Civil Rights

A Civil Rights march from Coalisland to Dungannon was organised on Sunday 26 August 2012 to commemorate a similar demonstration 44 years earlier and to highlight existing abuses. The march finished in Anne Street, Dungannon with speeches from Councillor Barry Monteith, Rev Fr. Raymond Murray and trade union representative Gareth Mackle. 

The contents of Gareth Mackle's speech is carried below.


Friends, comrades, citizens, a dhaoine uaisle

Let me begin by saying that I think today’s minute’s silence for the recent victims of state violence in South Africa is a very appropriate gesture given the circumstances that bring us together here in Dungannon today. 44 years ago the marchers who walked that first historic civil rights march  and whose footsteps we followed in today were inspired by the courage of African American Civil Rights leaders in the United States, and by their example of peaceful non-violent protest against political and economic discrimination, injustice and state repression.

The civil rights marchers in 1968 were part of an international movement challenging the right of minority wealthy elites to oppress and divide the ordinary mass of the people.

In the US, despite the election of a black president and the rise of a wealthy black elite, the ghettoes, slums and prison systems stand as testimony to the huge amount of work that remains to be done in order to achieve economic and political justice for the masses of black people in that country.

The white ruling elite in South Africa has been replaced with a new black ruling class but life for the ordinary population has changed little as witnessed by the recent slaughter of the strikers in Lonmin’s Mairikana platinum mine.

Under the rule of the African National Congress, a few blacks have grabbed power and riches, joining the ranks of the white capitalist elite. Ironically, they include Cyril Ramaphosa, first general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), now a millionaire businessman and Lonmin director.

The majority of his fellow Africans remain impoverished and living in squalor.The amount of poverty is excessive. In every township there are still shacks with no sanitation and electricity. Unemployment is hovering at around 40%. Economic inequality is matched with political inequality. Everywhere activists in South Africa are facing serious repression from the police and from local party structures.

South Africa and the USA are still two of the most unequal countries in the world.

Back here on our own streets, right here in Tyrone, a series of events took place in the 1960s which in some ways changed the face of this statelet irrevocably. These events were the culmination of attempts since the early 1960s by a number of different organisations and individuals to highlight injustices in the sectarian state of Northern Ireland. The local Homeless Citizens League here in Dungannon, the Brantry Republican Club, the Wolfe Tone societies, the Campaign for Social Justice, the Derry Housing Action Committee and the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster were examples of early pressure groups highlighting injustices. They later united under the umbrella of NICRA – the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association - and were joined by Peoples Democracy, Trades Councils from around the north, the Republican Labour Party, the Communist Party and others.   The immediate concern for many was not with the great constitutional issues which had dominated political debate up to that point, but with the everyday issues which dominated people’s lives.

Their objective was to bring an end to injustice in the system of public authority housing provision, injustice in public and private employment practices, injustice in voting and representational rights, and the arbitrary and oppressive powers available to the state to suppress dissent. The things that happened during that pivotal year of 1968 had a profound effect upon our society, and precipitated an expectation of change which left no part of our community untouched.

How much has changed in the intervening 44 years? People power and a thirty year war of attrition finally brought an end to the Orange state and the naked sectarian privilege that sustained it but what have we replaced it with? The Orange state has given way to a sectarian state where naked economic and political injustices are still rampant.

In 2012, the housing waiting list in the Dungannon area is now longer than it was in 1968. For many of those who are fortunate enough to own homes, the fear of mortgage default, unemployment and repossession looms large. Young people and couples struggle to gain their first home in which to raise a family as the banks bailed out by our money restrict the flow of credit to all but a privileged few.

Social housing sold off during the Thatcher revolution has never been replaced and young people in this area faced with no prospect of a home, faced with unemployment or low paid work inevitably turn once again to emigration as a solution. The talents and energy of our young talented people in Tyrone and throughout our country are exported to Sydney, Perth and Adelaide while the economy and society in Ireland goes into familiar decline.

