Belfast event examines an alternative view on what happened in civil rights in 1968

Gregory Campbell  at Saturday's alternative event on civil rights at the Boat Club in Stranmillis, south Belfast. Picture by NDJ Macauley
Gregory Campbell at Saturday's alternative event on civil rights at the Boat Club in Stranmillis, south Belfast. Picture by NDJ Macauley

A conference in Belfast has examined alternative perspectives on the 50th anniversary of civil rights.

The event on Saturday discussed the response in non nationalist communities to events in 1968.

Panel discussion on Saturday, with from left: Dr Andrew Charles, Dr Graham Gudgin, Dr Austen Morgan, Jeff Dudgeon and Professor Liam Kennedy. Picture by NDJ Macauley

Panel discussion on Saturday, with from left: Dr Andrew Charles, Dr Graham Gudgin, Dr Austen Morgan, Jeff Dudgeon and Professor Liam Kennedy. Picture by NDJ Macauley

Gregory Campbell MP was among those addressed Saturday’s event. The East Londonderry DUP representative talked about the large working-class Protestant population that also suffered from poor housing and other disadvantage when the civil rights movement hit the headlines after the disturbances at Duke Street on October 5 1968.

“The core demands [of civil rights activists] were met within four months,” he said. “The campaign escalated and very quickly turned into violence by August, within nine months of the October march.”

The London based barrister Dr Austen Morgan gave a talk entitled ‘Sectarianism, Rebellion, Socialism’.

“We are all products of circumstances,” he said. “I was born to a Derry mother, whose father was a Bogside publican ... My father was from outside Newry, where his father was a small farmer.”

Lord Kilclooney speaks from the floor at the Ulster History Project event on civil rights on Saturday. Picture by NDJ Macauley

Lord Kilclooney speaks from the floor at the Ulster History Project event on civil rights on Saturday. Picture by NDJ Macauley

Mr Morgan said: “My dad had several votes, I bet Gregory Campbell’s parents had none.”

Mr Morgan left as a student for England and “came to subscribe to academic Marxism”.

“Civil rights in Northern Ireland – but really the inept response of the Stormont government – fascinated some adolescent British student socialists. But all this was universal and cosmopolitan — struggle, workers, peasants and intellectuals, anti-imperialism. It was a million miles from the identity politics, including catholic communalism in NI, which later colonised the campus.”

Referring to the late 1960s, Mr Morgan, who is author of Tony Blair and the IRA: The ‘On The Runs’ Scandal, said: “Absolutely nothing justifies the IRA emerging, justifies their campaign of 30 years and frankly doesn’t justify the self congratulation going on the Guildhall today.”

Dr Graham Gudgin, the economist and former advisor to David Trimble, in his talk ‘Discrimination in Housing and Employment,’ presented statistics which dispute the scale of discrimination against Catholics both before and after 1968.

Professor Liam Kennedy gave a talk ‘Civil Rights Movement and the Aftermath’.

From the floor, Lord Kilclooney said it was important to challenge claims of discrimination. He pointed out that the Lockwood Committee had actually recommended Armagh as its second choice for the citing of a new university, after Coleraine as first, with Londonderry third.

Saturday’s event was organised by Ulster History Project, which was founded to “promote mutual understanding of the history of Ulster”.

Dr Andrew Charles said: “I feel that the conference went very well in that we had a diverse range of speakers discussing different points from the origins to the aftermath, which was ultimately the beginning of a long terrorist campaign, where over 3,500 people lost their lives.”

He added: “This was a first for the Ulster History Project and we were very pleased with the level of interest in subject. It is vitally important that we look back and learn from history rather than accept political claims made at the time, and even today, as fact.”