The north-Civil rights disintegrating?
THE NORTHERN IRELAND Civil Rights Movement is in the process of disintegrating and the Civil Rights Association itself seems on the point of collapse. In the face of the government's relative passivity since the announcement of stop gap reforms, the always precariously balanced alliance between the moderates and the left wing, which was the beauty and strength of the movement in the beginning, has begun to teeter.
The internal argument is still called' a discussion of tactics,' but this is now a euphemistic way of describing a straight right/left division-which is exasperated by very real personal disharmonies and enmities.
The concern of most civil rights leaders is, at once, to 'deliver the goods' by keeping pressure on a government which is at sixes and sevens, and if possible, to rcstrain their own militants. Few are interested in the intcrnal struggles in the Unionist ranks, which is more often than not dismissed as 'completely irrelevant.'
The basic flaws in the C.R.A. are: 1that it was never representative of the large body of liberal protestants, and 2-that it was from the beginning too closely identified with" leftists and known Republicans " (Mr. Craig's mud-some of which stuck). The April split on the executive which purged the organisation of Betty Sinclair (Communist Party) weakened the association, and widened the gap with the People's Democracy.
The fact is now that several of the main figures in the movement do not talk to each other, unless they really have to. John Hume doesn't converse much with Bernadette. Bernadette has littlc to say to Frank Gogarty, Chairman of the C.R.A., and Eamonn McCann does not talk to the Chairman of his own (N.I. Labour) party, Mr. Sam Napier. Gerry Fitt has given up his assumed function as Bernadette's Westminster agent. (Relations between them took a turn for worse when Bernadette strongly suggested that they should both abstain from Westminster. Fitt, with a wife and family to support on his salary, was not too sure how the voters would view that extension of the Republican" half" of his platform.)
The disaffection in the civil rights ranks has largely been concealed behind the comparatively closed doors of the regional and local meetings.
Last months regional meeting of the Civil Rights Association at Lurgan promised to be something of a watershed. It was expected that the uneasiness of many members both on the executive and the local organisations at the militancy of P.D. would result in direct conflict.
A motion of censure on Bernadette Devlin and Eamonn McCann, the unsuccessful N.I. Labour Party candidate at the last election, for, what is considered, their encouragement of a civil war atmosphere was to be proposed. McCann received a telegram telling him to attend the meeting" and to bring Bernadette." He resented the peremptory tone, the short notice, and the assumption that he is "Bernadette's keeper," and stayed in Derry.
Bernadette attended, as did a large contingent of P.D. members. She asked that the motion be withdrawn. In the interests of unity and probably because of the packed P.D. hall it was dropped. Bernadette having gained her reprieve was, however, in a strong enough position to attack the" sectarian figure men" whom, she claims are, in effect calling for an equal percentage of Protestants and Catholics to be unemployed. This, she said, is a sectarian solution to the problem. She holds, in common with McCann and Bernard Hines, Chairman of the Derry Unemployed Action Committee, that the problems are social and, when boiled down, the solution is more jobs.
Hines maintains that when a Catholic gets a job he forgets about discrimination and becomes like a Protestant. "Captain O'Neill was right," he says.
The fact that the P.D. has a horrible knack of usually being right or at least plausible enough in argument to silence the not so inspired moderates-especially the women-has a disturbing effect on the egos. As Mrs. McCluskey, who with her husband, Dr. Con McCluskey, was chiefly responsible for The Campaign for Civil Liberties in Northern Ireland which inspired the formation of the C.R.A. told me; "they can take you up on the smallest points." She implied that theY,usually win.
For the past few weeks we have been trying to track down the Dublin and Wicklow District's Brarzeh of The Loyal Orange Lodge, but to '10 avail. We would be grateflll if any of our readers could help.
Her ebullient husband put it another way: "I have a terrible feeling that the People's Democracy is not for democracy," he told me the day before the Lurgan meeting. When the people who have reservations about the P.D. start to talk about that organisation they eventually come round , Jto Bernadette. The big one was well expressed by McCluskey: "Bernadette said something to me once which shook me a bit, 'you have to tell the people what to think,' he said."
As a political figure the much heralded Joan of Arc figure seems, like the original, to be working for her own destruction. Her embracing of the most left wing Irish-inEngland groups she could find is not appreciated by the plain people in MidUlster.
