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Calendar of Newspaper Articles dealing with Civil Rights issues, 1 Jun 1968 - 9 Dec 1968 by Alan Scott



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Text: Alan Scott

The following material has been contributed by Alan Scott, a post-graduate student at Queen's University Belfast. The information first appeared, and is also available at the web pages of the Queen's University of Belfast, School of Modern History, Historical Documents Project {external_link}. The views expressed in this section do not necessarily reflect the views of members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributors.
This compilation is copyright (© 1999) of Alan Scott and is included on the CAIN site by permission of the author. You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without the express written permission of the author. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.

Calendar of newspaper articles dealing with civil rights issues
1 June 1968 - 9 December 1968

by
Alan M. Scott

Articles are from
'The Belfast Telegraph', 'The Irish News and Belfast Morning News', and 'The Belfast News Letter'


Introduction     1968:   | June | July | August | September | October | November | December |
use links to view the calendar (categorised by month and week)

Introduction

(i) Purpose

The following catalogue is designed as a guide to the coverage of civil rights issues, and reaction to them, as it appeared in the three leading Northern Ireland newspapers between 1 June 1968 and 9 December of that same year. These dates have not been selected arbitrarily, and due cognisance has been taken of the risks inherent in any attempt to impose boundaries on or artificially periodise any area of study. The historian must be ever conscious of the pitfalls that bedevil any attempt to examine any one small piece of the puzzle posed by the past without taking account of the whole. It should be remembered that events are seldom if ever self-contained, and therefore can be properly understood only in the light of appropriate reference to their natural historical background. Bearing this reservation in mind, it should be recognised, nonetheless, that dividing-lines must inevitably be drawn by, and can be remarkably useful to, the individual researcher. Only by setting investigative limits is it possible satisfactorily to assemble a manageably comprehensive body of evidence relating to a particular topic, thereby bringing into sharper focus the events and personalities of the era in question. Given the time constraint imposed upon the conduct of the research involved in the collation of this calendar, in addition to the necessity for a detailed and thorough investigation of the relevant materials, the scope of the research contained herein was necessarily restricted. This is not to suggest however that nothing is to be learned from an exploration of this limited nature: the events that took place during the months documented throughout the following pages are viewed by many commentators as of considerable significance in the history of the Northern Ireland state, and while there is a danger that hindsight may unduly influence such a verdict, it is to be hoped that this resource will prove of some use in the future investigation of this insufficiently explored area of Irish history, an area that in and of itself is of considerable interest.

The decision to begin the survey on 1 June 1968 was taken deliberately, in order to provide some context in which to set the events that unfolded during the following months. Despite the conspicuous lack of material dealing directly with an avowedly 'civil rights' theme in the newspapers at this time - and indeed during another 'quiet' period in early August - it is noteworthy that issues that would later gain much greater prominence in the press were not far below the surface in the coverage of Northern Ireland politics at this time. An effort has been made therefore throughout the catalogue to document not simply those items with a direct bearing on the civil rights theme, but also those indirectly related to the concerns that underpinned the developing movement. For example, the controversy following the expulsion from the Orange Order of Phelim O'Neill, Stormont MP for north Antrim, prior to the sudden surge of publicity and controversy that came to surround the cause of civil rights, is of interest in that it highlighted concern as to the role of an avowedly protestant organisation within the governing Unionist Party. June is a useful starting point for a study of the rapid accrual of momentum to the cause of civil rights in that it was in that month that unconventional political action was first taken by a prominent figure in the shape of Austin Currie MP, whose squatting in a Caledon house can be viewed, of course with hindsight, as the opening volley in a campaign of active protest against perceived institutional injustice that would become familiar to all the people of Northern Ireland and indeed the world as the year progressed. The early days of June provide a little of the context in which those later events were to be played out.

The adoption of 9 December 1968 as the termination date for this calendar is also eminently explicable, given the fact that it was on this date that Northern Ireland prime minister, Captain Terence O'Neill, made his poignant televised plea to the people for a period of calm, during which his government hoped to implement the reforms it had by this stage undertaken to introduce. An extension of the calendar beyond this point would require a considerable additional body of research that constraints of time did not in this case permit.

