A former prominent member of the Derry Citizens’ Action Committee back in 1968/69, has questioned the reasoning behind Sinn Féin making an application to re-enact a Civil Rights March which took place in Derry almost 50 years ago.
Aidan McKinney, a former member and spokesman for the DCAC in 1968/69, also questioned Sinn Féin’s involvement in last Saturday’s N. Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) protest march from Coalisland to Dungannon, at which former Sinn Féin chair, Mitchel McLaughlin, emerged the main speaker.
“The applicant is a Sinn Féin Commemoration Committee,” noted Mr. McKinney.
“The date for the Derry march is October 6, 2018 and the route is from Duke Street to the Guildhall - the 1968 NICRA planned march was from Duke Street to The Diamond before it was dramatically ended at Duke Street due to a Banning Order signed by William Craig, Stormont’s Minister for Home Affairs.
“The unwarranted brutality of the police against peaceful demonstrators and four Westminster MPs on that day, was viewed globally.
“And while I welcome any group which espouses and genuinely promotes peaceful direct action for Civil Rights, I am both fearful and highly cynical as to why a single political entity, adopting the title ‘Commemoration Committee’, should select these dates and routes,” said Mr. McKinney in a statement.
“However, to be kind or naive, hopefully they feel that what was organised by NICRA on those dates - a totally peaceful protest and a willingness to endure State violence - is recognised and commended as the proper and unselfish approach to correcting existing wrongs in N. Ireland.
“When the combined words ‘Civil Rights’ are used, it is generally accepted that all genuine supporters embrace the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Its first articles include: The right to equality and freedom from discrimination; the right to life, liberty and personal security.
“These humanitarian rights were enshrined for all of us with an expectation that, globally, such would be implemented as part of our personal and collective social interactions. If this is clearly understood and promoted, as part of these planned events, it is to be welcomed. If not, then they will fail to absorb and highlight, the true spirit of ‘68,” claimed Mr. McKinney.
The Derry man also queried the early application for a Civil Rights demonstration.
“Why apply for a ‘Civil Rights’ demo as early as March for an event in October? Was such an extended period really required to get prior organisational tasks completed or did they feel that, then current and major civil rights’ concerns, not least a non-functioning government resulting in adverse social consequences, were irrelevant and had no great immediacy?” he asked.
“Or is it that they latched on to a significant date in the history of this place, recognised by many - not least the lowly-paid, unemployed, homeless and the disenfranchised, to be a turning point for radical political, social and economic reforms in N. Ireland.
“October 5, 1968, is a date linked to an era of hope when pro-democracy citizens banded together to achieve equality for all sections of our population, following the examples of Gandhi and Dr. Martin L. King. If this historic analysis is distorted by sectarianism, it will transpire that there are no limits on what this organisation would do to ‘legitimise’ themselves.
“The NICRA was a non-party political cross-community organisation which gave the people of N. Ireland an aspiration that radical change was possible.
It created a vehicle whereby all were enabled to participate in a non-violent manner. To protect the true legacy of ‘68 surviving leaders and supporters last November met in Belfast City Hall.
Since then a one-year outreach programme of diverse events is being implemented. This will conclude in a three-day festival in our city’s Guildhall, at which NICRA founders, popular entertainers, academics and prominent national figures, such as President Michael D. Higgins, will participate,” confirmed Mr. McKinney.
The statement went on: “It is highly noteworthy that ‘68 veterans at the initial meeting in November, unanimously voted down a public commemorative demonstration to avoid what may have been interpreted as a coat-trailing exercise, thereby avoiding any possible subsequent violence on the streets.
“It seems blatantly partisan for one political group, rather than adopting a broad-front approach to contemporary issues, to proceed with a demonstration that suggests an opportunistic attempt to usurp the date and message of NICRA in 1968.
“If that is the case, as many former campaigners and others from a wide range of backgrounds believe, then they should be ashamed of distorting a seminal moment in the history of this place to attract short-sighted populist gain via unpredictable media attention, alongside the inherent dangers, e.g. uncontrollable violent elements,” the statement concluded.