.

At the conclusion of the meeting it was agreed that another should be called when it could be expected that a Northern Ireland civil rights body would be formed. Invitations were once again sent out to all the political parties then active in Northern Ireland, to many of the cultural and trade union organisations, and to prominent people whom it was thought might be interested, and on January 29th 1967 this meeting took place in the International Hotel, Belfast. Tony Smythe and James Shepherd of the British National Council for Civil Liberties flew over, and Senator Nelson Elder of the Unionist Party attended (although he walked out before the meeting had concluded). It was however very successful and the large attendance accepted with some small modification the proposed constitution drawn up by the ad hoc committee and based on that of the NCCL. A 13-person steering committee was elected which on February 6th selected its officer board as follows: Chairman, Robin Harris (DATA); vice-chairman, Dr Conn McCluskey (Campaign for Social Justice); secretary, Derek O’B Peters (Northern Ireland Communist Party); treasurer, Fred Heatley (Wolfe Tone Society); PRO,  Jack Bennett (Wolfe Tone Society). Other members were Liam McMillen (Republican), Betty Sinclair (Belfast Trades Council), John G Quinn (Liberal Party), Michael Dolley (National Democrats), Joe Sherrie (Republican Labour), Jim Andrews (Ardoyne Tenants’ Association), Tony McGettigan (no affiliation) and Paddy Devlin (Northern Ireland Labour Party). Within a few days Robin Cole, former chairman of the Queen’s University Young Unionists, was co-opted onto this steering body thus giving representation for all seven political parties in Northern Ireland. No such grouping had ever before appeared in the North and it was hoped that with such a widespread interest reform could be achieved fairly quickly.

A five-points outline of the broad objectives of the newly fledged body was issued and given mention in all the local newspapers; it was:

  1. To defend the basic freedom of all citizens.
  2. To protest the rights of the individual.
  3. To highlight all possible abuses of power.
  4. To demand guarantees for freedom of speech, assembly and association.
  5. To inform die public of their lawful rights.

There was nothing outstandingly controversial about any of these and it was hoped they would be implemented with little delay. In the meantime the steering committee had to report back to the membership, and on April 9th 1967 another gathering was held in the International Hotel. At this the amended constitution was accepted and the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association formally inaugurated. There were some changes in the new (first official) executive council with Ken Banks (DATA), Kevin Agnew (Republican) and Terence A O’Brien (Derry, no affiliation) replacing Andrews, McMillen and McGettigan.

CSJ AND OTHERS

Although we were now active in the sphere of civil liberties we were not the only such group. In 1963 the Campaign for Social Justice, based mainly at Dungannon under the leadership of Dr. Conn McCluskey and his wife, Patricia, had been founded. Over the years they had applied themselves diligently to amassing figures on employment, housing and electoral boundaries which showed, irrefutably, evidence of discrimination and gerrymandering. Their material was sent to MPs at Westminster, to leading people farther afield and to newspapers. But the CSJ was seen as being middle class socially, as being too cautious politically, and as being somewhat pan-Catholic in outlook. These, of course, were snap judgements and may not have stood up to an authentic research. The CSJ did not appeal to the mass, so the attempt to form a body which did. The McCluskeys were invited to send representatives, which they did, and Dr Conn McCluskey was elected to both the steering and to the first official committee of NICRA. The trade unions also had been showing an increasing awareness in the lack of basic rights at home and in early 1967 they published-in conjunction with the Parliamentary Labour Party, a “Joint Memorandum on Citizens’ Rights in Northern Ireland” which was addressed to the then Prime Minister, Terence O’Neill. Also at this time the British NCCL was seriously considering setting up a branch in Belfast.

THE FIRST 18 MONTHS

The NICRA went straight into action with a condemnation of the ban on Republican Clubs. At a meeting in Newry on April 15th, the first time NICRA was on the streets, we also dealt with the issue of the itinerants who were making news by squatting on the Shore Road and the scheduled abattoir site. There were also numerous cases of harassment of republicans or republican sympathisers by the RUC Special Branch, particularly those based in Hastings Street Station. I recall on one occasion when investigating a complaint, being accused in front of witnesses, of being a tout for the RUC. This was a non-too-subtle attempt to discredit both myself and NIGRA. That first eighteen months was a time of frustration. William Craig, to whom most of our complaints were directed, usually delayed in replying. When he did he denied that the complaints were justified even when a civil rights officer (myself) was physically thrown out of Hastings Street Station! Yet we did detect an easing off in harassment both of republicans and of itinerants.