(ii) Format

Articles appearing in the three leading newspapers between the dates indicated above have been categorised, for clarity of presentation, under the following headings; short definitions of each category are also here provided:

Leader - the newspaper's front-page leading story, evidently considered of some especial interest or importance by the editor of the newspaper concerned

Report - an item of news relating to current events; may vary greatly in length

Summary - very short report, providing only the most general information on a given topic, and grouped with other such articles in a section of the newspaper devoted specifically to short pieces of some news interest. [In the Belfast Telegraph, for example, such items fall under the heading of 'News brevities']

Editorial - editor's comment on the day's pertinent news-stories

Comment - commentary on issues of importance raised by events

Feature - background information on subjects of particular interest or importance

Letter - readers' comments on the issues of the day

It should be recognised however that such broad categorisations are more appropriate in some cases than in others. In a number of instances, for example, reaching a decision as to whether a piece could best be described as a report or as a comment has been problematic, in that commentary and analysis are often an integral part of a report, and vice versa. The categorisations provided within these pages are therefore to be regarded merely as helpful guidelines rather than authoritative classifications.

In an effort to impose a logical structure on the collected material, it was decided that articles should be arranged first and foremost in order of their date of appearance rather than, for example, by publication or theme. This form of organisation should be of use to the researcher in uncovering quickly information dealing with specific dated events such as the 5 October civil rights march in Derry or the Downing Street meeting between British premier Harold Wilson and Terence O'Neill. In the interests of clarity and coherence however, within this overall chronological structure, interrelated items have as far as possible been correlated on a thematic basis. Unfortunately, a smooth continuity between articles, and even within articles, has not always been achievable, in that many different themes may be subsumed under a single heading. Example 1 below demonstrates some of the difficulties involved.
 
 
Example 1 (from Belfast News Letter, 17 October, 1968) 

PM waits for Wilson signal 

Report: No date has yet been fixed for the proposed O'Neill-Wilson meeting. Rory MacShane, president-elect of the QUB Students' Representative Council, has denied allegations made by Craig about his political affiliations. Derry Labour Party has called for peaceful participation in the forthcoming Guildhall Square civil rights protest. A peaceful demonstration will show that it was not the civil rights marchers on 5 October who started trouble. 

 

It is clear from the above that an article heading, in this case 'PM waits for Wilson signal,' provides only a partial clue as to article content, which in example 1 relates not only to O'Neill's prospective meeting with Wilson, but also to a rejection of accusations made by minister of home affairs William Craig, and to a call by the Derry Labour Party for a peaceful civil rights march. Such variation obviously greatly complicates the attainment of that smooth thematic continuity so desirable to any user of this resource. Nonetheless, where possible, articles relating to like subject-matter have been placed in proximity to one another. Perhaps a further illustration will serve to clarify the point:
   
Example 2 (from 25 November, 1968) 

Belfast Telegraph 

Derry-Stormont dash 

Leader: Members of both Derry corporation and rural council are called to Stormont for talks. Derry Nationalists state that the proposed development commission should operate only for the minimum time required. It must also be 'visibly impartial.' One Unionist member speaks of Nationalist 'lying propaganda.' 

Freedom to report 

Editorial: Physical attacks on the press by anti-civil rights demonstrators are to be deplored. 

Rowdy scenes in Ulster towns 

Report: PD meetings take place in Dungannon and Omagh, where angry protestant protesters engage in aggressive behaviour. A PD branch is to be established in the latter town. 

News Letter 

Trouble spreads to two towns 

Report: Clashes between Unionist extremists and PD supporters take place in Dungannon and Omagh. Derry remains quiet: the reform package is under consideration, but more demonstrations are expected. Paisley appeals to loyalists to stop civil rights marchers in Armagh on 30 November. 

Irish News 

Simultaneous rival meetings in Omagh 

Report: Rival PD and Paisleyite meetings in Omagh pass without incident. Paisley supporters are critical of those they blame for destruction in Derry; Kevin Boyle supports their right to assemble freely, and criticises overrepresentation of Unionists on Omagh urban council. 