After a brief period of economic boom built on spiralling credit and an unrealistic property price bubble, youth unemployment has returned to staggeringly high levels. Swingeing cuts of £4 billion from the British Exchequer have been implemented by a servile Stormont administration. A right wing neo-liberal consensus in Stormont has dictated that the weakest and most vulnerable in society must pay the price for the excesses and failures of the capitalist ruling classes and robber baron elites.

Stormont politicians’ solution to the economic crisis is to propose lower corporation taxes in order to further shift the tax burden from the super wealthy to the ordinary working citizens. Stormont also retains Thatcher’s anti-trade union laws to prevent workers fighting for improved living standards and better conditions of employment.

To protect the profits of the wealthiest in society, there are huge attacks being carried out on the benefit system resulting from the Welfare Reform Act. Sickness benefit, disability living allowance, housing benefits must be slashed say our political leaders. It is proposed that under 25s are to get no housing benefit at all!

We are in a deep economic recession, our political leaders tell us. Oh we know and we know who caused it. And we know who they are asking to pay for it. We can see our hospital and health care services being hollowed out and privatised. Indeed, here in Tyrone and in mid Ulster, we can see them disappearing altogether.

Local schools have been closed without consultation while newly qualified teachers sit on the dole. Fees for third level students leave many graduates and undergraduates with years of crippling debts. Universities are once again slipping beyond the reach of the working class. Stormont administrators may call them efficiencies but we know the impact that rising fees, budget slashing, savings and cutbacks have on the standard of our children’s education. We also know that this disproportionately affects children from working class backgrounds. Grammar schools and the 11 plus are still in place as better off unionists and nationalists fight tooth and nail to segregate their children from children from working class homes. 

The literacy gulf between grammar and non-grammar schools continues to widen.On a weekly basis peoples human rights are being eroded, whether that be the closure of another hospital ward or the internment of Irish citizens.
This march upholds the age old right of ordinary people to demand that their voice be heard on the wide array of matters that are close to their hearts. The issues of mass emigration, lack of jobs, lack of affordable housing, denial of sovereignty, erosion of welfare rights, internment without trial, student fees and the continued erosion of civil and human rights, among others, plague Irish society in 2012. The march will end in Ann Street, Dungannon where in 1963 the Ann Street Homeless Citizens League organised the first squat as those denied their right to public housing engaged in very peaceful and effective protest. The fact that in 2012 more people are on the waiting list for housing in Dungannon than there were in 1968 speaks volumes.
This march provides a perfect opportunity for everyone to come along and make their voices heard. Whether you are campaigning against the closure of local Hospitals, against the wide range of repressive legislation, against the forced emigration endured by thousands of young people or whether you are demanding affordable housing for all, accessible healthcare for all, social justice and welfare rights for those feeling the real human cost of economic cutbacks or the right of the Irish people to decide and control their economic and political sovereignty then join us in Coalisland at 2.30pm Sunday 26th August 2012.

Let me give you one or two other statistics and facts of life from the new Northern Ireland. Despite Olympic torches, Titanic buildings, Giants Causeways, Royal visits, UK Cities of Culture and despite all the media hype that we hear constantly about this wonderful utopia in which we live, many aspects of life for ordinary citizens have actually got worse during the period of what they refer to as ‘the peace process’.

The poor in Northern Ireland are now ten times more likely to die from a stroke than the rich and seven times more likely to commit suicide.

Over the last ten years the overall suicide rate for men has risen by 31 per cent, compared to 5 percent in Southern Ireland and a drop of 11 per cent in England and Wales. 80 per cent of Northern Ireland’s full time employees earn less than £28,000 a year. Some 20 per cent earn less than £12,000.There has been a doubling in the usage of prescribed anti-depressants since the start of the peace process.

While the Civil Rights marchers in 1968 sought progressive change for all citizens regardless of race or creed, some 90 percent of social housing estates in Northern Ireland remain segregated along ethno-religious lines. And the poorer you are the more likely your estate is to be segregated. There are 17 segregation walls in Belfast alone — seven of them have been built since the start of the peace process.

