CAIN: Paul Arthur (1974) The People's Democracy 1968-73 - Extracts


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Extracts from 'The People's Democracy 1968-73'
by Paul Arthur (1974)



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Text: Paul Arthur ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
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1: October 1968-February 1969. A Child of Events?

'. . . And as far as I was concerned it was one of those peaceful civil rights marches, go along, make your protest and go home. The police brutality did something much more important than focus the attention of civilization on Northern Ireland. It awakened the people of Northern Ireland, particularly the students. I know what it's like to live in an unbalanced society. Because the more you become involved in it, the more you realize that the whole problem is much bigger than a few bigoted members of the government. It's the whole system that's wrong.' [1]
Miss Devlin was summing up her feelings towards the Derry violence of October 5, 1968 seventeen months after the event, during which period her political views had undergone a radical transformation. But, for our immediate purpose, she was speaking one truth which has become evident to me after interviewing a number of people in the People's Democracy (PD). Among students at Queen's University there was a sense of deep shock and guilt surrounding the events of October 5. It was this fund of moral protest which was to guide PD in its early days, the type of protest which was common to the student protest movement.

'Few young radicals are sure of themselves in terms of ideology. They feel much more sure of themselves in postures of moral intransigence using the purity of youth and action to answer their critics' political attack.' [2] It was moral outrage which launched the PD and sustained it in its first phase, a period of political innocence - outrage at the behaviour of the RUC in the streets of Derry on October 5 and the subsequent intransigence of O'Neill's Government. Even some of the left-wing activists who were to the fore in the Derry march were shocked at the violence of the events. Cyril Toman knew that the police were going to stop the march and that there was going to be trouble. But 'I didn't see beyond that. I didn't conceive of the Unionists as being as thoroughly bad as they were. I didn't foresee things like police perjury for example.'[3]

The activists and the uncommitted were united, then, by the violence of the situation and by the administration's over-reaction to events. On October 6, ten students held a picket outside the home of Mr William Craig, Minister of Home Affairs; he is reported to have called them 'a crowd of bloody fools' for their pains. At a well-attended meeting in the Students' Union the next day a decision was taken to march to the City Hall on Wednesday, October 9. The organisers were to be the Joint Action Committee which had planned the protest march on November 15 the previous year.

On October 9 the march of about 3,000 people, including twenty members of the academic staff, passed off peacefully. The march organisers complied with police instructions and avoided Shaftesbury Square, the Rev Ian Paisley's territory, [4] on the understanding that they would be allowed to hold a meeting at the front of the City Hall. In Linenhall Street, at the rear of the City Hall, the police again blocked the march to avoid a conflict with a small number of Paisleyites. There followed a frustrating three-hour sit-down in Linenhall Street and eventually a march back to the University.

The demonstrators were anxious to avoid a clash at all costs -with the exception of one small group:

'While there were undoubtedly voices raised by an excited sub-Guevara group towards the end of the proceedings advocating a charge through the police, the main body of the march was made up of embarrassed indignant young Ulstermen and women whose deep-grained conservatism of behaviour was outweighed by a reluctant recognition of injustice.' [5]
The militant student leaders learnt a few valuable lessons from the conduct of that march. This was not to be the time for pressing ahead with revolutionary demands, and it was significant that it was Michael Farrell who had the foresight and the authority to persuade the dissidents to adopt a more reasoned view.

It was clear to all of those who had been involved in the sit-down that they had to overcome the frustration of not reaching their destination. Again it was Farrell who seized on this point and who called a meeting of all interested parties immediately after the marchers arrived back at the University. What began as a small gathering of disenchanted students intent on voicing their criticisms of the organisers, the police and the counter-demonstrators grew into an emotional and intense mass meeting concerned with solving the fundamental problems of the divided community. At least one newspaper, admittedly partisan, compared it 'to the kind of free debate of which the Sorbonne in the May Days was the best example.' [6]

At that meeting a number of important decisions were taken, and PD emerged as a spontaneous, militant, democratic group working within the Civil Rights Movement. It made six demands which were sloganised into an appeal leaflet illustrating its civil rights nature:

One man, one vote
Fair boundaries
Houses on Need
Jobs on Merit
Free Speech
Repeal of the Special Powers Act.
The nature of its organisation was agreed upon. As a democratic organisation it was open to literally anyone who wished to come along to its meetings, a fact which the Cameron Commission felt obliged to explain:
'People's Democracy has no accepted constitution and no recorded membership. At any meeting any person attending is entitled both to speak and to vote; decisions taken at one meeting may be reviewed at the next - indeed during the currency of any given meeting. No subscription, entrance fee or membership qualification is required of members (if they can be so called) of this movement, and the requisite finance is obtained from collections at meetings, subscriptions or contributions from well wishers and supporters both within Northern Ireland and elsewhere.'[7]
A 'faceless committee' was elected. The body of the meeting, fearing that the 'professional' student politicians would take over PD, insisted that a committee of ten be elected on the basis that none of them had any known political affiliations. The faceless committee consisted of Miss Bernadette Devlin (undergraduate), Miss Patricia Drinan (undergraduate), Miss Ann McBurney (a recent graduate), Ian Goodall (undergraduate), Michael O'Kane (undergraduate), Eddie McCameley (undergraduate), Joe Martin (a recent graduate), Fergus Woods (a recent graduate), Kevin Boyle (lecturer in law at the University) and Malcolm Myle (worker and member of the Young Socialist Alliance). The committee did not have executive powers. It was elected in a co-ordinating capacity to administer the decisions of the general meetings and it was given the right to elect ad hoc committees for specific projects and functions.

