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Programme launched to mark 50th anniversary of Civil Rights movement in Northern Ireland

How the Irish News reported a historic Civil Rights march
Seanín Graham

LANDMARK events that gave rise to the birth of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement are to be recognised throughout 2018 to mark the organisation's 50th anniversary.

The historic 'battle of Caledon' in Co Tyrone in June 1968 - which resulted in Nationalist MP Austin Currie squatting in a house in protest at discrimination against Catholics - will be remembered with a discussion in the village this summer on housing inequalities in 2018.

Events in Derry will also be held 50 years after images of violence at a Civil Rights rally in the city were beamed around the world as the the RUC baton-charged protesters.

Tim Attwood, treasurer of the commemoration organisation committee, said the "strength of personalities'" among the early membership was "extraordinary", with a broad base of members from nationalist, communist, labour, unionist and trade union backgrounds.

"When you look back at some of the people involved - such as John Hume, Austin Currie, Ivan Cooper and Deirdre O'Doherty, you see such strong, strident personalities and orators that we don't have today," said the SDLP councillor.

"We want to recognise the courage of all those involved but also want to examine a whole range of equality issues that exist today, from homelessness to discrimination."

A key focus of the programme will include representations from those who did not support or recognise the ethos of the movement.

Mr Attwood said they were overwhelmed by the positive response from unionist and loyalist representatives who wanted to "engage" with the programme on the issue of civil rights.

Among those taking part in an event next month on "reconciling differences" will be the Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, Mervyn Gibson and PUP councillor John Kyle - at a session chaired by Linda Ervine, manager of the Turas organistion who works to promote Irish among the Protestant community.

Ms Ervine's father was a member of the Communist party and she is a sister-in-law of the late PUP leader David Ervine.

Renowned poet Michael Longley will officially launch the anniversary programme next week in the First Presbysterian Church in Belfast city centre.

Professor Paul Arthur, who is also involved in the Civil Rights Commemorations Committee, said they wanted to remember events in "an inclusive and reflective way".

"We want to learn from what happened, to consider the significance of the Civil Rights movement for our society today and the continuing resonance of the issues which it addressed and the ideals which underpinned it," he said.

The Derry launch of the events will take place next Friday, January 26 in The Junction, 10-12 Bishop Street and will include contributions from civil rights activists Ivan Cooper and Deirdre O'Doherty.

Exhibitions will also run at Linen Hall library and the Ulster Museum over the year.

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