The Derry March - Background Information
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Background InformationFor much of the period between the establishment of the Northern Ireland state and the outbreak of 'the Troubles', Derry had been governed by a city Corporation which was dominated by Unionist councilors. This was despite the fact that Derry had a Catholic / Nationalist majority amongst its population. This outcome was only achieved by blatant gerrymandering of the electoral boundaries. In addition Derry had suffered particularly high rates of unemployment and there was a chronic housing shortage. Few people believed that the Northern Ireland parliament based at Stormont near Belfast, and under Unionist control for almost fifty years, would address any of the grievances felt by the people of Derry.
There were many in Derry who felt that the Stormont government
was deliberately under-investing in the area 'west of the Bann'
(the west of the region) because of the high proportion of Catholics
living there. Indeed sections of the Protestant / Unionist population
of Derry also questioned some aspects of government policy in
relation to the city. There were a number of examples of this
during the 1960s, for example, the closure of the Great Northern
railway line; the failure of any government schemes to tackle
unemployment particularly following the closure of British Sound
Reproducers Ltd., a major employer in the area; the establishment
of a new town at Craigavon with the subsequent investment in housing
and industry in that area as opposed to Derry; and the decision,
which caused the most controversy, to site the New University
of Ulster at the town of Coleraine instead of building it in Derry.
Prior to the first of the civil rights marches in Northern Ireland
there had been a number of left-wing radical activists campaigning
in Derry for more investment in employment and housing. In the
two years prior to the 5 October 1968 march these radicals, under
the auspicious of the Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC), had
staged a number of non-violent direct action protests to try to
force the local Corporation to address some of these issues.
Following the Civil Rights march in Dungannon the DHAC contacted
the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) with a proposal
to hold a civil rights march in Derry. The NICRA agreed to the
proposal without fully appreciating the special circumstances
in Derry. The proposed route would take the march into the walled
city centre which was considered by unionists as Protestant territory.
This, coupled with the level of resentment felt by Catholics in
the city, was the backdrop against which events were played
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