Finally, the name of this new student movement emerged as the 'People's Democracy.' John Murphy tells how it was created:

'In Linenhall Street there was dissatisfaction with the organisation of the march. I felt the need for a democratic organisation rather than a joint action committee. I remember saying at the time, "This is the only democratic street in Northern Ireland. This is a People's Democracy." On the next morning I had to stencil an announcement and decided "There will be a meeting of the People's Democracy tonight." It was the most natural description of what was to take place that night. The name was adopted at that meeting.'[8]
(This account of the naming of PD clashes in some respects with that reported in the Sunday Times of 27.4.1969, but I see no reason to doubt the veracity of the interviewee). So the PD was formally launched on October 11, 1968.
An observer of the contemporary political scene in the United States has noted that 'a main difference between the New Left and both the Old Left and traditional Right is the New Left's antipathy to conventional political forms and organisations. It does not relate to. the Democratic Party or to the larger structure of pluralistic politics.' [9] A parallel can be drawn with the initial position of PD in relation to Northern Ireland's political scene. The adoption of its name (with its obvious Marxist connotations), its Libertarian organisation which allowed for non-student participation, and the election of its 'faceless committee' which includes five Socialists [10] - Patricia Drinan, Ian Goodall, Michael OKane, Joe Martin and Malcolm Myle - were victories for the 'underground' of exstudents 'which sometimes provides direction and ideological sophistication to the movement.' From the outset then, PD was part of the larger civil rights movement but the nature of its organisation had helped to establish its separate identity.

(i) From 'Incipiency' to 'Coalescence

'The situation within the embryonic movement is reminiscent of what Blumer (1951) has had to say about what he calls general, as opposed to specific social movements . . . "groping unco-ordinated efforts . . . unorganised with neither established leadership nor recognised membership, and little guidance or control." ' [11]
During this early period the PD was aware of the sympathy and respect it had won from important sections of the community. 'In a bitter atmosphere, the students strike a note of hope,' wrote Mary Holland in the Observer. The President of the Methodist Church complimented 'the students of Queen's on the restraint and nonviolence of their demonstrations this week.' The Liberal Party praised the first march as 'an example of effective, responsible and non-violent protest.' The Minister of Education, Captain Long, two senior civil servants and a District Inspector of the RUC saw fit to address it during the first fortnight of its existence. Even some members of the Queen's University Conservative and Unionist Association, including the chairman, were prepared to support it.

In this incipient phase PD's reaction to its immediate acclaim was to be spontaneous and contradictory. On October 10 it exercised caution by postponing a proposed march in Belfast on Saturday (October 12) until the following Wednesday to avoid a clash with a demonstration organised by the Rev Ian Paisley. Always it stressed its non-sectarian and non-violent nature. For example, on October 15 it called on Church support: 'At this most critical time in our community, if we are to avoid the forces of violence which surround us and if we are to achieve our ideals of peaceful change then more than anything else we need the heartening support of the religious bodies of this province.'

On October 16 more than 2,000 students reached the City Hall, having accepted another re-route after the Rev Ian Paisley cancelled his meeting at Shaftesbury Square. On November 1, it wrote to the Prime Minister suggesting a debate on the civil rights issue, [12] and on the same day it supported the proposed march of Paisley's supporters through the predominantly Catholic city of Derry on November 9 as being a basic civil right for them.

These actions and sentiments suggested a movement with a passion for justice, but a movement which would not attempt to overthrow the system - in short its radicalism was tempered by a sense of responsibility and of working for the possible. This absence of utopianism is best summed up in Bernadette Devlin's disarmingly naive statement: 'We are not out to embarrass the Government or cause civil strife or divide the people on any issue. Our movement is non-political, non-sectarian, and if we can get civil rights established we can return to our books and studies with the satisfying knowledge that we have achieved something in the interests of the community.' [13] Miss Devlin demonstrated her political innocence in a more positive manner at this time when she attempted to parley with the Rev Ian Paisley at his home. The meeting achieved nothing. Yet her words and deeds personified the spirit of PD in these early days.

The liberal acclaim which PD had received was by no means universal. The allegations of the link between the Irish Workers' Group and prominent personalities in PD made by the Minister of Home Affairs at Stormont was one attempt to invoke a 'red scare'. A few days previously RUC Special Branch detectives claimed that 'members of the illegal Irish Republican Army are enlisting undercover agents among students at Queen's University. [14] In a letter to the Belfast Telegraph (October 14) the President of the SRC, Ian Brick, wrote: 'I am concerned that all too often students are used as a readily available supply of people for others to manipulate. Hence if trouble does occur on a march or demonstration almost certainly students alone will receive the blame.' Finally Mr D D Rogan, chairman of the Young Unionist Council, said that he was convinced that 'the Campaign for Social Democracy (sic), the People's Democracy, the Students' Joint Action Committee (sic), the Civil Rights Association, and the Londonderry Citizens Action Committee were mostly, if not all, Communist and Republican'.