As well as this there is a clique of politically self interested small men, and self appointed moral vigilantes within the C.R.A. which has taken her aside on more than one occasion to lecture her on her private life with Lauden Seth-her now divorced election agent and constant companion. It was shortly after the first of these dressing downs, almost immediately following her election to Westminster, that she announced she would not be standing for election again. It is true that she probably would have made the announcement sooner or later; for she sincerely holds that political life corrupts, but it is certain that this unrepresentative caucus influenced the decision.
Something like a clash broke out between Bernadette and Mrs. McCluskey at the Lurgan meeting, which was, in the event, generally peaceful. Mrs. McCluskey got an angry retort when she asked why Bernadette had not seen fit to attend a recent meeting of the C.D.U. in London. Bernadette said she had not even been invited.
Disagreements between the C.R.A. and the P.D. on the time and place for holding marches have not been unusual, but the lead-up to the Newtownbutler march was especially interesting and more than usually heated. There was a skirmish at the Lurgan meeting between the Fermanagh C.RA. and the P.D. Fermanagh said it was the wrong time to hold such an event because it was likely to create violence. The P.D. representatives alleged that only three members of Fermanagh C.RA. out of twenty were present at a "meeting" of the local branch, at which Fermanagh elected to disassociate from the proposed march, and said that the secretary, Mr. Colm Gillespie, had no right to issue such an undemocratically arrived at decision to the press. They were especially irked by Fermanagh's decision notwithstanding to support Bernadette and McCann.
Apart from a statement from Gillespie to the effect that he had the consent of " enough" of the members of his committee to issue the press statement, the a vISItor to th~ 1968 Twalfth bl/t nctlCe matter was allowed to rest. A properly ably absent thIs year quorate meeting of the committee was held two days after, and the original decision was upheld.
The C.RA. moderates' view of the P.D., and the divide between the two was accurately indicated in the statement made by the seven members on the Armagh C.R.A., who resigned following a row between the two interests. It said that the P.D. was using the movement as a stepping stone" to a certain type of government " and that they saw it as a movement for social justice. P.D. said that the moderates were only trying to cover up their own inactivity.
Taking the heat out of the situation' is now the main preoccupation of both the moderates in the Civil Rights Association and the government. The civil rights caution is born of the middle class belief that the frustrated and (Unionist termed) " hooligans" violence is no weapon with which to go to the bargaining table. They are reasonable people and do not see the force of an argument put across with the backing of violence, or by the threat of it. The government's chief reason for being non-controversial at the moment is, according to well-informed observers, that the Unionist Party split has deepened considerably since the recent election. The government, by side-stepping as many issues as possible, hopes that the party's internal problems may go away. It is a forlorn hope.
The feeling among a frighteningly large section of the Catholic youth of the Bogside and Dungiven since the two funerals is that " we are two down."
In a situation where, as one of them explained: "the police are finished" and the contest is now between the opposing " hooligan" factions, everyone is looking forward with rising apprehension to 12th August, when the traditional Apprentice Boys March is expected to provide Derry with the ignition spark for its worst riot yet. The most distraught man in the city is John Hume who has lost his hold over the Catholic Bogside Youths. I heard one of his stewards told to " f . . . off" when he tried to disperse a potentially troublesome crowd of boys and girls.
You don't have to read the Junior Chamber of Commerce" What's on" booklet to work out that there is not much to do in Derry at nights, besides go dancing in the young employeds' Bogside meccathe jazzy Stardust Club, or go to an out-of-date film, or to drink coffee, or if you have no money and no job to stand near Guildhall and pitch stones at the police station waiting for something to happen. For a place of its size the girls a remarkably advanced socially. Their i fluence on the" hooligans" is conside able. They seem to make the balls whi, the boys throw-as an expression
On the evening after the 15,000 strol Devenney funeral, which due to the fir hand of the priests, and the widow's pi, for peace, did not afford the emotion satisfaction which the participants ar lookers-on had expected, the yoUt] gathered in the Guildhall Square. Sever action committee stewards, as well as Jot Hume, went oUt to get them to dispers They succeeded-but not before SOI1 angry words. One young female che, leader shoUted as she sloped off, " we al fed up pleasing you."
