OPINION: Civil Rights – 50 Years on - Elisha McCallion, M.P.

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Fifty years ago people took to the streets in protest against the denial of basic civil rights in the North. Inequality and discrimination was rife under a one-party unionist regime.

Today, while we have achieved much in that the dominance of unionism in politics is no longer absolute we still have an unacceptable blockade on a range of human and civil rights by the DUP, facilitated by the British government.

Fifty years on the Orange state is gone and we now have a peaceful and democratic pathway on which to demonstrate the continued denial of rights to sections of society.

Civil and human rights continue to be denied to LGBTQ , women, Irish language speakers, and families bereaved during the conflict.

One of the greatest acts of discrimination committed against this City was the denial of the North’s second University. This was a sectarian decision that has yet to be redressed. We have made some progress in extending Magee over recent years but there is still a long way to go before we achieve the goal of a full compliment of students that reflects the position of Derry as the fourth City of Ireland.

Sinn Féin is determined to deliver on the ambitious plans for continued extension of both Magee and graduate courses.

The denial of rights was wrong fifty years ago and is still wrong today.

There is still much work to do if we are to achieve a society free from discrimination and inequality. We are still dealing with a political unionism intent on continuing against minorities the discriminatory policies that were deployed by the Unionist regime which the Civil Rights Movement was formed to combat.

Republicans and nationalists have rightly embraced the challenge of reconciliation and an evolving political climate whereby no section of society will, nor should, accept the denial of basic civil rights enjoyed in every other part of these islands.

Sinn Féin has demonstrated our commitment to this process through a number of public initiatives which, at times, have presented major challenges for Republicans and our electorate.

But rejection by the DUP in February of an accommodation reached after painstaking negotiation only serves to reaffirm that if we are to succeed in establishing a sustainable, rights based administration at Stormont it will require a unionist leadership that can deliver on agreements made. We cannot be part of an administration that filters everything through an orange prism and is guilty of discrimination and denial of rights.

There needs to be respect for all traditions, religions and beliefs including future proofing protections for those of the British/Orange tradition on this island and for all narratives. The Irish language, Irish identity, culture and aspiration is as valid as any other and must to be respected as such.

Same sex marriage is available across these islands and does not threaten the traditional concept of marriage in any way. Women’s rights also must be protected.

I appreciate that it will require mature leadership from political unionism in accepting that as legislators we must legislate for all citizens and not just for those who reflect our own personal or religious beliefs. Reconciliation or sustainable government cannot be delivered without progress on these issues.

Recent events have exposed the fallacy of the ‘Two’ big parties are equally to blame. It is now crystal clear that 50 years on from the Civil Rights campaign that political unionism has not learnt the lessons of the past.

Nationalists/republicans, the LGBT community, women, gaeilgeoirí and others will no longer allow unionist politicians to decide what rights should or should not be accessible to citizens here. Equality threatens no one!

Sinn Féin will continue to offer positive leadership and we will continue to fight for rights for all and the national reconciliation of our people.

In the absence of political will within the unionist leadership to embrace a new dispensation based on equality, respect and integrity it is incumbent on the Irish and British governments to step up and ensure that the equality and parity of esteem provisions of the Good Friday, St Andrew’s and subsequent Agreements are fully implemented.

To amplify this message we have organized a march retracing the October 5th 1968 demonstration to afford all those people from across the political and social spectrum to show their solidarity with those in our society who still experience discrimination in their daily lives. I invite and welcome the participation of everyone who believes in equality and civil rights to come along to send a strong message that discrimination in any form is no longer acceptable in our society.

*The march on October 6 leaves Duke Street at 3pm.