Unionist extremists assail PD supporters 

Report: A threatening crowd harasses PD supporters and members of the press in Dungannon. The PD accuses police of a failure to do their duty. A local PD branch is now being formed. A small number of violent incidents occur. 

Belfast Telegraph 

Loyalists in Derry to form group 

Report: A Loyal Citizens' Committee is to be formed in Derry to promote the loyalist point of view and refute 'what are considered to be ill-founded allegations about the city.' 

[BT, 19 November] 

'Seize Armagh' call by Paisley 

Report: 'A call for "every loyalist in Ulster" to assemble in Armagh on Saturday "to take control of the city" and prevent civil rights demonstrators from marching has been made by the Rev Ian Paisley.' A leaflet is distributed, bearing the heading 'A friendly warning.' It advises: 'Board up your windows, remove all women and children from the city…O'Neill must go.' Paisley sees 'a front movement for the IRA' in the civil rights campaign, and claims that arrangements have been made for 'hooligans' to cross the border to take part in full-scale civil riot. What happened in Derry cannot be allowed to happen again. He says that many Derry protestants now wish to join his free presbyterian church

Irish News 

Paisley threat to take over Armagh to stop rights march 

Report: Paisley believes that those who wish to march hope to foment violence. 

Belfast Telegraph 

Armagh march: Craig seeks RUC view 

Report: Craig will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the maintenance of order in Armagh. Reform is likely to be discussed at Stormont this week, though there has as yet been no official British government reaction to the programme. 

 

While the above articles did not necessarily appear in the respective newspapers in the order in which they are here presented, pieces exploring a particular theme have been correlated to allow for a degree of logical continuity that should aid the researcher in pursuit of references to a particular subject. Thus, the Belfast Telegraph editorial entitled 'Freedom to report,' which condemns extremist protestant intimidation of the press, is placed alongside items from the Telegraph itself, the Irish News, and the News Letter, which describe the eruption of violence in Dungannon that initially prompted this editorial comment. In view of the fact that these items also draw particular attention to the actions of hard-line protestant elements opposed to the civil rights movement, they have been grouped with pieces describing the formation of a loyalists' action group in Derry, and a call by Rev Ian Paisley for loyalists to assemble in Armagh to prevent a planned civil rights march in the city.

Note that newspaper typography in the publications surveyed did always make clear the distinction between article headings and sub-headings within a given article, so that it has not always been possible accurately to determine at what point one piece ends and the next begins. In such instances, discretion has been exercised, with the aim at all times of maintaining maximum possible continuity and coherence within the calendar.

In a survey of three newspapers over a six-month period, it was inevitable that each publication would on occasion incorporate the same or similar stories, particularly in relation to major items of news interest. This coverage however did not necessarily make its appearance simultaneously in the three publications surveyed, particularly in view of the fact that the Belfast Telegraph, as an evening paper, often printed items on the day before these could be picked up by the morning News Letter and Irish News. Where instances of this divergence occurred, cross-references have been provided that should enable the researcher to locate the corresponding pieces. These are presented in the format indicated in example 3 below, where the following abbreviations apply.

BT Belfast Telegraph

IN Irish News

NL News Letter  
 
Example 3 (from the Belfast Telegraph, 1 July, 1968) 

City Hall clash over Somme service  

Report: Nationalist councillors in Belfast are attacked by Unionists over their failure to attend a ceremony commemorating the Battle of the Somme. They are accused of neglecting to consider the consequences of their actions on community relations 

[IN, NL, 2 July] 

 

The line reading '[IN, NL, 2 July]' indicates that pieces corresponding closely with the article entitled 'City Hall clash over Somme service' may be found in copies of both the Irish News and News Letter dated 2 July, 1968. 

Where articles providing the same or similar information appear on the same date however, such a system of cross-referencing becomes redundant. In these cases, as has already been suggested, articles that cover the same ground have been grouped together, as illustrated by the pieces dealing with disturbances in Dungannon in example 2 above. Care has been taken in these instances to avoid unnecessary repetition, so that where one article merely restates the content of another, only its title will be listed, together with a categorisation for the item in square brackets (see Example 4).  
 