PD reacted to these criticisms by dismissing them as the smear tactics of discredited Unionism, and it continued its campaign for civil rights and social justice. At Stormont, on October 24, 1968, United Nations Declaration of Human Rights Day, it occupied the Great Hall for three hours and conducted its own mini-Parliament. Eventually most of the protesters left having collected the signatures of twelve MPs [15] on a statement demanding its six basic civil rights demands, and 'having taught Stormont a lesson in democracy'. Eleven, however, decided to squat on until midnight, the first public sign of some disagreement within PD. What was more significant at this stage was the fact that the Government sent Capt Long, Minister of Education, to parley with the demonstrators. Here was a clear acknowledgement of PD's potential -not only was the Cabinet prepared to allow it a sit-in at the centre of power but it felt it necessary to send along one of its senior Ministers to negotiate with it.[16]

As far as the Government was concerned that was the end of its short and curious honeymoon with PD. The movement was proving that it had time and energy to be of considerable nuisance value. When the Prime Minister opened an exhibition at the Arts Council Gallery on October 28, he was met by a small picket. When the new Governor, Lord Grey of Naunton, went to Stormont to receive addresses from both Houses of Parliament on December 3, he was met by about twenty PD supporters carrying placards declaring: 'Welcome to Fascist Ulster' and 'Houses on Need'. On December 6, six PD supporters paraded outside a Unionist Party Standing Committee meeting demanding that Mr William Craig be sacked; next day another forty mounted a picket outside his private residence for three hours, and a further twenty-five held a meeting and distributed leaflets at the City Hall.

All those demonstrations had the support of the other civil rights groups and opposition parties so long as they were non-violent. The older generation was only too aware of the frailty of non-sectarian politics. For example, many individuals in the inter-confessional NILP were prepared to take part in the early protests even at the risk of losing votes in Protestant working class constituencies. If there were to be any incidents of violence they would want to wind down the civil rights campaign. To a lesser extent this was the attitude of the local civil rights groups which tended to be led by the Catholic professional middle class. When minor acts of violence did occur the moderates were irritated.

On November 4, Capt O'Neill travelled to London to discuss the civil rights demands with the British Prime Minister at Downing Street; it had been arranged that a small picket of PD sympathisers would meet him there. Simultaneously a march, from the University to the City Hall via Shaftesbury Square (ie disputed territory), had been planned. The demonstrators decided that they had been reasonable in accepting two re-routes in the past and were not prepared to agree to another. Consequently there were some scuffles with the police when the group tried to enter Shaftesbury Square and nine of them were arrested on charges of disorderly behaviour.[17] The remainder made their way individually to the city centre where they held a meeting and a sit-down which disrupted rush-hour traffic. In retaliation a Protestant extremist, Major Ronald Bunting, and nine of his supporters occupied a University Hall of Residence for three hours.

One other incident lost PD support within the University. On November 13 the Prime Minister came along to the University to a prize-giving ceremony and was met by a PD picket. But the demonstration got out of control, and PD came under attack. On the following day the Presbyterian, Church of Ireland and Methodist chaplains in the University described the incidents as 'a disorderly and ill-mannered demonstration.' Professor Sir John Biggart, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University called for a report on the incidents to be sent to him, and a PD spokesman placed the responsibility on a 'splinter group' of 'revolutionary infants.' PD was forced to make a formal apology:

'The People's Democracy to-day stated that the demonstration at the Whitla Hall on Wednesday afternoon was ineffective because of hasty and incomplete organisation . . . It was not our intention to disturb the Methodist College prizegiving and an apology is being forwarded to all concerned,' - and retreated from demonstrations on the campus. This was not just a face-saving retreat; rather it demonstrated PD's concern with larger issues, a fact noted by Richard Rose: 'at a time when student riots were disrupting campuses elsewhere in the Western world, it is entirely in character that events in Northern Ireland moved in the opposite direction. Student members left the university precincts in peace and concentrated attention upon the society around them.' [18]
One of the signs of the coalescence of a radical movement is 'the organisation of a number of local and ephemeral ad hoc committees, caucuses, fronts, and the like, here and there around the society. There is not yet any nationally co-ordinated organisation.[19]

The set-back of the Whitla Hall incident unwittingly revealed one of PD's strengths. Its radical animus did not depend on the promotion of 'etudialist' demands. It must always be remembered that it was only one of a number of organisations demanding civil rights. It began extending its influence outside the University milieue by allying with organisations in other areas - particularly Derry where the most effective local civil rights group, the Londonderry Citizens' Action Committee, held a number of demonstrations.