But the most annoying aspect of the early period was the lack of real interest shown by our first council members at times we couldn’t muster up the required six members for a quorum at the monthly meetings. Not that the disputes about gerrymandering etc were not recognised, for even the News Letter, during early 1968, serialised a thesis by an assistant professor at Oakland University entitled “Ulster Under Fire”, detailing some of the abuses.

In November 1964 The Scotsman had printed an article “Backwash in Belfast”. Other similar tirades were “Vested Interests Keep Bigotry Alive” (Belfast Telegraph, 9/11/63), “A Nasty Smell from Ulster” (New Statesman, 3/1/64), “John Bull’s Political Slum” (Sunday Times, 3/7/66), “The Ulster Rump” (New Statesman, 27/1/67), “Ulster’s Second-class Citizens” (The Times, 24/4/67), and “John Bull’s White Ghettos” (The Observer, 6/10/68). But the Ulster Unionists turned a deaf ear. Terence O’Neill had begun his ‘meet the people’ tours and his ‘civic weeks’, yet nothing had actually changed except perhaps the ordinary folk were then more kindly disposed towards each other than before … or since. The Divis Street riots had been a blot on the copybook and there had been many similar incidents often associated with rallies of the Rev Ian Paisley, but most of the harassment and discrimination had become so subtle that only those directly involved could see them.

In February 1968 the second executive council of NICRA was elected and there were a few new faces on it. John McAnerney (CSJ), Frank Campbell (Republican), Peter Morris (no affiliation), Jim Quinn (no affiliation), Frank Gogarty (Wolfe Tone Society), and Rebecca McGlade (Republican) replaced the outgoing Bennett, Harris, Banks, O’Brien, Dolley and Devlin. Robin Cole, although re-elected with the highest total number of votes later resigned from the executive because of some words used by the outgoing secretary, Derek Peters. Betty Sinclair became new chairman; John Quinn, vice-chairman; John McAnerney, secretary; Rebecca McGlade, assistant secretary; Frank Gogarty, PRO; whilst I retained my post as treasurer. That year began quietly enough with a capitulation to Paisley over the Easter Annual Republican Parade in Armagh. There was a spate of meetings held in protest. I represented NICRA at all of these (Armagh, April 20th, Newry, April 27th, and back in Armagh, May 18th). All of the Stormont opposition parties had speakers on these platforms and NICRA, by being invited to share with them, was at last gaining some recognition although only by the non-Union action of the community.

THE FIRST MARCHES

In the spring of 1968 there was much rethinking within the CRA leadership; the tactics of Martin Luther King in America had been absorbed inasmuch that it was felt by some that only by public marches could we really draw world attention to what we were trying to achieve by normal democratic means. But we had members who either didn’t relish the trouble this could create or were too constitutional in their thinking. However, the Caledon incident when the local council granted a house to a young unmarried Protestant girl next door to one where a Catholic family with young children had been evicted for squatting gave us the opportunity to have our way. Austin Currie phoned me and asked if I would address a protest meeting on the following Saturday night (June 22nd 1968) at Dungannon. John McAnerney drove me down on a night of torrential rain and although soaked to the skin, I had the satisfaction in pledging the NICRA to a policy of civil disobedience. The following month, back in Maghera where the CRA had first materialised, plans were formulated for Ireland’s first-ever civil rights march. We had all along been of the opinion that Derry should be the venue for this it being an obvious choice but the availability of a well-organised local group to do the ground work for us and the smart of the Caledon housing farce led us to choose a walk from Coalisland to Dungannon.

That evening of August 24th 1968 was one of magnificent weather and the thousands who turned up for the march enjoyed their stroll as well as protesting against injustice. We had taken no chances against violence by, or against, any of the marchers by providing a ring of march stewards. At one stage the police attempted to issue us with summonses but they were brushed aside and everything went quietly until we came close to Dungannon town centre where a crowd of Paisleyites awaited us. The RUC requested that we should detour. The alternative route they opened for us was through a Catholic ghetto area which we refused arguing that the town centre was neutral and that we were not coat-trailing but insisting on our right to go that way. We had no wish to be seen as a purely Catholic agitationary group so we refused to confine ourselves to a strictly Catholic locale whilst neutral ground was available. Our protests were in vain and our stewards did magnificent work in holding back the hot-heads within our ranks as the editorial of the Belfast Telegraph put it “The extremist element in the minority is controllable, and on the other side it is not.” It was not quite accurate in this line of thinking as extremists on either side could be controlled if the desire to do so was strong enough.

An incident about that march worth clarifying: Betty Sinclair was quoted in some newspapers as shouting to our young hot heads to “join the IRA”; she didn’t use that expression. I was standing right next to the woman who did.

