Northern Ireland news

Civil rights campaign as relevant now as 50 years ago

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood with former Agriculture Minister, Bríd Rodgers and SNP MP Mhairi Black addressed the "Civil Rights, Then and Now" event in Derry. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

THE struggle for civil rights in Northern Ireland is as relevant now as it was 50 years ago, according to SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood.

Mr Eastwood was speaking at the first in a series of events organised by the SDLP to commemorate next year's 50th anniversary of the October 5 1968 Northern Ireland Civil Rights’ march in Derry, seen by many as the start of the troubles.

Television footage of the 1968 march – in which a number of MPs were attacked by the RUC – brought international attention to the discrimination suffered by Catholics in the Ulster Unionist Party-controlled Northern Ireland.

Other speakers at yesterday's commemoration included former SDLP agriculture minister, Brid Rodgers, Scottish National Party MP, Mhairi Black, chairman of Irish Labour Youth, Kevin Donohue and former journalist, Martin Cowley.

The event was attended by many of those who took part in the original march, including Michael Canavan, Ivan Cooper and Fionnbarra O Dochartaigh. SDLP deputy leader, Nicola Mallon addressed the commemoration which was also supported by senior party figures, Claire Hanna, Mark Durkan and Mark H Durkan as well as Pat Hume.

Mr Eastwood said it was important to ensure truths about the past did not become blurred or that the complexities of history did not become simplified.

The SDLP leader told yesterday's commemoration event at Derry's Glasswork that the establishment of the Civil Rights' Association was a reminder that it was possible for politics to be united in the pursuit of the common good.

"Next year will mark 50 years since the first marches for civil rights set out from Coalisland to Dungannon – giving life to a momentum which led to the streets of Derry, Belfast and found voice in every town, village and parish in Northern Ireland.

"These meetings and marches marked the first steps in the ongoing movement for equality, rights and respect after year upon year of systematic discrimination following partition," he said.

Mr Eastwood said that in commemorating those events, it was important to remember that the fight for civil rights continued.

"That means that the civil rights' campaigns of today are just as important at those which were fought for in the past. That the challenge doesn’t only apply to removing the continued disrespect shown to the Irish language and LGBT rights.”

He said civil rights included the need to address child poverty, equality for women in the workplace, a proper road network and university west of the Bann.

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