It took part in a sit-down in Derry on October 19; and on November 16 about 120 PD members were among a 15,000 crowd which marched through Derry. This march had been banned three days previously, and had the procession been violent it could have certainly swept aside the police barriers erected to prevent it entering the old walled city of Derry. As it was the march dispersed after a 'token' breach of the barriers by its leaders and after a few minor skirmishes PD was also to the fore at a march in Armagh on November 30 when Michael Farrell was one of the invited platform speakers. Again, the success of this demonstration was guaranteed when the procession was blocked by a large group of Paisleyites and yet it refused to allow itself to be provoked.

Not all of PD's supporters were prepared to submerge the organisation in the all embracing cloak of 'civil rights'. Some insisted in pushing PD's individual line. John Hume was wary of certain individuals in it from the beginning: 'Their tactic was that wherever there was a confrontation with the police a spontaneous meeting should be held and votes taken. They wanted the right of anyone in the crowd to get up and speak. I wondered did they in fact want the crowd to get out of control . . .' [20]

This tactic and the tensions which it created, manifested itself at the mass demonstration in Derry on November 16. One press correspondent, Joe Carroll, noted that:

'The role played by several hundred Queen's students in last Saturday's Derry march reflected the strains within the PD. The PD Committee, including Kevin Boyle and Bernadette Devlin, organised most of the students as stewards to help control the huge crowd. The RSSF [21] group gave the Derry stewards some anxious moments, according to one of the committee, when they seemed only too anxious to have a go at the police; but a clash was averted . . . in fact the socialist element is probably the most influential and vociferous at the moment. . .'
The same element was involved in the minor violence of November 30 in Armagh where there was some trouble at the point of confrontation with the Paisleyites, most of it stemming 'from members of the People's Democracy, several of them throwing themselves at the barricades,' while other PD supporters held a spontaneous meeting at a street corner after the march broke up.

A more obvious example of its attempt to extend its influence outside the University was its campaign of PIP, a Programme to Inform the People, in opposition to Capt O'Neill's PEP. A local branch of PD was formed in Newry on November 9 when a small group travelled from Belfast and held two meetings in the town. Its sphere of influence was extended to Dungannon and Omagh on November 23 when standing committees were elected but these meetings were marred by scuffles with Paisleyites and consequently PD suffered a further dent in its non-violent image.

The PIP campaign has certain similarities with ERAP, the Economic Research and Action Project, undertaken by the American civil rights-cum-revolutionary socialist group, Students for a Democratic Society.[22] 'Apart from campus activities, SDS undertook community organising, mainly of the poor in their Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP) which did work in Newark, Chicago, Cleveland, Boston and other towns…'[23] The type of activity may have been different but the aims were the same in both cases - to extend the influence of each group - though it should be said that there is no evidence that PD were aware of SDS activity.

The 'Long March'

It was the decision to march from Belfast to Derry which finally separated the militants from a large group of students who were worried about a left-wing takeover. The moderates won their last major victory when they persuaded PD by a small majority to cancel a planned march for December 14 to the City Hall, Belfast, one condition being that 'Mr O'Neill should still be in power on Saturday.'

This concern for the plight of the Prime Minister was an indication of what was going on at Government level. For some time the Prime Minister had been aware of the necessity to make some concessions to the insistent civil rights demands. He realized the dangers in ignoring them:

'Political leadership has a responsibility and a motive to assess the informal power behind the conflicting demands of social groups and to find a basis of accommodation in terms of cost and risk. In doing this they must adjust their own and their followers' values to make the accommodation feasible or face the dangers of direct action and escalated violence and counter-violence. Where a community drifts towards alienation and violence, leaders of the establishment cannot evade the responsibility of adjusting majority values to moderate minority needs.' [24]
Urged on by the British Prime Minister, Mr Harold Wilson, Capt O'Neill did not attempt to evade his responsibilities. On November 22 he introduced his 'reform package.' He promised an Ombudsman, the introduction of a points system in the allocation of houses, the reform of local government elections, the repeal of parts of the Special Powers Act and the suspension of Derry Corporation.

This announcement was received with mixed feelings by the various interest groups. Within his own party the 'hard-liners' began a campaign for his removal, and from that date his position as Prime Minister was a tenuous one. In the civil rights movement the moderates saw the package as a victory for their dignified protests and a declaration of the Prime Minister's good intentions. (Consequently there was a lull in civil rights activities.) However, the militants - chiefly within PD - felt that it was too little too late, although it indicated the efficacy of direct action.

The November 22 reform deal did not stem the tide of agitation mounted against O'Neill by a section of his own party. As a result, on December 9 he made an emotional televised speech, full of Churchillian cadences, warning Ulster people that they were on the brink of disaster.[25] His speech made considerable impact and moderate opinion flocked to his support. Over 100,000 people supported a 'I back O'Neill' campaign organised by the liberal-unionist Belfast Telegraph and within a matter of days 2,000 undergraduates signed a message of solidarity.

On December 11 he strengthened his position with liberal opinion by sacking William Craig, his right-wing Minister of Home Affairs, thereby coincidentally acceding to one of PD's most insistent demands. Immediately the Derry Citizens Action Committee pledged 'as an indication of their sincerity' to conduct their campaign without marches for a month.

By succumbing to some of the civil rights demands in his announcements on November 22 and December 11 it could be argued that the Prime Minister was attempting to 'co-opt' the civil rights activists, thereby fulfilling one of the factors of the 'incipiency' and 'coalescence' stages of the growth of a radical movement. The upsurge of public support for him indicated that he had met with short-term success at least.