DERRY OCTOBER 5th 1968

Derry was the next venue for a demonstration, for October 5th, 1968. We liaised with the Derry Housing Action Committee, the Londonderry Labour Party, the James Connolly Republican Club and the older men of the Derry Nationalist Party. Everything was going swimmingly until about a week before the scheduled march when we had a letter from Eddie McAteer, the Nationalist leader, informing us that he and his party were pulling out from the event. Three of the Executive, Betty Sinclair, John McAnerney and myself, went to his home and asked for his reason, the gist of which was that he didn’t care for the company we were keeping! We asked him to reconsider his decision, knowing that it would be political suicide for him and his party should they not support us. Eddie obviously came around to our way of thinking eventually as he was.

The Dungannon march, and the one scheduled for Derry, brought the world’s press. The Unionist Government was taking quite a beating, intensified when William Craig ordered a ban on the October 5th parade. Notice of the ban was delivered to John McAnerney on Thursday, October 3rd and he immediately called a meeting of the NICRA executive. After some talk we phoned Derry asking them to call a meeting of all interested parties for the next night. In the City Hotel, following a three hour debate, which was at times very stormy indeed, the unanimous decision was to defy Craig’s ban. At midnight the waiting press were informed of our decision. On Saturday morning Fergus Pyle of The Irish Times wrote of an interview he had with Craig in which the Home Affairs Minister said: “Strict instructions have been given. We intend to make sure there will be no more Armaghs”. Pyle goes on: “This reference was to the Republican parade at Easter which marched along a route banned by the Ministry. It was not interfered with by police but several arrests were made afterwards”. Reading that we knew that we could expect a rough time in Derry.

Betty Sinclair, John McAnerney, Frank Gogarty and myself travelled by car arriving in the Waterside shortly after the march had moved off. Upon seeing this I started sprinting for the head of it not then realising that our route had been slightly altered. When but a few paces from the police lines in Duke Street I reached the front ranks of the marchers, was almost immediately kneed in the groin by a constable, was dragged behind the RUC lines and was ordered into a Black Maria. I was, I believe, the first demonstrator arrested, and on reflection the inside of a “Paddy wagon” was possibly the safest place in Duke Street that Saturday. (Incidentally, the next man thrown in beside me was Martin Meehan who achieved notoriety later as a Provisional IRA leader.) I was brought to Victoria Police Station on Strand Road where I was well enough treated and released later at about eleven o’clock that night. Some weeks after I was issued with three summonses arising from my participation in the parade.

Whatever indignities we suffered, Terence O’Neill and his party suffered more. Television cameras recorded for world consumption the actions of the police in their water-hosing and batoning of men and women. O’Neill’s efforts to cool things were not helped by Craig’s bullish statements implying IRA control, etc. His famous declaration that his police had photographs of IRA boss, Cathal Goulding, at the march fell flat when Goulding was able to prove that he had never left County Wicklow on that day. And the excuse that he had to ban the NICRA demonstration because it was clashing with the prior-arranged Apprentice Boys was also proved ridiculous when the top man of the local Apprentice Boys admitted to the press and TV that he knew of no march by his organisation for that afternoon. That night rioting broke out in the streets of Derry and developed in intensity as the week moved on. So frightening did this become that the Lord Mayor of the city, William Beatty, agreed to meet with NICRA executive members, Miss Sinclair and John McAnerney in an attempt to calm the situation. They met at Portballintrae on October 11th and the meeting caused a little disagreement within NICRA as neither “delegate” had consulted the Executive beforehand.

November 13th brought a ban by William Craig prohibiting all marches within the walls of Derry, but three days later this was scorned when some 20,000 people followed the intended route of October 5th and marched from the Waterside, across Craigavon Bridge and into the Diamond where various speakers addressed them.

ARMAGH

Exactly a fortnight afterwards the NICRA was back into the fray with a demonstration in Armagh. Early that morning the Rev. Paisley and Major Bunting had organised hundreds of supporters who, armed with an assortment of weapons, announced that they would stop any march in the city. Upon arrival in Armagh it was found that access to the starting-off point was rather difficult as we were not permitted to proceed by car any further than The Mall, which is on the Belfast side of the city. For some time we paraded along The Mall where we were watched over by dozens of club-carrying Paisleyites. Then a Special Branch officer led us across the mud of the new ring road to meet up with the marchers who had already started off. Upon reaching Thomas Street we saw a line of police blocking our way and some distance behind them Paisley and his men.

