CATHAL COYLE recalls the rise of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and the role it played in the subsequent campaign for equality and civil liberites in Northern Ireland
FIFTY years ago this month, one of the most important episodes of the entire Civil Rights campaign in the north during the late 1960s took place. 1968 was ‘the year of protest’ against discrimination and oppression in many parts of the world: in South Africa, in the United States, and also in Paris and Prague.
Following on from events at the small village of Caledon, County Tyrone, in June 1968, more than two thousand people marched from Coalisland to Dungannon (also in County Tyrone) in a protest for Civil Rights for all citizens on Saturday, August 24th, 1968.
The reason Dungannon was chosen as the location of the first Civil Rights march was because it was the headquarters of Dungannon District Council. The march was a protest at Dungannon District Council’s decision to allocate one of its new 15 council houses in a Caledon housing estate to a nineteen-year-old Protestant woman rather than to a large Catholic family.
In the aftermath of that episode, local people decided to protest against this injustice. Over a period of several months in 1968, a local family and supporters occupied a house in the estate. When they were evicted the case was raised in Stormont and began to make headlines beyond Tyrone.
Among the groups who organised the march were the Campaign for Social Justice and the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). The latter was set up in February 1967 and was seen as a decisive step in the campaign for equality.
The aims of this association included: defining the basic rights of all citizens; protecting the rights of the individual; highlighting all possible abuses of power; demanding guarantees for freedom of speech; and informing the public of their lawful rights.