Example 4 (from 13 November, 1968)  

Belfast Telegraph  

Case against squatters adjourned  

Report: The court case against the Caledon squatters is adjourned after evidence is heard from one of the bailiffs concerned. Civil rights supporters protest outside the court building.  

Irish News  

Caledon eviction cases adjourned over submission by the defence [Report] 

 

In some cases, articles dealing with the same overall subject-matter evinced significant differences of emphasis or content. Under these circumstances, a separate summary of each piece has been provided (again, see the coverage of the Dungannon incidents in example 2). Where articles were found to cover the same broad ground, though with much smaller but nonetheless significant differences between them, repetition has been avoided and such differences have been signposted by the addition of a qualifier such as 'also' or 'additionally,' as example 5 illustrates.  
 
Example 5 (from 22 October, 1968)  

Irish News  

Labour Party group formed to deal with NI affairs  

Leader: The parliamentary Labour Party forms a group that will investigate Northern Ireland's problems and determine party policy on the issues raised. The group is seeking a meeting with Wilson 

News Letter  

Labour forms Ulster group  

Leader: Additionally, Robin Chichester-Clark criticises 'ill-informed sniping' about Northern Ireland which, he says, causes people to retreat further into entrenched positions.  

 

As a variation to the above rules, in those instances where a reader's letter was published separately by two or more newspapers, but on different dates, the calendar offers a summary of the letter on its first appearance only, while on subsequent occasions, a reference to the original entry has been provided with the aim of avoiding unnecessary repetition (see example 6).  
 
Example 6 (from the Belfast Telegraph, 21 June, 1968)  

Belfast Telegraph  

A party for the common good of Ulster [Letter]  

[see IN, 20 June, A new political party wanted here?]  

 

The reference points the researcher to the Irish News for 20 June, and to a letter entitled 'A new political party wanted here?' which is summarised in the calendar as follows: 
 
 
Irish News  

A new political party wanted here?  

Letter: Attendance at catholic services whether in pursuance of civic duty or as a mark of friendship is right. Voting in Northern Ireland tends to take place along confessional lines because the alternatives are either unrealistic or distasteful. A new cross-community party is necessary to 'promote what the majority of people feel are the best interests of Ulster as a whole.'  

[NL, BT, 21 June]  

 

Given the tendency for editors to minimise the length of readers' comments, occasions arise where the same letter may appear in two or more versions in different publications. Under these circumstances, the criteria set out above for reports that cover similar ground have been used. Note also that, where it has been deemed of especial interest, the name of the author of a particular piece has been cited, though naturally the screening process was by its very nature selective and thus subject to the particular range of interests of the compiler of this research aid. 

Since the object of this calendar is to catalogue rather than fully to reproduce articles, a summary of the broad thrust rather than a thorough representation of any given item has been offered; on occasion this has led to certain omissions which are not considered of first importance. Thus it may happen that, although a certain subject or event receives coverage in a newspaper article catalogued herein, it is not listed or cross-referenced in this calendar. This resource aims to list references with broad relevance to civil rights and perceptions of the prevailing situation in this regard, rather than to present a comprehensive or consistent reference guide to these secondary themes. While some events will receive cursory mention, the user of this calendar is advised that further investigation of these should be carried out at the primary source level on or around dates of interest in order to uncover references to any such topic. In general, it has been considered wise to err on the side of caution, so that a number of the items catalogued below may not have a direct bearing on perceptions of civil rights; however, relevance is a highly subjective concept, and it is quite possible that the researcher may deem some items that have been excluded 'relevant,' and others that have been included 'irrelevant.' Such, sadly, are the pitfalls of subjectivity. While the historian must strive to be objective in collating and analysing the evidence generated by the past, the results of any research must depend ultimately upon the subjective view of the researcher, who cannot view the past independently of his or her own value-judgements - though of course this is not to say that no attempt should be made to produce work that is as objective and analytical as possible. Having stated this reservation, it is nevertheless to be hoped that this calendar will prove of some use to those wishing to explore this as yet insufficiently investigated area of Irish history.

  Alan M. Scott
3 October, 1996
Belfast


Introduction     1968:   | June | July | August | September | October | November | December |

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