At this point County Inspector Sam Sherrard requested permission to be let speak from the civil rights platform. He announced that he couldn’t offer any protection to us; this was pure capitulation to the men of violence. At this some of our supporters were naturally incensed but our stewards prevented what could have been a blood bath by hemming in the potential trouble makers. By now we had a good idea as to tactics and a knowledge as to whom to watch amongst our marchers. I remember one very prominent civil rights member arguing with me in the middle of the street that we should let the people go on – he obviously couldn’t see that we had once more proved beyond doubt that the reactionaries were the extreme Unionists. I felt then, as I feel even stronger today, that violence only begets counter-violence. And that seemingly was the attitude of the liberal home and world news media who, by speaking out strongly against the use of the police, drew more sympathy to our cause.

On November 22nd he had offered a five-point package of reform but it was a case of too little too late. When he asked for a cooling-off period we accepted it for two reasons. Those of us who had been active all along were beginning to feel the strain of continuously organising and travelling up and down the country; and we knew that to keep pushing could well show us as being unwilling to accept compromise. Also, we needed space to consolidate our gains and during the weeks of “truce” we set up branches in various smaller towns within the province. Our idea was, if reform was not implemented, to organise a series of monthly marches beginning in the early spring. The People’s Democracy put paid to that.

THE PEOPLE’S DEMOCRACY

They had come into existence on October 9th, a few days after the Duke Street batoning. An amorphous body whose leaders were principally from the Young Socialist Alliance, they purported to believe in true democracy; anything with an officer board or recognised leadership was to them bureaucracy. They were young, idealistic, and with the inexperience of youth inclined to see things only in tones of black and white. To them there were no shades of grey. They began by hitting out at the injustice of Derry; then the injustices of the Unionist overlords; then the overlords of the Irish Republic; and ended by attacking the whole capitalist system. As their knowledge increased their revolutionary potential developed, but they had by then lost the bulk of their membership and the halo of ‘student martyrs’ began to dissipate. We of the NICRA were called by them right-wingers, pan-Catholics, and other names of scorn. We were ridiculed for not extending our area of operation to the southern Republic and they refused to listen to our arguments why we did not. They would not accept that we were the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, and they probably didn’t know that in November 1968 I had travelled to Dublin to explain to a selected group of trade unionists, budding politicians and others the best way in which we thought they could assist us.

It was explained to this audience that condemnation of the Unionist Government by people resident south of the Border was hypocritical unless they made the attempt to clean up the mess in their own backyard. They too had a ruling clique every bit as corrupt as that in Stormont; they too had repressive legislation just as obnoxious as we had; they had a constitution which discriminated against those of the Protestant faith. These were some of the points raised and they were advised to treat the North calmly. Already they had two civil rights bodies in the Dublin district the Irish Association of Civil Liberties and the Civil Liberties League both of which were worse than useless. From that visit south later emerged a group known (if my memory serves me right) as Citizens for Civil Liberties.

HUMAN RIGHTS YEAR

Nineteen hundred and sixty eight was designated throughout the world as Human Rights Year. A Northern Ireland Committee for Human Rights Year was established, its Hon. Presidents being drawn from the leaders of the various political parties including the Prime Minister, Terence O’Neill, the heads of the main religions, and the Mayor of Derry. Its Chairman was Sir Robin Kinahan, and its vice chairmen Brian McGuigan and Brian Walker. The NICRA were one of the first organisations to affiliate with this Human Rights Year Committee but they were sadly disillusioned if they expected any real progress from them. The banning of the Republican parade at Easter had been referred to them as we argued that the banning contravened something like 20 of the 30 articles of the Human Rights Charter; we never learnt of any action taken or protest lodged by this Committee. By mid-summer John McAnerney wrote to Tony Smythe of the NCCL and asked him to assist in urging the Human Rights Year’s body to do something. To quote from John’s letter: “The last meeting of the full Committee was on 8th May, the previous one on 27th November, and when the next will be, God only knows…”.

“At the May meeting the Education Committee reported the sole result of six months’ work a competition for the production of children’s scrapbooks. This revolutionary proposition was not past the planning stage. For adult education they did not even seem to have plans: there was no mention of any public meetings or lectures, nor any indication that such were to be held …”

“The Research Committee’s solitary brainchild seemed, at first glance, quite promising. It was a piece of research to be undertaken by Queen’s University into some aspect of Human Rights in Northern Ireland. The project was going to cost £5000: Human Rights Year would be history long before the project got started: the project would then take two years to complete: if and when completed it would not make any recommendations”.

