9 October 2008 Edition
DERRY 1968 : A turning point for Civil Rights and the North
Still fighting for equality
DERRY’S Guildhall was the setting last weekend for events marking the 40th anniversary of the famous 5 October 1968 civil rights march in Derry, which was a turning point in modern Irish history.
The event was addressed by a number of speakers, including the North’s joint First Minister, Martin McGuinness, and President Mary McAleese.
Below we reprint the full text of Martin McGuinness’s address at the Guildhall.
TO TRACE the roots of the march we are commemorating here this afternoon, I think we have to return to the disastrous decision taken in Downing Street and forced upon Irish people at the point of a gun to partition this island.
What followed was 50 years of unionist misrule. 50 years of domination, discrimination and inequality. Things came to a head on these streets 40 years ago.
Derry today is a different place from what it was in 1968.
There are, of course, still challenges to face – the need for equality in employment and investment, a resistance to change, and a desire by some elements to still play the orange card and seek domination over their neighbours.
Forty years ago, on the streets of this city, men and women from different backgrounds, from different generations, from different political roots came together as equals and we demanded our rights.
Some unionist voices courageously spoke out.
They knew what was happening was wrong and that the writing was on the wall for unionist misrule.
But political unionism wasn’t listening. They weren’t interested in change.
• Unionism controlled the parliament;
• Unionism controlled the cabinet;
• Unionism controlled the police force;
• Unionism controlled the justice system;
• Unionism dominated business and controlled local government;
• Unionism dictated housing policy and allocation.
And unionism would try and cling to all of this and use violence and intimidation in defence of its interests.
I say all of this not to revisit the past and apportion blame but because it is directly relevant to where we are at this time. Regrettably, there are still those within political unionism who refuse to acknowledge these past abuses or its role and contribution in all that occurred.
They hark back to the 1960s and before, and imagine it as some sort of golden age in which none of these things was going on. And despite the substantial and much-welcome progress that has been made in recent years, that mindset – of no surrender and not an inch – still exists in some elements of political unionism today, and especially within the DUP.
The fact is that there are still those within the DUP who do not agree with power sharing as a concept or as a matter of political practice.
They do not accept that the days of unionist majority rule are gone, and gone forever.
They believe that by stalling and delaying they can hollow out the Good Friday and St Andrew’s agreements. And that is what is at the heart of the current crisis in the political institutions.
It isn’t just about whether there is or is not an Executive meeting. It is about partnership government and power sharing in the new political dispensation. It is about the acceptance of the rights and entitlements of nationalists and republicans won over many years of tough negotiations.
If one party does not believe in partnership government and power sharing on the basis of equality then it is they who are placing the political institutions at risk.
The unionist political system needs to understand and come to terms with the reality that life has changed for everybody.
The only way any unionist politician will ever hold any semblance of real political power now or in the future is in partnership with nationalists and republicans.
Sinn Féin will defend the Good Friday Agreement institutions. We will defend the rights and entitlements of everyone, especially those who elected us. We stand up for and defend the rights of every citizen but especially those whose rights were denied for so long.
The nationalist and republican community has charged Sinn Féin with the responsibility to lead them through this phase of the process. They have repeatedly put their confidence in us.
And Sinn Féin wants to make the political institutions work.
Last week, in spite of the difficulties around the Executive, and as evidence of our goodwill, Sinn Féin participated in the British-Irish Conference meeting.
The decision by the DUP to block the planned meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council yesterday adds weight to the view that the DUP is not committed to partnership and equality.
The reality is that, since early June, when Peter Robinson emerged as DUP leader, Sinn Féin has been attempting to get the DUP to engage – as agreed in Downing Street – in a real and meaningful negotiation. The DUP have avoided any real engagement. They are also arguing that the St Andrew’s Agreement, which they claimed as a great victory for the DUP, no longer applies to them.
That position is simply not tenable and presents a significant challenge for both governments.
If partnership government is beyond the DUP then it will fall to the two governments to take the necessary decisions and implement the necessary policy changes to ensure political progress in the all-Ireland context envisaged in the Good Friday and St Andrew’s agreements.
The British Government knows where the problem lies. Gordon Brown came to Stormont two weeks ago and laid it out for all to see. Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who represented the Irish Government at St Andrew’s, did likewise recently. The resolution is DUP agreement to work the partnership arrangements and to agree a timeframe for the transfer of power on policing and justice.
Hardly a week goes past without an elderly person being assaulted and robbed in their home, or a young person stabbed or beaten, or a violent robbery.
People want the police service and the judicial system equipped with the laws to tackle criminals and thugs.
People want local politicians passing laws to tackle these issues as well as the issues of repeat offenders and bail, anti-social behaviour, street drinking and much more.
But the DUP says NO!
This is unacceptable. If the DUP leadership wants these institutions to work, then it has to stop looking over its shoulder at others. It has to confront those opposed to change within and without its own ranks.
The claims of a lack of confidence within the unionist community are bogus. Public confidence exists now for transfer to take place.
For generations the RUC, and therefore policing, was the preserve of unionism. No longer! Forty years ago in this city we witnessed at first-hand the brutality and viciousness of bad policing. We will never again put up with this.
Nationalists and republicans, despite our reservations, have embraced policing and we are determined to shape it to meet the needs of the 21st century and of our communities.
I believe that we have reached a defining moment in the process to build a new dispensation. I believe that a resolution to the current difficulties can be found. I believe that an agreement forged between myself and Peter Robinson would send out a powerful and hopeful message for the future.
But if we are to move forward it will take political courage and political leadership.
It will need real and meaningful partnership government and power sharing.
Forty years ago, we marched along Duke Street and along many other roads and country lanes across the Northern state as we demanded change and demanded civil rights. That march for civil rights and national rights continues.
It isn’t over and there is no turning back.
There can be no return to the bad old days.
We must also be the guarantors of that.