Last thing 1968 commemorations need is a unionist v nationalist row

Letter to the editor
Letter to the editor

In an article in the News Letter (‘Debates about civil rights era should include unionist input,’ March 28) Dr Andrew Charles writes: “The Civil Rights Movement consisted of ‘unionists’, among them Professor Lord Bew of Donegore and Prof Henry Patterson who are all but forgotten as it is now seen as an exclusively ‘nationalist’ event.”

I had offered to contribute a paper to a conference proposed by Dr Charles on the Civil Rights Movement and the Fall of Stormont.

In the summary I sent to him I explained that my paper would be based on my experience as a student from a Protestant, working class background who joined the Queen’s University Labour Group in 1966, was a member of the Young Socialists and later of the Peoples Democracy.

My father was a member of the Northern Ireland Labour Party and took part in the campaigns of NILP candidates in the 1964 and 1965 elections.

Like him I welcomed the victory of Harold Wilson and the Labour Party in the UK general election in 1964.

It is a travesty to suggest I was a unionist involved in the civil rights movement.

I have provided an analysis of the civil rights movement in my book, ‘Ireland since 1939’. This is not a ‘unionist’ analysis but that of a professional historian and I object to the implication in Dr Charles’s piece that any contribution I would make to the discussion of the civil rights movement would be a ‘unionist’ one.

I have already informed Dr Charles that I was withdrawing from his proposed conference because I believed an all-male panel was unacceptable especially given the number of women who were involved in the civil rights movement.

The last thing this year of commemorating 1968 needs is a nationalist versus unionist row — something that most of us in the Queen’s student movement were trying to consign to history.

Henry Patterson, Emeritus Professor of Irish Politics, University of Ulster