MEANWHILE BACK ON THE STREETS

Events were to overtake whatever good, if any, really existed within the Committee. Arising out of the October 5th Derry march 66 summonses were served on 45 people and the trial of these opened in Derry on November 18th, 1968. After a couple of days the cases were adjourned till December 4th. On the 10th D.I. Ross McGimpsey took the stand, and in his evidence declared that he had first received notice of the parade on September 29th, i.e. just one week prior to its taking place. This seemed an odd statement since it had been on 8th September that we served notice of our intentions. When I learned of D.I. McGimpsey’s statement I phoned John McAnerney pointing out that there was clearly a case for us to contest. At that time we were convinced that all telephones belonging to prominent members of the CRA were tapped and it came as no surprise when on the 16th the Attorney-General agreed to postpone all cases arising from the Derry march. Although they were officially only being put back until the following May we knew that an amnesty was likely to be offered. When Chichester-Clark became Prime Minister a general pardon to all those charged with events connected with civil rights demonstrations was offered (May 6th, 1969).

BURNTOLLET

The PD Long March left Belfast’s City Hall and despite doubts by some of the NICRA we did grant them £25 of our meagre funds to help them on their way. We also issued a press release calling on all our supporters to succour them in whatever way they could. As tension mounted day by day, and Major Bunting and his supporters continued to harass the marchers, we decided to walk the last stretch with them. On the Friday night Frank Gogarty, John McAnerney and I drove up to Claudy, the marchers last stopping place, and then into Derry where we spent the night.

In the morning we returned to Claudy to join the march. As we neared Burntollet John and I were near the end of the line so had a good view of what happened. Following a warning from the police that there “might be some stone throwing” we had moved forward again. A posse of constables in ordinary uniform strode in file up the hilly ground on the right-hand side of the road towards the groups of men and youths standing there. In front of our parade was a bunch of police in full riot gear. The first section of the march got through reasonably easily, watched by the mob who waited to see how the police were going to act. When they saw the indifference shown them, they opened up. Of some 800 people in that march I would estimate that about 60 were students, the rest being mainly local County Derry men, women, boys and girls. It was the latter who took the brunt of the broadside aimed at us. Frank Gogarty took a terrible beating; he rushed back to try and retrieve the NICRA blue banner which had been dropped by its carriers and I saw him being beaten by the ambushers on one side and by two policemen on the other. Major Bunting was standing grinning like a Cheshire car at his strategy and as I approached him he held out a hand in welcome. I was wearing an orange-coloured sweater and he obviously thought that I was one of his thugs. As I argued with him he insisted that his men were non-violent and I in my anger asked him if “he was bloody sane” just as two petrol bombs were thrown at the parade, which was already in some confusion.

Police approached as we argued and I left Bunting and went to try to assist those still struggling. One young constable who had guarded the Black Maria in which I was kept on October 5th recognised me and asked me to “clear the road, Mr Heatley, as we want to get at those bastards” pointing towards the ambushers; I still doubt that he meant I it.

The marchers straggled into Derry greatly strengthened in numbers. When word had filtered back into the city there was a mass exodus of young men to our aid. Frank Gogarty had been driven to Altnagelvin Hospital and I was honestly surprised to see him standing outside the gate there waiting to rejoin the parade on its way in, his head swathed in bandages. As we crossed Craigavon Bridge word drifted through to us that Ann Devlin, student daughter of Paddy Devlin, had been killed and this put the crowd in worse anger. Fortunately she was not as seriously hurt as first reported but no-one could honestly blame the Bogsiders and Cregganites for the rioting that occurred before that terrible day was past.

I remember sitting on the stairs of the City Hotel with two later-to-be Stormont MPs discussing heatedly the formation of a citizen guard for future marches. We may have disagreed with the holding of the long walk and the foolhardiness in undertaking it, but in retrospect it was one of the major turning points of the whole civil rights campaign. It snowed once again the partiality of the police and the directors of law and order and it drew untold publicity to our cause. Billy Craig with his ham-fistedness was proving a fantastic help to us and we joked about presenting him with a plaque of honour.

The PD were however still a thorn in our side. I was told in Derry the day of Burntollet that an offer of stewards had been made to the PD as escort from Claudy into the city. The offer was turned down and one wonders that if it had been accepted there would not have been as many innocent people hurt on that day. This refusal to agree to stewarding their marches led on January 11th, 1969 in Newry to ‘evidence’ being manufactured to ‘prove’ the violent character of the civil rights movement. On that day several police tenders were offered as bait and the lack of stewarding let the bait be taken. The tenders were set on fire and the Unionist press worked overtime to spread the story to the world. We had suffered a setback through some of the more questioning I reporters wondered why so many policemen had stood idly by and allowed a mob to destroy their vehicles. It didn’t make sense, especially when one realises that the area in which they were left was a comparatively easy one to defend and, at that time (Jan. 1969) the only guns and bomb being used were by Loyalist extremists.