The suggestion that PD should march from Belfast to Derry was made at one of its regular meetings from the floor of the house in early December. Michael Farrell became very enthusiastic with the idea and was instrumental in having an organising committee set up to work out the details. But the timing of the decision was delicate since it occurred when civil rights activists were reconsidering their views on direct action. Following the lead of the Derry Citizens Action Committee decision of December 9, a large meeting of PD decided to call off the march in the interests of peace. O'Neill's co-optive efforts had achieved another short-term gain.

Against this background of growing support for the Prime Minister the New Left was not prepared to let the matter rest. A small meeting was held at the end of term when most students had returned home. A decision to go ahead with the march was taken after leaders of the Young Socialist Alliance[26] emphasised that they would undertake it if PD was not in favour. It was an important victory for Michael Farrell and Cyril Toman. The latter summed up his attitude by saying: 'To accept O'Neill's moratorium was not a neutral decision, it was a tacit acknowledgement of O'Neill's policies.'[27]

The decision embarrassed the Derry Citizens Action Committee:

'I had long conversations with Bernadette Devlin and Kevin Boyle. I expressed the view that the march would lead to sectarian violence. I thought they agreed with this and as far as I know they went back and argued that the march be not held . . .'[28]
(Nonetheless when the march did take place the Action Committee in Derry met it, largely because it generated an emotional Catholic response to its courage.)

The decision also indicated the overt breakdown of the ultra-democratic structure of the organisation. While two militants, John McGuffin (an anarchist) and John Murphy (a former nationalist), have stated in interview that they were prepared to abide by the original decision to cancel the march, Farrell and Toman demonstrated clearly that they would have their way at all costs. One of the 'faceless committee,' Kevin Boyle, was annoyed by this attitude:

'I was bitter about the way in which the YSA had upstaged the thing.'[29]
Boyle's opinion was an important one because he had been seen to have exercised a moderating influence on the 'faceless committee,' a fact acknowledged by the Cameron Commission.[30] He was certain of what his role should be:
'At the very beginning the only people aware of mass politics were the Left and SRC people. . . In a sense we (ie Bernadette Devlin and himself) held back the Left. My fear was that it would push too far, dissipate itself and disappear.'[31]
Bernadette Devlin concurs with this statement:
'Essentially we were referees between the existing political groups so that none of them actually took over . . . I was coming to the realisation that if people felt it was a YSA idea a lot of people wouldn't go. If he (ie Michael Farrell) had taken his time he might have held on to a lot of other people who were idealistic but hadn't come round to socialism yet.'[32]
Although Kevin Boyle and Bernadette Devlin were not too happy about the timing of the decision they felt it incumbent upon them to go on the march.

That may have been one small indication of the successful takeover of PD by the New Left. Another more important sign was that the New Left felt powerful enough to dissolve the Young Socialist Alliance by majority vote on the night before the march to Derry.[33] (Yet Michael Farrell claimed that he didn't want to see PD being turned into a socialist organisation, that his task was to recruit people from PD and move them into a socialist group such as the Young Socialist Alliance, and that it was only by February 1969 that he was thinking of trying to move PD to the left.)[34] The simple fact is that this decision was a victory for the socialist element and for Farrell in particular. The composition of the march clarified that point. Only about forty to eighty people set out from Belfast on January 1 under the twin banners of 'Civil Rights' and 'Anti-Poverty.' It received the active assistance of the Londonderry branch of the NILP and the Radical Socialist Alliance (a small extreme left-wing splinter group from Derry). During the march itself, an Anarchist and a Republican banner were hoisted, and Republicans and NICRA supporters housed and fed the marchers along the route.

As was to be expected the Unionist Party and the Orange Order were opposed to the march but the Government was not prepared to ban it.[35] Confusion was sown in the ranks of the opposition parties. The NICRA, Austin Currie MP (Nationalist) and Miss Sheelagh Murnaghan MP (Liberal) welcomed the decision:[36]

From a number of sources, however, disquiet was evident. The elder statesman from the Opposition, E McAteer MP, leader of the Nationalist Party, considered it 'not good marching weather - in more senses than one.' Both the Irish Times and the Belfast Telegraph in their editorials on December 30 counselled caution and care. With the advantage of hindsight it is obvious that no one was certain what would happen on the march and that most people on the opposition side were prepared to let the march go ahead if only to guage the feelings of the body politic after a few months of intense agitation.

