Category Archives: Civil rights movement
by Mick Healy
The RUC used CS gas for the first time on August 12, 1969, in the Bogside of Derry. It invisibly covered the streets and seeped into every room of the houses, causing choking, vomiting and irritation of the eyes and skin. The British Army first used the gas in April 1970 when they indiscriminately fired off 104 gas canisters in Ballymurphy in West Belfast during a night of rioting.
Máirín Keegan of Saor Eire suggested to Butch Roche, an original member of Peoples Democracy, that they mount a publicity campaign to highlight the use of CS gas, because they were convinced it had done considerable harm. She also acquired two CS gas canisters that were photographed with the intention of using them in the publicity campaign. Roche decided on a symbolic action that wouldn’t injure anyone but bring home to the British public and establishment the impact of its use against the civilian population in Belfast and Derry.
On July 22, 1970, Butch arrived in London with the two CS gas canisters. The next day he entered the Public Gallery of the House of Commons, with a newspaper to cover the bulkiness in his pockets. He threw the gas grenades Read the rest of this entry
To mark the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement in the six counties last year, Blindboy Boatclub of the Rubber Bandits hosted a podcast at Ulster Hall in Belfast on October 6th 2018. He interviewed veteran Irish revolutionary Bernadette (Devlin) McAliskey in front of a packed room. The podcast is over two hours long. In this part he poke to her about the loyalist attempt to assassinate her and her husband Michael on January 16, 1981. At the time, Bernadette was a key figure organising support for republicans being held in British prisons, including the blanket protest, the dirty protest, and the 1980 hunger strike. At the time of the attempt on her life, a new hunger strike was in the air – this was the famous hunger strike of that era, with ten prisoners’ deaths. The entire interview will be published on The Transcripts.
Blindboy: When we were backstage I was asking you about, we were discussing the nature of trauma and I was asking would it be okay if I asked you about the time you had an assassination attempt. And you said: Yes, that would be okay.
Bernadette: Uh-huh. Yep. That’s okay. That’s okay. Yeah.
Blindboy: Can we talk about that?
Bernadette: Yes, we can talk about that.
Blindboy: So – what was it like being shot nine times?
Bernadette: It was interesting. It was interesting. And it’s funny that I can talk about that much more easily than I can talk about that memory, you know, that memory of Bloody Sunday is more traumatic for me than the time that I was shot. And I think it was because, you know, as we were saying, it’s because I didn’t see Bloody Sunday coming. I didn’t see the 5th of October coming.
But by the time people came to our house and kicked the door in and held my two daughters, one at that time four and the other nine, at gunpoint while their parents were shot I knew they were Read the rest of this entry
“The magistrate in his summing up said that he had no doubt whatsoever that I was politically involved. This should stand to my benefit at a later stage and should really nail the lie that I’m a gangster, a criminal”. – Frank Keane, Brixton jail, 14th August, 1970.
Frank Keane, who is now over eighty years of age, was born on May 8, 1936 in Peter Street, Westport, Co. Mayo. He was once regarded as a dangerous political opponent by the Irish establishment.
Frank was the eldest of three brothers and a sister and was educated at the local Christian Brothers School. In 1952 he moved with his family to North Road, Finglas in Dublin. The following year he joined the Jackie Griffith Sinn Fein Cumann. (The cumann was name after a republican activist shot dead by the Free State special branch in Dublin on 4 July 1943.)
Frank volunteered for active service during Operation Harvest, the IRA 1950s border campaign. With training/recruitment officers interned or on the run, he enlisted in the Read the rest of this entry
Alan MacSimoin 1957-2018 was a long-time anarchist activist and a founder member of the Workers Solidarity Movement.
MacSimoin joined the Official Republican Movement (Official Sinn Fein) as a young man in the 1970s. He was involved in the Murray Defence Committee in 1976-77 to stop the state execution of anarchists Noel and Marie Murray for the killing of a member of the police.
He was also involved with the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement’s boycott of South African goods in Ireland and the Irish Anti-Nuclear Movement that stopped the building of nuclear power stations around the coast of Ireland in the 1970s.
Below is an interview my friend Mick Healy did with him a year or two back and has passed on to me . . .
Last week I watched a video of a public meeting at the CP’s Dublin headquarters marking the 50th anniversary of the explosion of the civil rights movement onto the streets of Derry and the wider six counties. One of the speakers was Tommy McKearney, someone whom I respect a great deal. To my unpleasant surprise, however, Tommy wheeled out the old Stickies and CP attacks on “ultralefts” going destructively ahead with activities which unnecessarily provoked violent clashes instead of listening to the advice of more seasoned folk like Betty Sinclair.
It’s hard to know where to start in responding to this, so I’m linking to two articles on the People’s Democracy organisation, the civil rights movement and Burntollet. One is by Matt Collins, from SWN/People Before Profit looking back on the events as a Marxist today and the other is by John McAnulty, a veteran of PD and the movement back then and an active Marxist still. John agrees with much in the Matt Collins article, which defends PD, while also noting a few things Matt got wrong.
Before linking to these, I just want to say something about Betty Sinclair and the question of ‘experience’. Tommy is dead wrong to say Bernadette Devlin, Michael Farrell, John McAnulty and the “ultralefts” should have Read the rest of this entry
The article below is from the Irish revolutionary group Socialist Democracy, the successor current to the original radical student-based group People’s Democracy, which played a key role in the civil rights movement in the north of Ireland in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The Socialist Workers Party, one of the two main Trotskyist organisations in Ireland, has just dissolved as a party organisation. It is now just a ‘network’ which operates through, and rather bureaucratically controls, the People Before Profit Alliance, an electoralist and non-revolutionary formation.
On March 24th a meeting under the banner of “Remembering 1968: The Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland” was held as part of events organized by the Institute of Irish Studies. A supporter of Socialist Democracy attended under the impression that it was an academic symposium to discuss the origins of the civil rights movement.
It quickly became clear that the appearance of academic neutrality was cast into doubt by the role of Socialist Workers Party/People Before Profit. A PBP councillor, Matt Collins, opened the seminar with an exposition which displayed a common fault of his organization- viewing the past through the prism of the current political line of the organization. We can take it for granted that this is the first bird of spring and that political groups from all sides will shortly be presenting their own misremembering of the civil rights struggle. In fact the first shots have been exchanged in a dispute between Sinn Fein and Bernadette McAliskey about a fictitious role for Sinn Fein in the early struggle.
The SWP’s economism led to Matt portraying the revolutionary left organization People’s Democracy as resembling an early version of the Alliance Party. The presence of students from nationalist and unionist backgrounds seemed more important than their common commitment to the revolutionary overthrow of the Stormont regime.
The speaker could easily have clarified things by discussing with Socialist Democracy, the successor organization of People’s Democracy. However the SWP had closed that door with a “theoretical” document claiming that the success of their electoral opportunism in the North made their organization the inheritors of People’s Democracy.
Eamonn McCann could have, if he wished, corrected some of the misconceptions. However he arrived late and confined himself to anecdotes of the early days. Historian Brian Hanley added some gravitas to the day but was Read the rest of this entry