We had, by the date of the Newry near-disaster, co-opted two PD members on to the NICRA executive, and in a further attempt to gain co-ordination between their organisation, the recently formed Derry Citizens’ Action Committee and ourselves we held a joint meeting at Toomebridge on January 16th, 1969. This proved of little value as only one of the Derry members was able to attend and the PD proved unable to agree to anything as they insisted that every motion would have to be referred back to their total membership for ratification. Ten days later we returned to Toomebridge for another round of talks which ended with a similar lack of success although the DCAC were willing for co-operation at any level.

Present at these second talks were all the then big names of the civil rights struggle including (from Derry) John Hume, Michael Canavan, Eamon McLaughlin; (from the PD), Bernadette Devlin, Mike Farrell, Kevin Boyle, Loudan Seth; (from NICRA), John McAnerney, Frank Gogarty, Betty Sinclair. At the close of the first meeting I was asked by Kevin Boyle as to Mike Farrell’s chances as candidate in the pending Mid-Ulster bye-election. My reply was a negative one. History now records how Bernadette Devlin went forward on behalf of the People’s Democracy and was elected by the unity shown by all the anti-Unionist groups in the constituency. Tensions were by now mounting up within the forces for civil rights; the PD by their militancy had gained support and within NICRA there was unease at our apparent lack of activity. Some members felt that we were losing the initiative whilst others thought that the PD were pressurising us into making rash moves. There was collusion between some of our executive and the People’s Democracy.

The first open sign was shown at the February NICRA annual general meeting when Frank Gogarty inadvertently proposed Mike Farrell for the post of treasurer. This post, according to our constitution was the only one on the officer board which was appointed by the vote of all the membership, the rest of the positions on the board being filled at a further meeting of those selected to the 14-person executive. When Frank realised his mistake he withdrew his proposal. I was, for the third time, elected unopposed as treasurer, and Frank then again proposed Farrell’s name for the executive. Kevin Boyle was also elected and it was obvious from the voting pattern that although there were nominally only two PD men on the 1969 NICRA controlling body, they were not without strong support.

THE PD MARCH

Yet I believe the majority of our members were surprised when they read on the front pages of the Irish News of March 7th the following: “A march from the centre of Belfast to Stormont is being planned by the Civil Rights Association and the People’s Democracy for the end of the month, to protest against the passing of the new amendments to the Public Order Act and against the attitude of the Unionist Government generally. This was disclosed by Miss Bernadette Devlin of the P.D., when she spoke at the formation of a Civil Rights branch for South Derry in Gulladuff last night. Miss Devlin said it was hoped that this would be the biggest Civil Rights demonstration to date.

We will see if the Government closes the gates of Stormont against the people who elected them, she said. “Most of us on the executive had no prior knowledge of this Gulladuff meeting and Bernadette, of course, had no authority to commit us to a joint parade of which we knew nothing. When this was raised at a NICRA executive meeting a couple of nights later both Farrell and Boyle disclaimed any responsibility for what Miss Devlin had said but on March 14th a formal proposal was made that we join forces for this march. During that night there were three proposals on CR issues put forward by either Farrell or Boyle. On each occasion the vote split seven-seven with our chairman, Frank Gogarty, using his casting vote each time in favour of the parade to Stormont. Betty Sinclair, John McAnerney, Raymond Shearer, some others and myself opposed this. We were convinced that it was lunacy to lead people in a civil rights protest through East Belfast in what would be interpreted as an exercise in coat-trailing. For hours the argument dragged on during which Erskine Holmes, then a member of NICRA executive, walked out in disgust exclaiming that we four in particular were only being obstructive.

The upshot was that at 1 a.m. on March 15th, 1969 the four of us announced our resignations from the council. We acted on impulse as it became clear that the CRA strategy of proper marshalling of demonstrations and the actual independence of NICRA was being sacrificed to placate PD demands. They had contested the Northern Ireland elections the previous month as a political party and our constitution (which had been approved at the inauguration of the association) declared us to be non-party political. Two members were all that the PD had on our executive but it was obvious that they wielded power beyond their numerical strength and that in collusion with others of our executive the march to Stormont had been prearranged.

BOYLE’S LAW

On St. Patrick’s Night I appeared on Ulster Television with Kevin Boyle to discuss the dispute. My principal argument was that that the PD were a political party and as such NICRA could not organise any demonstration with them as we were non-party political. Kevin’s reply was that his organisation was NOT political. As with most TV debates it ended without any definite conclusions.

