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The Derry March - Chronology of Events Surrounding the March
Text and Research: Martin Melaugh
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Chronology of events around the Civil Rights march in Derry on 5 October 1968
1 February 1967
The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) was formed. The Civil Rights Movement campaigned for a number of reforms one of which was 'one man, one vote' that is a universal franchise for local government elections. At the time only owners or tenants of a dwelling, or their spouses, were entitled to votes, and there were other anomalies to do with additional votes for companies. The association also pressed for the end to gerrymandering of electoral boundaries. Other reforms sought included: the end to perceived discrimination in the allocation of public sector housing and appointments to, particularly, public sector employment; the repeal of the Special Powers Act; and the disbandment of the 'B-Specials' (Ulster Special Constabulary) which was a paramilitary style reserve police force which was entirely Protestant in its makeup.
Monday 25(?) March 1968
Members of the Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) disrupted a meeting of Londonderry Corporation to protest at the lack of housing provision in the city.
Saturday 27 April 1968
The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) held a rally to protest at the banning of a Republican Easter parade.
Thursday 16 May 1968
In the Stormont (Northern Ireland parliament) by-election in the city of Londonderry (Derry) the Ulster Unionists retained the seat.
Saturday 25(?) May 1968
The Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) held another protest at the Guildhall in Derry.
Thursday 20 June 1968
The Caledon Protest
Austin Currie, then Nationalist Member of Parliament (MP) at Stormont, and a number of other people, began a protest about discrimination in the allocation of housing by 'squating' (illegally occupying) in a house in Caledon, County Tyrone. The house had been allocated by Dungannon Rural District Council to a 19 year-old unmarried Protestant woman, Emily Beatty, who was the secretary of a local Unionist politician. Emily Beatty was given the house ahead of older married Catholic families with children. The protesters were evicted by officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). [One of the officers was Emily Beatty's brother.]
Saturday 22 June 1968
The Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) staged a protest by using a caravan to block a road in the Brandywell area of Derry. Members of the DHAC had learnt that the Wilson family had been living for three years in a caravan parked in the back yard of a house in Hamilton Street, Brandywell, Derry. John Wilson was an unemployed labourer. His wife Billie Wilson had given birth to a baby which died within eight hours. The doctor said this was due to the living conditions in which the family lived. The DHAC decided to highlight their poor living conditions by moving the caravan across a nearby road on 22 June 1968. [The protest was repeated on 29 June 1968.]
Saturday 29 June 1968
The Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) repeated (see 22 June 1968) its protest of blocking a road with a caravan in the Brandywell area of Derry. The caravan was home to the Wilson family. The caravan was moved into the road on Saturday afternoon and was in position until 11 p.m. on Sunday evening. [Within a few weeks the family were rehoused.]
Wednesday 3 July 1968
As part of a series of protests against housing conditions in Derry, the Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) held a sit-down protest on the newly opened second deck of the Craigavon Bridge in the city.
Saturday 24 August 1968
First Civil Rights March
The Campaign for Social Justice (CSJ), the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), and a number of other groups, held the first 'civil rights march' in Northern Ireland from Coalisland to Dungannon. Loyalists organised a counter demonstration in an effort to get the march banned and in fact the planned rally was officially banned. [This was a tactic that was to be used throughout the period of 'the Troubles']. Despite this the march took place and passed off without incident. The publicity surrounding the march acted as encouragement to other protesting groups to form branches of the NICRA.
Tuesday 27 August 1968
The Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) organised another protest in the Guildhall's council chamber. Immediately after the protest Eamon Melaugh phoned the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) and invited them to organise a march in Derry.
Saturday 31 August 1968
A delegation from the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) met with members of the Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) to discuss the proposed march. An ad-hoc Civil Rights Committee was established to organise the march on Saturday 5 October 1968. [The Committee did not operate as anticipated and effective control of the march fell to Eamonn McCann and Eamon Melaugh.]
Saturday 7 September 1968
A second meeting was held between the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) and members of the Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) to discuss the proposed Derry March. [The first meeting was on 31 August 1968.]
Tuesday 1 October 1968
The Apprentice Boys of Derry announced its intention to hold an 'annual' march along the same proposed route of the Civil Rights demonstration, on the same day and at the same time. [This particular tactic had been used on several occasions before and many times after the Derry March. It provided the excuse needed to ban the march.]
Thursday 3 October 1968
The proposed civil rights march in Derry was banned from the area of the city centre and the Waterside area. The banning order was issued under the Public Order Act by William Craig, then Home Affairs Minister.
Friday 4 October 1968
A Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) delegation met with the Derry March organisers and tried to have the march cancelled. Eventually it was decided to go ahead with the march.