The middle-class leaders now feel a guilt at having created a situation in which pre letarian furies, which they themselves al incapable of feeling and which they do m understand can run riot. The Civil Righ1 Association has always left John Hume, th Independent M.P. and Chairman of th Derry Citizens' Action Committee, a fre hand It has said: "Derry is a special case The fact is now that Hume himself doe not understand the feeling which actiol there has unleashed. In the present situa tion, 'to understand' must mean' t, condone '-if one is to cut any ice with th young unemployed Catholics.
There is a growing feeling within th C.RA. that Derry ought not to be lef alone much longer. At the Lurgan meeting which was not attended by the Derr~ Action Committee there was a move" t( organise something" for the Apprentice Boys march on the next" twelfth." The suggestion was objected to. But the faC' that it was made at all suggests that some members of the C.RA. neither under, stand not condone the action in Derry. II indicates, too, that they do not understanc Derry.
One man who does understand and condone enough to be listened to is Eamol1 McCann, who stood as aN.!. Laboul Party candidate unsuccessfully in the last election. He is a socialist and generally reckoned to be 'a wild one' in most senses. Like most rogues, opinion about him is diverse but generally indulgent. In the Bogside you will hear him described as ' red.' In the Fountain area, he is ' not even a good Catholic.' Despite the fact that he was chiefly responsible for organising the October 5th march (for which chief kudos has gone to the other local civil rights leaders) and has been working consistently among the people, he has not, until recently, been treated very seriously.
He is now the only person, it seems, capable of gaining the trust of the" hooligans "-" I don't support the riot-but I welcome it," he says, " Hume can't deliver the goods any more. There is no dramatic gesture left. He tells them to ' go home peacefully '-I offer them action," McCann told me openly.
His political time has been taken up since the outbreak of violence on the night of the " twelfth," with" politicising " the "hooligans." He maintains that if they are going to spoil for fights then they should know" what it's all about." And he says that they want to know. He has distributed leaflets to them and organised meetings at which they can be made aware. He tells them not to want to be like the Apprentice Boys-bigotted and violent for the sake of it.
The description" hooligan" is something of a misnomer, for even as it is, they are surprisingly articulate, having been self-educated by their own experience in seeking employment in a city with the highest unemployment rate in Europe. More and more people in Derry and Dungiven, the two microcosms of the North, to whom the sinking of the opposition ship means continued hardship, are exasperated by the present static state of the agitation which has been dragging on since the first big explosion of the Unionist myth last October.
The feeling is that something HAS to happen-either 3,000 new jobs or more riots. One man one vote and the gerrymander are not issues in the Bogside. They are too remote from the hard everyday realities. In the Bogside I talked to many older men and some of their wives who took no pains to conceal their admiration for the guts of the" hooligans" who" defended" the area with rocks and sticks, from the Fountain Street boys. One of them proudly gave me a blow by blow account of how one of the youths threw down his armful of rocks to challenge" just one" of the Protestant youths to come out and settle it for us all. He was pelted by the bastards."
No Sparring Partner
If the Civil Rights Association continues to assist in lowering the temperature, and the government, because of its own party troubles, refuses to act as sparring partner to the agitators, then the struggle on the streets is bound to escalate. The C.RA. is trying hard enough to draw the government into verbal battle. But like the Derry police since" the twelfth," Unionists are refusing to be drawn.
The result must only be that the issues will be decided by the Bogside youths' and the Prentice Boys' rocks and clubs, and by the People's Democracy and the Paisleyites. McCann's view is that" there will be pogroms before the end of the year." The one factor which could keep the C.R.A. in existence is that there is no alternative, with the necessary broad base appeal, to unite Protestant and Catholic-apart from the class teachings of P.D. The people, however, will just not take leadership from the left wing students. The only organisation with a more adult and less alarming way of going about things is the N.!. Labour Party, but its relations with P.D. are not harmonious. Just as the civil rights movement made the" Green Tory" Nationalists irrelevent, so too, has P.D. upstaged Labour. It is not even half the force to be reckoned with, that it was.
The tragedy of the situation is that the death of the C.R.A. will, notwithstanding the present splits, be a slow, agonising process. In the meantime the government should have comparatively little trouble in discrediting'the P.D. 'communists' and the Derry' hooligans.' It is, however, possible that the P.D. will be able to get its non sectarian socialism to the middle classes in a more palatable manner than it has been doing.