It was inevitable, given the quantitative conditions of the catholic community in Northern Ireland, that the civil Rights movement of the 1960s would expose the profound sectarianism in the country. Even if the civil right activist in the beginning might have been honest in their claims for equal treatment and “Britishrights for British people” the movement was tainted from the very start with nationalistic and antipartition elements, both in its target audience and its members. The lack of a unified leadership and the ability of some left-wing groups within the civil rights movement to channel civil unrest to more extreme postures served as catalysts for violence and exaggerated response from governmentalauthorities towards civil disobedience. These factors jumpstarted the vicious cycle in which direct action generated violence from the state and in return this provoked a rally around the flag sentiment in the nationalist population spiking the violence and so on.
As mentioned above the movement lacked un unified leaderships or a main group that could take the vanguard of it; several factions werecreated in an attempt to gain the most support and impose their view on how the issues should be tackled and the means that could be used to tackle them. Most groups had a clear nationalist background even if a few of them made clear and strong efforts to portray themselves as neutral meanwhile pledging for equal rights and the reform of the Northern Irish government. Between the main groups wecan identify the most important: first, the Campaign for Social Justice founded by Mr and Mrs McCluskey in 1964 inspired by the Homeless Citizens League and with clear opposition to the policies of “apartheid and discrimination” implemented by the Stormont regime; second, the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster, envisioned as an all-party pressure association for the complete reform of the country,their main objective being full rights for citizens; third, People’s Democracy, a student formed group with extremist tendencies that would organise the Belfast to Derry march in January 1969; finally, fourth, we find the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, the biggest group so far that served as umbrella for the rest of the groups to gather, even momentarily, and became the initiator of themass movement.
After the first civil rights march to Dungannon in August 1968 NICRA took a more active stance as it responded to the initiative from the Derry Housing Action Committee and organised a march to take place on October 5 of the same year. March which would become the first of two events that changed the entire nature of the claims made by the movement.
“(the DHAC’s) conscious, ifunspoken, strategy was to provoke the police into over-reaction and this spark off a massive reaction against authorities. We assumed that we would be in control of the reaction, that we were strong enough to channel it. The one certain way to ensure a head-on clash…was to organise a non-Unionist march through the city centre”
The response from the RUC to the defiant marchers was overwhelming,brutally attacked; it evolved into a massive riot between security forces and young Catholics from the Bogside, which weren’t involved in the march in the first place. The impact television images of the march generated in both the local and international public forced the governments involved to take action; as well as transformed the civil rights initiative into a countrywide claim everywhere with arelevant Catholic population.
After pressure from the British prime minister and the international Irish lobby, originated in the renewed interest in the Irish issue, Terrence O’Neill launched an ambitious reform program that addressed many of the claims made by the movement: the abolition of the Londonderry corporation, a new system of housing allocation and effective checks on the changes...