Panel talk will remember unionists role in the civil rights movement

Linda Ervine is to chair a discussion on unionists' role in the civil rights movement. Pic Mal McCann.

Prominent unionists are to mark the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement with a panel talk about the experience of northern Protestants at that the time.

Civil Rights, Then and Now – Reconciling the Difference will be chaired by Linda Ervine and involves input from senior Orangeman Mervyn Gibson and PUP councillor John Kyle.

Former SDLP minister, Brí­d Rodgers, who was involved in the early days of the civil rights movement, will also take part in the unique discussion at the Skainos Centre in east Belfast.

Linda Ervine said she hopes the discussion "will highlight the role that many unionists played during the civil rights movement, stories she said have previously went untold".

"We hope that by inviting those not typically associated with the campaign, to take to the stage and tell their stories, we can ensure the valuable contribution unionists made to the movement will be recognised more fully", she added

Last week Mrs Ervine, was a speaker at an event organised by the Irish Cultural Centre in London discussing 'The Future of Unionism in Northern Ireland'.

Former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and former NI21 leader Basil McCrea were also on the panel which is part of the Troubles, Tragedy and Trauma series of events.

Mrs Ervine told the audience that while she is in favour of the union she no longer calls herself a unionist.

"To me the unionist parties in Northern Ireland have made it such a toxic word. I don’t want to have anything to do with that. They do not represent me", she said.

Mr Nesbitt told the London audience his fear for the future of unionism "is that it doesn’t notice the changing environment".

"There’s a great business guru called Charles Handy who writes about a particular type of frog, and the characteristic of this frog is that if you put it in a pan of cold water, and really, really slowly bring that water to boil , the frog dies because it doesn’t notice the change in its environment.

"The longer I’m in politics the more I sense that it is all about identity, whether it’s unionism, nationalism, loyalism, republicanism, which is not to say the people of Northern Ireland are not genuinely concerned about (other) issues", he added.

The Civil Rights event takes place at the Skainos Centre in east Belfast today (MON) at 6.30pm and is free to attend.

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