SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, has said that the work started by those who led the Civil Rights Movement almost 50 years ago, remains “unfinished business.”
The Foyle MLA was speaking outside the Guildhall yesterday afternoon as he announced that SDLP veteran Brid Rodgers has been appointed chair of the party’s Civil Rights Commemoration Committee ahead of the 50th anniversary of the start of the Civil Rights Movement in Derry in 1968.
Mr. Eastwood said his party is eager to work with all others who were involved in the struggle for Civil Rights.
He said: “Next year it will be 50 years since people stood up in this city and got beat off the streets. People from all sorts of backgrounds came together to defend the principles of human and civil rights that had been denied to people because of the old Derry Corporation and others in this building behind us. It is absolutely essential we tell the proper story of what happened. The SDLP have a very important role to play in that, but it is not ours exclusively, we want to work with everyone who had a key role in the Civil Rights Movement.
“Ordinary people took to the streets in a peaceful way to defend their rights and if you think about what happened over the period of two years, it brought about the most fundamental social and political change we have seen in the last 50.”
He said the spirit that galvanised people to take to the streets here in 1968 needed to be revived. “It would be good if we could see the same level of political radicalism back in the heart of the Northern Ireland Executive. That is what we badly, badly need, because when you look around this city and you look around N. Ireland, we still have unfinished business when it comes to civil rights.”
He spoke of the contribution of figures like Eamonn McCann and Dermy McClenaghan, adding: “We’re very proud of people like John Hume and Ivan Cooper and [Austin] Currie and [Bernadette] Devlin and all the people who stood for us and with us. Let’s make next year a year to remember, not just to look back and commemorate but to look forward and finish the job of the Civil Rights Movement.”
Gweedore native Brid Rodgers said: “It was radical thinking that made the difference when civil rights got off the ground. I was only a young housewife at the time and I got involved because I saw the need for change. In two years without a shot being fired, without a bomb being set off, we changed radically the whole direction of N. Ireland. It was the beginning, we have to finish the job.”