There were those in PD who knew why they were marching. Michael Farrell thought that civil rights agitation would come to a stop if PD did not go ahead, because the other groups 'would have accepted O'Neill's miserable reforms.'[37] Bernadette Devlin was equally unequivocal:

'Our function in marching from Belfast to Derry was to break the truce, to relaunch the civil rights movement as a mass movement and to show people that O'Neill was, in fact, offering them nothing. What we really wanted to do was to pull the carpet off the floor to show the dirt that .was under it so that we could sweep it up.'[38]
This mixture of expediency and moral outrage was typical of many of the marchers. One of them aptly summed up feelings as the march proceeded:
'The violence that had grown around us was a living proof of the rottenness that was built into the system: our little march had lit a fire That would help to burn out the dross of Ulster.'[39]
On the eve of the march a PD statement, outlining the reasons for proceeding with the exercise, likened it to the famous march of 1965 between Selma and Montgomery led by Dr Martin Luther King.
'We are marching because nothing has really changed since the Government's package of reforms in November which was condemned as inadequate by the entire Civil Rights movement and even the British Prime Minister, Mr Wilson . . . It is, perhaps, as well to repeat that we are demanding not privileges but rights and that in marching to Derry we are merely exercising another fundamental democratic liberty.'
Ostensibly, then, the march to Derry was to be an exercise of a 'fundamental democratic liberty' but it can be seen also as an attempt to build a worker-student alliance. Similar attempts had been made by French students in the 'May-Days' of 1968 and earlier by Japanese and Uruguayan students. For example 340,000 trade unionists and students had converged on the Japanese Diet on June 19, 1960, in the famous 'snake-march.' As a gesture of contempt, there was a mass-urination on the steps of the Diet building.[40] Since 1962 radical students and sugar workers had organised an annual May-Day march in Uruguay. Their manifesto of May 1, 1968 indicates their aims:
'We set out from Bella Union in this "March for Land" with the idea of passing through villages and towns and talking with all the exploited and oppressed.. . We reject dialogue with those who govern us...'[41]
In reality the march from Belfast to Derry through the towns and villages of counties Antrim and Derry was a rejection of dialogue with the Government. Attacks on the march by Protestant workers automatically ensured Catholic support for it, particularly after the Burntollet ambush. Burntollet bridge, about six miles outside Derry was the scene of a carefully staged ambush by about 400 Protestant extremists. Armed with bricks and nailed cudgels and wearing white armbands as a means of identification, they laid into the defenceless marchers, many of whom were badly injured and whose only escape route was a swollen and freezing river. The remnant of the march fled on towards Derry, convinced that the RUC had offered little or no protection.

The 'Long March,'[42] as it came to be called, had far-reaching effect. Cameron summed it up thus:

'For moderates this march had disastrous effects. It polarized the extreme elements in the communities in each place it entered. It lost sympathy for the Civil Rights movement and led to serious rioting in Maghera and Londonderry. It divided the Civil Rights movement and weakened the Derry Citizens' Action Committee. We are driven to think that the leaders must have intended that their venture would weaken the moderate reforming forces in Northern Ireland. We think that their object was to create tension so that in the process a more radical programme could be realised. They saw the march as a calculated martyrdom.'[43]
Reaction to the Burtollet ambush was immediate. John Hume, for the Derry Citizens' Action Committee announced:
'The pre-Christmas truce which we voluntarily imposed may now be considered at an end. There will certainly be a return to militant action. To this we are totally committed.'
The Prime Minister condemned the march as 'a foolhardy and irresponsible undertaking' and advised students 'to return to their books.' In an interview given to Karl E Meyer of the Washington Post he demonstrated his concern with the PD:
'. . . We've always had extreme Protestants and extreme Irish Republicans - the anarchchists and Trotskyites among the students are something new. About 95 per cent or even 99 per cent of the students don't want violence, but a small minority doesn't care. These radicals are quite distinct from the leaders of the civil rights marches in Londonderry. In fact, up there they drove the anarchists out of the movement.'
It is much too soon after the event to make any definitive statements about the effects of the Burntollet march particularly since the situation has been conforming to a sort of inexorable logic of violence and counter-violence. Certain cautious comments can be made.

The Prime Minister was correct in fearing the influence of PD since it had demonstrated that it was interested in weakening his position:

'All were going for at least one common reason: a reaction against the evasive platitudes with which O'Neill and his men tried to pass the can for his own misdeeds . . . in marching we felt that we were pushing a structure (that contained the seeds of great violence among other things) towards a point where its internal proceedings would cause a snapping and a breaking to begin.'[44]
In short some PD members were now seeing their task as the destruction of the State, no matter what the consequences. The Long March' began the long march from the policy of persuasion to that of polarization. This method of attack was built by New Left radicals in the United States:
'Their answer to the government-by-consensus that is becoming universal in the advanced countries has been to polarize opinion: not for them the dialogue leading to co-optation that distinguished their predecessors, but the solidarity of those alienated from the system and all its works.'[43]
Millenarianism had arrived and while it might be some time before it asserted itself in PD it was clear that reformist politics were on the way out. This is a phenomenon which has been noted by at least one academic observer of the student movement:
'What starts as a limited protest against some isolated issue may easily turn into a sustained movement, with concerns extending to the broader society. The leadership of the student movement is notably fluid, and it is very possible for a norm-oriented leadership to be supplanted by students interested in capitalising on a particular movement for their broader political purposes.'[46]
Within PD it created an elite of marchers; those who had gone to Derry were conscious of the solidarity and camaraderie which had grown up among them. Kevin Boyle noted this point: 'In a sense those who had taken part in the march regarded themselves as PD, and those who didn't weren't. Certainly afterwards the meetings were smaller.'[47] Michael Farrell read wider implications into the success' of the march: 'It gave students - red flag flyers - credibility with the working class and peasantry. This has not been seen anywhere else in Europe.'[48] (This view would very probably be disputed by the students of Nantes for example, who had a very successful, if short-lived, alliance with peasants and industrial workers.)[49]

What the student marchers seemingly were not capable of was self-criticism. They accepted the accolades heaped on them when they refused to be provoked into reacting violently; they accepted that the march had split PD somewhat, but what remained was the elite of the movement; they accepted that it 'established in people's minds the separate identity of PD as the most extreme of civil rights groups,'[50] and they accepted that Kevin Boyle and Michael Farrell were elected to the NICRA executive in February largely as a result of the publicity won on that march.