On a weekly basis peoples human rights are being eroded, whether that be the closure of another hospital ward or the internment of Irish citizens.


This march upholds the age old right of ordinary people to demand that their voice be heard on the wide array of matters that are close to their hearts. The issues of mass emigration, lack of jobs, lack of affordable housing, denial of sovereignty, erosion of welfare rights, internment without trial, student fees and the continued erosion of civil and human rights, among others, plague Irish society in 2012. The march will end in Ann Street, Dungannon where in 1963 the Ann Street Homeless Citizens League organised the first squat as those denied their right to public housing engaged in very peaceful and effective protest. The fact that in 2012 more people are on the waiting list for housing in Dungannon than there were in 1968 speaks volumes.
This march provides a perfect opportunity for everyone to come along and make their voices heard. Whether you are campaigning against the closure of local Hospitals, against the wide range of repressive legislation, against the forced emigration endured by thousands of young people or whether you are demanding affordable housing for all, accessible healthcare for all, social justice and welfare rights for those feeling the real human cost of economic cutbacks or the right of the Irish people to decide and control their economic and political sovereignty then join us in Coalisland at 2.30pm Sunday 26th August 2012.

A recent ‘Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion’ report, carried out on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, highlighted the growth of poverty in the north of Ireland during the peace process. It describes poverty as a condition where people cannot afford to participate in society. The report also highlights that poverty is rapidly increasing – that’s before the public sector cuts currently being eagerly implemented by the Stormont administration have really begun to take effect.

These cuts will impact on Northern Ireland more severely than elsewhere, as the public sector makes up more of the job market than in Britain and Ireland. Women make up the majority of public sector workers, so the progress on female employment could be threatened.

From a poverty perspective, though, the big issue is the low pay in private sector jobs in Northern Ireland. Private sector pay in Northern Ireland is 16 per cent lower than in Britain.

So if, in accordance with Neo-liberal orthodoxy, which all the Stormont parties advocate, the local economy should ‘rebalance’ away from the public and towards the private sector, there are two main concerns. First, where will these private sector jobs actually come from; and second, will they pay enough to lift a family out of poverty?

The entire recent rise in poverty has come in working and retired households. Poverty among children has risen to 28 per cent. Around half of children in poverty live in working households. 21 per cent of pensioners in Northern Ireland live in poverty.

Not surprisingly, poverty is higher west of the Bann than the east. In the west 24 per cent of people are in poverty. The figures for east of the Bann is 17 per cent. Poverty is a crippling experience no matter which side of the Bann you are on. Civil Rights protestors in 1968 sought an end to sectarianism and social division. Unfortunately, the peace in Northern Ireland is not based on drawing Protestants and Catholics and Dissenters together, but on policing people apart. The consensus reinforces segregation by insisting that opposed “communities” must be represented by politicians who fight for one group against the other.

On top of all this, the ruling class continues to use a few old and favoured tactics to repress political dissent. Internment and administrative detention without trial has raised its ugly head again in the case of Marion Price, Gerry McGeough, Martin Corey and others detained at the whim of the British Secretary of State. No jury Diplock courts, 28 days detention orders (seven days was regarded as an affront to civil rights under the special powers act) brutality and strip searching of prisoners, dirty and no wash protests in Maghaberry against inhumane treatment. No inquests after 20 years for families who lost loved ones. Supergrass trials have re-emerged.  These issues are of grave concern to all humanitarians and decent minded people alike.

Stormont politicians famously and repeatedly tell us that there is no alternative to simply putting up with these things and meekly casting a vote every four or five years for the political classes who will register our concerns. The Civil Rights campaign illustrated that there is an alternative to servile parliamentarianism. Reflecting on what the Civil rights movement set out to achieve,  Tyrone’s former MP Bernadette Devlin, stated “Our function in marching…was to re-launch the CRM as a mass movement and show the people that O’Neill was, in fact, offering them nothing. What we really wanted to do was pull the carpet off the floor to show the dirt that was under it.”

