Brid Rodgers to lead SDLP civil rights' anniversary plans

Bríd Rodgers and Pat Hume in Derry for the launch of the SDLP's Civil Rights Commemoration Committee which will undertake planning for events leading up to the anniversary in October 2018. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

A FORMER nationalist minister says she's determined to show that people still have the power "to make change happen" as plans get underway to mark the 50th anniversary of the Northern Ireland civil rights movement.

Brid Rodgers was speaking as she was appointed by the SDLP to oversee the party's plans to mark the milestone next year.

Mrs Rodgers has been appointed chair of an SDLP committee which party leader Colum Eastwood said would deliver on the lasting legacy of the protest.

The former Upper Bann MLA and Stormont minister joined Mr Eastwood and other assembly members at an event in Derry yesterday which was also attended by Pat Hume, wife of SDLP founder and former leader John Hume.

Most observers mark 1968 as the founding year of the Northern Ireland civil rights' movement. The organisation came to international attention through a protest march on October 5 1968 in Derry. The march was banned and violently stopped by the RUC.

Images of West Belfast MP, Gerry Fitt and others being batoned by police were shown around the world, shining a light on the one-party unionist government for the first time.

At a press conference yesterday, Mrs Rodgers said no one party could claim ownership of the movement but said there was no doubt that the SDLP grew out of that movement.

“We will want to see events that will set the record straight about the achievements of the civil rights' movement. We will have to highlight the fact that it was people power coming together in a peaceful way, eschewing violence.

“I want to highlight to people the power that they still have to make change happen if they work at it,” she said.

Mrs Rodgers said there were no firm plans in place yet for the anniversary.

“Civil rights was the catalyst for everything that has happened in the last 50 years. I think it is important that history records that fact; that it wasn't violence and brought about change but radical peaceful action which brought about change,” she said.

The former minister hoped that other key civil rights campaigners such as Eamonn McCann and Fionnbarra O Dochartaigh would also contribute to commemorations.

Earlier SDLP leader Mr Eastwood said the party was organising its own programme because its founders, John Hume, Paddy Devlin, Ivan Cooper, Austin Currie and others achieved change through the civil rights campaign.

“It (the civil rights movement) undeniably played a pivotal role in the history of the SDLP. That's something we are immensely proud of and we'll be marking the 50 year anniversary with a series of commemorative events,” Mr Eastwood said.

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