But no one stopped to ask what effect it had on Protestant opinion. An Australian observer has noted that 'arrogant' invasion of enemy territory 'has often been the flashpoint of the religious riots which have punctuated Ulster's short but stormy history.'[51] The 'Long March' was seen by many Protestants as a series of arrogant invasions of their territory; the ambush at Burntollet bridge was their answer to it.

Nor did anyone wonder if it would have a debilitating effect on the civil rights campaign. Michael Farrell, in a characteristic blanket statement, thought the contrary: Without this resumption there would have been no "one man, one vote" and no Cameron Report.'[53]

The charge of 'calculated martyrdom' made by Cameron is one which John Hume accepted:

'I would think that the leaders of the march calculated it and knew what would happen. Anyone with any experience of Northern Ireland politics knew it would happen. It was a calculated move by the leaders . . . As a result of the Burntollet march Farrell became a national leader.'[53]
While subsequent actions and writings of a few of the leaders bore this point out we must not extend the criticism beyond a few people. Account must be taken of the genuine political innocence of many of those involved in the march. Even those who had had political experience before October 1968 had been limited to protests over, say, Vietnam or Czechslovakia, 'safe' issues in Belfast. They made the further mistake of believing that if they stated that they were non-sectarian and non-violent enough times they would persuade the wider world to accept them and even adopt their tactics.

In brief, then, the 'long march' illustrated a number of points. It may have widened the sectarian divide - the intemperate reactions of two moderate leaders, John Hume and Captain O'Neill, is one slight example of the polarization in the community - although any coming together of the two communities had been very tenuous indeed. It established PD's separate existence within the civil rights movement, giving it a sense of self-importance and helping to create a division between itself and the more moderate groups. Within PD it created a left-wing elite which may have alienated more moderate students. Finally it weakened O'Neill's position. His advice to students to return to their books cannot have won him any Catholic votes in the general election in February, and the defiance of authority in Derry following the Burntollet ambush strengthened the hand of his right-wing opponents in the party.

John Hume's promise that there would be a return to militant action on the streets manifested itself in Newry on the following Saturday, January 11, 1969. The local branch of PD - it had had virtually no contact with the parent body since its formation on November 9, 1968 - decided in December to hold a march in the town some time in January, but since there was a lack of public support the committee called off the march on December 30. The ambush at Burntollet heightened public feeling and a decision was quickly taken to organise a march. 'They had decided to hold Saturday's march to capitalize on the emotions engendered by Burntollet and to express disgust with Captain O'Neill's speech,' said T Keane, chairman of Newry PD.

The civil rights movement wanted to demonstrate that marches could proceed without attracting violence, and PD in Belfast had a vested interest in ensuring that the demonstration passed off peacefully. Kevin Boyle thought that Newry would be more important than the 'Long March.' 'Was PD to expand through the branches? Newry would provide the answer.'[54] The damage done in Newry illustrated that the emotions of Burntollet could not be channelled in a non-violent direction. Seven police wagons were destroyed; eighteen people - including ten policemen - were injured; and twenty-four, most of them PD supporters, were arrested.

The Civil Rights movement suffered a temporary set-back and PD took much of the blame with the result that a local branch of the NICRA was set up in its place. The violence was a useful propaganda victory for the Government:

'.... their aim now appears to be the creation of civic strife in an attempt to disrupt the harmonious relationships which have grown up among all sections of the community in recent years.'[55]
PD could readily dismiss Unionist opinion, but had to take account of civil rights opinion. Local people objected to the diversionary tactic of Michael Farrell and twelve others when they occupied Newry General Post Office. At a public meeting in the Town Hall on January 15, 'members of the audience were sharp in criticism of the occupation of the GPO, which they felt could have led to violence, which was in direct conflict with the Civil Rights movement.' Cyril Toman's diversionary actions were even more ludicrous. He attempted to organise local teenagers into a 'People's Army.' It was this type of tactic which led Fergus Pyle to sum up the feelings of many towards PD:
'In the first confused reaction on Saturday night a man from the Omagh CR group said: "This proves that we must cut loose from the PD." His main fear was that its form of organisation laid it open to "infiltration, abuse and demagoguery."'
Yet, certainly in the short-term, PD's popularity did not seem to suffer, and the General Election of February 24, 1969, confirmed its acceptability among a section of the Catholic population. One reason could have been that it realised the futility of marching duing that tense period. Kevin Boyle made the point at a meeting in Dublin: 'By Civil Rights marches we have heightened the risk of sectarian conflict and polarised the community. Marches have become counter-productive and are in danger of becoming redundant.' Thus PD favoured the postponement of a NICRA march in Strabane on January 18 and agreed to hold a teach-in at the University with a group from Oxford rather than risk a march through Belfast on January 25. To replace marches it announced a shift in tactics towards a campaign of civil disobedience.

