Northern Ireland

SDLP call for end to violence and internment – On this day in 1973

The SDLP's Seamus Mallon, John Hume and Eddie McGrady
The SDLP's Seamus Mallon, John Hume and Eddie McGrady The SDLP's Seamus Mallon, John Hume and Eddie McGrady

December 1 1973

THE third conference of the Social Democratic and Labour Party opened in Belfast last night with an impassioned ceasefire plea from the party chairman, Mr Eddie McGrady.

His call was strongly supported by Assemblyman John Hume, who defended the party’s record on internment, pointed out some of their major achievements, and led the conference to a unanimous demand for the immediate ending of detention without trial.

In the three-hour debating session the conference also dealt with motions on election law, agriculture, the Republic of Ireland and the administration of justice. They called for: a complete restructuring of the police force; better grants and subsidies for farmers; and bans on all organisations responsible for violence.

The party also deplored the continued enshrinement of exclusively Catholic moral codes in the laws of the Irish Republic, and reaffirmed their belief in the creation of a truly pluralist society, north and south.

Mr McGrady told the conference that continuous and strenuous efforts were being made to resolve the great evil of internment, and a reasonable measure of success had been achieved.

“But I would say this”, he continued. “Internment – the imprisonment of men, women and children, the consequent suffering both in prison and among those left at home, the loss of father, mother, brother and sister, the hardship of providing the necessities of life, the broken homes – all this could rapidly be ended if those people of violence would stop.”

In his speech on the anti-internment motion, which demanded full compensation for internees and their dependants, Mr Hume said his party was the first to take a strong stand on the issue and they maintained the position many people said was driving them into the wilderness.

Then they got the suspension of Stormont, its replacement by a commission, quadrapartite talks and the promise that internment would be phased out.

“In 1972 when the first promise on the phasing out of internment was given there were 915 people behind the wire,” said Mr Hume. “This party continued to press for the speeding up of this phasing out process so that by the summer of 1972 the figure was reduced to 241.

"Had the truce negotiated by the party been maintained, internment would have been over long ago. And it wasn’t the fault of this party that that truce wasn’t maintained”.

There was applause as Mr Hume continued: “Let this conference say that those engaged in violence in this community can make the greatest contribution to the ending of internment – because execution without trial is worse than imprisonment without trial”.

After three years in existence, the SDLP defends its record since its foundation and for its recent power-sharing agreement.