Harness the spirit of October 5 and defy the authorities to stop the cuts: Eamonn McCann

Spirit of October 5.
Spirit of October 5.

Veteran civil rights activist Eamonn McCann has urged those opposed to public service cuts across the board to harness the spirit of civil disobedience exemplified by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) in Derry on October 5. 1968.

Mr. McCann said those who defied a ban imposed by the former Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Prime Minister of the North, Terence O'Neill, on a demonstration for non-discriminatory housing allocations 49 years ago today, ultimately achieved real change.

The People Before Profit Alliance activist suggested peaceful defiance of the civic authorities could exert similar pressure today.

"If we are going to defeat the cuts, we need to revive the spirit and tactics of the civil rights movement," he said.

"October 5 next year will see the 50th anniversary of the Derry march which turned the civil rights campaign into a mass movement. We need the same sort of movement now.

"It is clear that polite demands will get us nowhere in fighting the cuts to health, education and public services generally. We need determined, mass, peaceful action against every cut which hits the most vulnerable among us - the elderly in residential homes, children with disabilities, people dependent on domiciliary care, students facing sky-high fees, public service workers with job losses and wages frozen etc.," he added.

Mr. McCann said the condemnation of a protest at a Western Trust meeting last week was reminiscent of that levelled at NICRA and the Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) half a century ago by Mr. O'Neill and his Home Affairs Minister Bill Craig.

"Some of us can remember the same language and distortion from the political establishment in the aftermath of October 5…violence, extremism, wreckers etc..

"But the civil rights movement made a huge, positive difference. Within a couple of years, anti-discrimination laws had been passed, Londonderry Corporation abolished, the B-Specials disbanded, the Housing Executive founded.

"All this and more was achieved without a shot being fired. There has been no comparable period of change since.

"Now, again, we are confronted with inequality, poverty, a denial of gay rights and women’s right to choose - and a dead-end Assembly at Stormont.

"If civil disobedience turns out to be necessary - as well it might - so be it."