Prior to facing the cameras and later when having a meal together, Kevin candidly admitted that the PD was a political party. This confirmed my belief that he was, and was to remain for some time, the strategist of the People’s Democracy. He was never as flamboyant or as openly courageous as Mike Farrell whose recklessness one could condemn yet still admire. Kevin was training, and has since qualified, in law, and without doubt this made him the more cautious of the two. He was seldom seen in the same light as his comrade. Looking back on it I now feel that our resignations were both foolish and unnecessary sentiments with which some months before his death John McAnerney agreed. But on that night in March 1969 there was anger and frustration at what we saw as infiltration of NICRA by a body more intent on socialist revolution than on the attainment of civil rights. Some of us as individuals may ourselves have been socialists, but we knew, that our strength was in forging a unity of purpose with clearly defined targets rather than on chasing a doctrinaire political belief. Because of that unity of purpose we had been able to weld together as an effective unit conservatives, labourites, communists, republicans, Northern Irelanders, liberal Catholics and liberal Protestants. Our aim was a charter of human rights for Northern Ireland. That, basically, was what was most lacking in the country and without it a person could be, and was, discriminated against on account of religious or political beliefs.

Everyone in the long term suffered because of discrimination: the employer who could never employ the best qualified person for the job on offer, the employee who was made redundant through the mismanagement of their firm; the Protestant who thought his squalid little house on the Shankill was superior to that of the Catholic on the Falls; the worker who produced more and was paid less for his efforts than his British-mainland counterpart through the exploitation of the divisions within the working population; the child who lost his cultural heritage because that heritage was told to be “evil Catholicism” or “evil Protestantism”.

THE DEVELOPING SPLIT

Our resignations had been followed by, for the same reason, those of eight of the Omagh CRA leadership, and was to lead to a wide split within the movement. An emergency general meeting of NICRA was called for March 23rd and held in the Wellington Park Hotel, Belfast. Following a long, acrimonious and confused debate, one of two motions put forward by the remaining NICRA executive was defeated and another left suspended. We had won the day. Had we demanded a similar emergency meeting on March 14th instead of resigning in disgust and anger, I am confident we would have obtained the same result. At 1.30 in the morning of March 25th the Chairman of NICRA phoned me to reconsider my decision and told me that the treasurer’s job was still mine. He refused to comment on the readmission to their posts of the three who had resigned with me, so I declined his offer on the basis of what was fair for one was fair for all. The next day I received in writing official notification from NICRA that my resignation was accepted, later replying to this and reiterating my stand of March 25th. Betty Sinclair and John McAnerney continued to fight within the association. I cut completely with it, feeling unable to support it any longer as an active member.

TENSIONS WITHIN THE CRA

Our departure had heralded the first outward division of opinion within NICRA. The proposed march to Stormont which had led to the split was postponed, and then forgotten about. But the entire civil rights movement was in a state of crisis. Statements were issued of ‘complete unity’ within the ranks but behind the scenes the truth gave lie to this. The CSJ circulated to members and to close friends, bulletins expressing fears of a leftwing takeover. The Young Socialist section of the PD became more bold in their pronouncements of what their hold on the CRA would mean. In America, Australia and England, the support groups for Irish human liberties began squabbling. A NICRA branch was hurriedly set up in Belfast but the council elected to run it was declared void by the executive council and another election held. There were stormy meetings of the executive and on at least one public platform accusations were made by speakers against other speakers. There were allegations of money going astray. And thirteen cases pending before the European Commission of Human Rights at Strasbourg were let go by default.

In place of James C. Heaney (an American lawyer who was representing the civil rights movement) Ciaran Mac an Aili who addressed the Queen’s Hall meeting back in 1966 was brought in. He had the support of the McCluskeys’ CSJ and seemingly of NICRA, yet the cases were allowed to lapse.

While the internal crisis was going on in NICRA there were more dramatic and frightening happenings on the streets of Derry and Belfast. It began with stones and petrol but finalised with guns and explosives. In August of 1969 the chairman of NICRA convened a meeting of his executive to discuss ways of taking the pressure from Berry’s beleaguered Bogside. A decision was taken to hold demonstrations throughout the North excluding Belfast. Something went wrong, a meeting was held on the Falls which preceded the killings and destruction in the area during the next few days. During all this “civil rights” were forgotten. The more immediate need was for defence.

The IRA which had been dormant, rapidly built up its strength, and in January 1970 the Provisionals came into existence. The Republicans had split and this too had its effect on NICRA. Along with his fears of a Marxist socialist takeover of the Association, Dr. McCluskey was now expressing fears of a joint Marxist Republican coup d’etat. At the 1970 Annual General Meeting he and his supporters withdrew from membership of NICRA, and, ironically, so did the People’s Democracy who had been the original cause of the split in the civil rights movement. Of the Republicans those now identified with the ‘Official’ wing retained membership whilst those connected with the Provisionals eschewed theirs. It is though, a point worth remembering that of the two sections of the Republican movement the Provisional element never had many of its members-to-be in NICRA. Offhand I can think of only about half a dozen, and none held executive posts. Those now connected with the Official Republicans have a long and steady record of membership. It was at the 1970 AGM that they first gained any real control and today, with the withering of politically neutral support they, with the assistance of the Northern Ireland end of the Communist Party, seem to hold most of the top positions.