Now that the military conflict in the north has subsided, the dirt under the carpet has started to stink again. If anything, the history of the civil rights movement teaches us that there are no short-cuts to social revolution. It requires sustained organising and agitation among ordinary people, independent of their politicians and political rulers.

In June 1963, direct action and civil disobedience in politics here had begun. Five years before the people took to the roads of Tyrone, a demonstration by the Homeless Citizens’ League in Dungannon was held to publicise discrimination in housing allocation. In August of that year 17 families moved into a squat in Dungannon. Thirty-five houses were taken over. The local council illegally cut off electricity and water supplies.

In 1968, members of Brantry Republican Club squatted a house in Caledon, Co. Tyrone, that they felt had been unfairly allocated. Members of Derry Housing Action Committee continued the campaign for impartial allocation of housing by blocking Craigavon Bridge; seventeen members were arrested. Here in Tyrone thousands eventually took to the streets. In Dungannon a hundred members of NICRA picket a meeting of the local council in protest against its housing policy. There was a stepping up of civil disobedience, including non-payment of television and radio licences, ground rent, and water rates.

NICRA was also the focus of a campaign to end internment. The core of the campaign was a programme of civil disobedience, which involved the withdrawal of representatives from public bodies and the refusal to pay rent, rates or other financial dues to local councils or the Stormont authorities. Through hundreds of pickets, street demonstrations and publicity drives, NICRA was able to develop a politics that brought them to the attention of the world. The civil rights demands were widely understood and easily communicated. This helped to popularise them among the people.

Belfast Telegraph, 19 January 1972

‘This civil disobedience campaign will cripple unionism more surely than any bombings of city warehouses and stores’.

It has been widely recognised by now that the campaign failed to build solidarity with a significant layer of the protestant working class despite the fact that many of these class issues highlighted by the CRM affected everyone and not just the ‘catholic community’. The main reason for this failure being the fear and mistrust whipped up by the unionist junta to protect their own interests. The challenge of building cross community alliances to resist inequality is still a challenge for those of us campaigning for social and economic justice in the north today.

Electoral disengagement is now at an all time high since the foundation of the northern state. In the 2010 General Election just over half the electorate in Northern Ireland - 57.6% - bothered to vote. This was the lowest turnout for all of the UK regions and the lowest turnout for a Westminster election since records began in 1945.In the Assembly elections, turnout was even worse.

Since those elections, nothing has been done to address this problem. Our politicians are behaving like nothing is wrong; that we still have a proper political discourse and that party politics can go on as before. But they can't. In fact, there is now a yawning gulf between party politics and the needs of the population.

In short, the political system that created vast turnouts of the electorate in the past is no longer fit for purpose for a present, and future, that requires a different type of politics.

The events in 1968 again expose the myth that social change is impossible, that it will not be built on appealing to and lobbying politicians and experts. The broad CRM won reforms through mass direct action on the streets. By conceding reforms the government also sought to pacify social discontent and channel demands along harmless routes via parliament. To some extent the state was very successful in their ‘carrot and stick’ approach. Many of the original civil rights protestors went on to find comfort, privilege and even title in the Dáil, the Commons, the Lords and in Stormont.  

Meanwhile, today, ordinary people are once again taking to the streets of Tyrone to demand the right to a decent standard of living for all regardless of race, class, creed or gender. We have a different society here in Tyrone today. The North of Ireland in 2012 is not the same as it was in 1968. Some aspects have changed. Many workers from other countries have come to our country to look for a decent standard of living for their families. Their struggle is our struggle. Their fight is our fight.

One fact remains unchanged, however. We must continue to fight for justice – social, economic and political. Let’s fight that fight together and to quote our predecessors, we shall overcome!

Gearóid Ó Machail

Northern Representative … IWU … 26ú Lúnasa 201

© Tommy McKearney 2012                                                                                      email:    tommymkearney@me.com