Saturday 5 October 1968
Civil Rights March in Derry
[Considered by many as the start date of the current 'Troubles']
A civil rights march in Derry, that had been organised by members of the Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) and supported by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), was stopped by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) before it had properly begun. The marchers had proposed to walk from Duke Street in the Waterside area of Derry to the Diamond in the centre of the City. Present at the march were three British Labour Party Members of Parliament (MP), Gerry Fitt, then Republican Labour MP, several Stormont MPs, and members of the media including a television crew from RTE. There were different estimates of the number of people taking part in the march. Eamonn McCann (one of the organisers of the march) estimated that about 400 people lined up on the street with a further 200 watching from the pavements. The RUC broke-up the march by baton-charging the crowd and leaving many people injured including a number of MPs. [The incidents were filmed
and later there was world-wide television coverage. The incidents in Derry had a profound effect on many people around the world but particularly on the Catholic population of Northern Ireland. Immediately after the march there were two days of serious rioting in Derry between the Catholic residents of the city and the RUC.]
Sunday 6 October 1968
Rioting flared up again in the afternoon in Derry.
Monday 7 October 1968
Rioting continued in Derry.
Tuesday 8 October 1968
Sporadic disturbances continued in Derry.
Wednesday 9 October 1968
People's Democracy Formed
2,000 students from the Queen's University of Belfast (QUB) tried to march to Belfast City Hall to protest against 'police brutality' on the 5 October 1968 in Derry. The marched was blocked by a counter demonstration led by Ian Paisley. A three-hour sit-down demonstration followed the blocking of the march. [Following the events of the day the People's Democracy (PD) organisation was formed. PD became an important force in the civil rights movement and a number of those who were leading members in the organisation, for example Bernadette
Devlin and Michael Farrell, became prominent political activists.]
The Derry Citizen's Action Committee (DCAC) was formed from five protest organisations which had been active in the city. Ivan Cooper was the first chairman and John Hume the first vice-chairman of the DCAC.
Tuesday 15 October 1968
Nationalist Party Withdrew as 'Official' Opposition
The Nationalist Party of Northern Ireland (NPNI) withdrew from its role as 'official' opposition within the Northern Ireland parliament at Stormont.
Wednesday 16 October 1968
The People's Democracy (PD) organised a march of 1,300 students from the Queen's University of Belfast to the City Hall in the centre of the city.
Saturday 19 October 1968
Derry Citizen's Action Committee (established on 9 October 1968) organised an illegal sit-down at Guildhall Square as part of large civil disobedience campaign. The event passed off peacefully.
Saturday 2 November 1968
There was a march in Derry by the fifteen committee members of the Derry Citizen's Action Committee (DCAC). The march took place over the route of the banned 5 October 1968 march. Thousands of people walked in support behind the DCAC committee. [Due to the number of people taking part the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) were unable to prevent the march taking place.]
Friday 8 November 1968
Londonderry Corporation agreed to a Nationalist request to introduce a points system in the allocation of public sector housing.
Wednesday 13 November 1968
William Craig, then Home Affairs Minister, banned all marches, with the exception of 'customary' parades, in Derry from 14 November 1968 to 14 December 1968. [The exception of 'customary' parades meant that Loyalist institutions could parade but civil rights marches would be banned.]
Saturday 16 November 1968
The Derry Citizens Action Committee (DCAC) defied a ban on marches in Derry by marching to the Diamond area of the city. An estimated 15,000 people took part in the subsequent sit-down demonstration in the Diamond area of Derry.
Friday 22 November 1968 a nine member 'Development Commission' to take over the powers of the Londonderry Corporation;
an ombudsman to investigate complaints against government departments;
the allocation of houses by local authorities to be based on need;
the Special Powers Act to be abolished as soon as it was safe to do so; and
some reform of the local government franchise (the end of the company votes).
Reforms Package Announced
Terence O'Neill, then Northern Ireland Prime Minister, announced a package of reform measures which had resulted from meetings in London with Harold Wilson, then British Prime Minister, and James Callaghan, then British Home Secretary. The five point reform plan included:
Monday 9 December 1968
Terence O'Neill, then Northern Ireland Prime Minister, made a television appeal for moderate opinion in what became known as the 'Ulster stands at the Crossroads' speech. The speech gained a lot of public support.
The Derry Citizen's Action Committee (DCAC) called a halt to all marches and protests for a period of one month.
Wednesday 11 December 1968
Terence O'Neill, then Northern Ireland Prime Minister, sacked William Craig, then Home Affairs Minister, because of differing opinions on the legality of Westminster intervention on devolved matters.