INFLUENCES ON POLICY

This raises the question as to what was the Republican or Communist influence behind the civil rights movement. Well in the start, the Campaign for Social Justice could never have been identified with either. But the Wolfe Tone Society who initiated the moves which led to the formation of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was, as I have written in the first part of this story, a believer in a united country. Most of their members would, I think, be classed now as ‘moderate’ in that they did not believe in force to obtain their aims. The Society as such faded away as their activists became more and more enmeshed with the CRA. The last meeting of the Wolfe Tone Society I can recall attending was in March 1969 on the night after the emergency general meeting of NICRA. I know there was a meeting in 1970 and late last year I read a press release given by a Belfast Wolfe Tone Society (who is behind this body I have never bothered to find out).

The members of NICRA’s steering committee and of its first two executive committees are listed here with their political affiliations, if any. It is then up to readers to consider for themselves whether they were top heavy with militant Republicans and whether they would have been able to control the thinking of the full membership. In its best years, 1968 and early 1969 not even William Craig could make a sincere accusation of IRA or Sinn Fein control. In those years we drew substantial Protestant support and our first big cash donation was £200 from a Presbyterian minister; it was the continued disorganised militancy of the PD that drove such support away. And that too is ironic for the PD often accused us of being pro-Catholic.

Then there were charges of Communist control. Of the steering and 1967 executive committees three of the five members were, or had been, members of the CP. No-one who knows anything of the inside story of that first season can ever claim that they (the CP members) were militants in fact, they were accused of being too cautious. Betty Sinclair, later NICRA chairman, has long been a convinced Communist but that has never been held against her in her work on behalf of the underprivileged or in the Belfast and District Trades Council. Between ‘Rebel’ and ‘Red’ scares there were all kinds of attempts to discredit the CRA but invitations to its formation were sent to all political parties including that of the Government. Still available are letters of reply from the Unionists signed by either James Chichester-Clark as Chief Whip or J.O. Bailie, secretary.

The final question is: where to now?

I am convinced that in every society there is a need for a civil rights body to prevent bureaucratic abuses or the sometimes more subtle abuses showered by one person upon another because of their colour or religion or politics. There should be some mode of redress made available for anyone discriminated against. Although a board was set up by the government this is not the answer. The National Council for Civil Liberties is a good structure to work on. They are independent of government and their record of assistance to the needy is first class. They have a pool of lawmen to call on and a caucus of politicians within Westminster to lobby in their interests. There should be a financial grant from governmental funds to cover expenses of such an organisation but no strings should be attached to this other than that of normal accountancy.

At present we have three civil rights organisations in Ireland. There is the more-newly formed (in 1972) Irish Civil Rights Association, mainly southern-based and Provisional Republican oriented; there is NICRA which is dominated by Official Republicans and Communists; and there is the Association for Legal Justice founded 1971 and which has established branches on both sides of the Border. And the NCCL have recently stated their intention once again of forming a branch in Northern Ireland.

At the moment these groups do sometimes assist each other in gathering information or in publicising what they consider abuses of human rights, but the ideological differences between ICRA and NICRA make proper unity an impossibility. Ciaran Mac an Aili crops up again in the formation of ICRA and was its first chairman. In Northern Ireland we obtained many safeguards for citizens which have been written into legislation probably through the actions and propaganda of the early civil rightists. There has been a desire to put right some of the more blatant abuses of power, yet we are now worse off than we were five years ago.

Internment is still going at full blast, the denial of the right of public procession is still being denied on a one-sided basis, there is an over-exceeding of power by sections of the security forces, the right to political expression is not being observed, the Special Powers Acts have been swapped for the Emergency laws including some of the most draconian aspects of the former, and the Tribunal at Long Kesh or Maze Prison is no substitute for a proper judicial proceeding. Although the Northern Ireland situation is, to put it mildly, abnormal that is no justification for all that takes place in the name of law and order. Justice must not only be done, but seen to be done. The populace, especially in Belfast, has edged itself into stronger and more defensive ghettos and it will take years to break down this housing pattern. Many of our business firms are trying to integrate their work forces but this too will take time.

There is now a strong call for peace with justice and I believe should be the cry of all. We owe it, not only to ourselves and to our children, but to each other.