The General Election February 1969

Following the reaction to the 'Long March' the Prime Minister's position was becoming increasingly untenable, particularly within his own party. In response to growing Catholic agitation Capt O'Neill announced the setting up of the Cameron Commission to inquire into the reasons for the civil disturbances. This displeased his own right-wingers, and on January 23 Brian Faulkner, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce, resigned. Two days later William Morgan, Minister of Health and Social Services, followed Faulkner's example. Finally thirteen Unionist backbenchers met in Portadown to publicize their grievances with O'Neill. He replied by calling a General Election for February 24.

PD decided to contest the election. Once again, however, the first meeting to discuss the issue decided that the group should not become a parliamentary party. The decision was reversed at a later meeting when the pro-election caucus presented the meeting with a fait accompli, that is, it had drawn up an electoral strategy, had decided its candidates and what constituencies to contest and had produced a manifesto. It entered the campaign full of amateur enthusiasm, but uncertain of financial support. (It was the responsibility of each candidate to raise his own deposit and expenses, though it seems that some money came from a group of PD supporters in London.) Initially twelve candidates had been chosen, but only eight stood. Six of these were recent graduates, most of them ex-members of the Labour Group, [56] one, Bernadette Devlin, an undergraduate, and one, Mr E Weigleb, who stood in Cromac, a salesman. They contested six Unionist-held seats,[57] and two Nationalist-held seats,[58] in three cases being the only opponents to the member in the last Parliament,[59] and in five they were taking part in a three-way fight.[60]

The endorsement of the candidate in Cromac is an example of an essentially student movement attempting to establish links with the working-class. Few of PD's active supporters knew the candidate personally but supported his nomination simply because he had come along to the meeting and indicated his willingness to stand. During the campaign he received very little help form the students and was the only candidate to lose his deposit. Kevin Boyle summed up PD confusion on this point:

'We were so ignorant of the situation that we didn't know there was a Labour candidate in Cromac. My girl-friend was shanghaied into acting as Weigleb's election agent . . . We half-heartedly went on with it.'[61]
PD saw the election as a 'non-event', an attempt to decide 'whether sectarianism is to be polite and covert - the O'Neill approach - or paraded as something to be proud of, the approach of his so-called right wing colleagues.' It chose to fight 'traditionally uncontested Unionist and Nationalist seats in the main, not on the basis that they will most easily assure our election but on the argument that our policy is right for all and not for the ears of one particular group. In these constituencies we intend to provide for the first time to the mass of the people real policy and real choices.' [62]

Although PD's manifesto[63] was fairly predictable in that it reiterated its familiar civil rights demands, it went beyond these to make some radical suggestions. Among other things it demanded state investment in building new factories which would be run by the workers; the expropriation of large estates to be replaced by small farmers's co-operatives; and a comprehensive integrated educational system. Within such a conservative society these demands were radical indeed and were an indication of the success of the former Labour Group left-wing activists in imposing their will upon PD.

This is particularly clear if one examines PD's housing policy in the manifesto. Back in October 1968, the demand had been for 'One Family, One House - and that a decent house - and all houses allocated by a fair points system.' Now that was a policy which the Catholic working class would support, simply because it believed that housing was allocated on political and religious lines and that it was the minority who suffered most by this policy. By February 1969, however, this vague slogan had been transformed into the demand for:

'The declaration of a housing emergency and the diverting of financial and physical resources to a crash house-building programme and away from unnecessary or prestige building. All vacant housing accommodation must be requisitioned, the Housing Trust debts to the Central Banks must be cancelled.'[64]
Clearly, those people who had actively supported PD's civil rights demands in late 1968 could not be expected to go along with the above unless they accepted socialism. Most of them did not and consequently PD was a much smaller group. It would be wrong to say that PD was now under the thumb of the radical New Left, if only because the whole movement had moved in this direction.

However, one should avoid the pitfall of emphasising the radicalism of the manifesto. Certainly, PD played down its more radical aspects. Kevin Boyle felt that the demands for workers' control in industry was not necessarily revolutionary, although it was socialist, and, on the same point, Vincent McCormack, PD's election co-ordinator, wrote: 'This is not such a radical proposal as the national executive of the British Labour Party has endorsed a policy statement on democratisation of industry.' Again, one journalist asked Michael Farrell would he call himself a Marxist. 'His answer was a qualified one, saying that there were good and bad elements in Marxism. "Anyway," he added, "you cannot give a blanket endorsement to the ideas of any dead man.".'[65]

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of PD's campaign was the fact that it was run on orthodox lines - door to door canvassing, street meetings, literature, posters and pamphlets. But there were some strains of the radical and the unorthodox in PD's electioneering. For example, at a 'Peoples Convention'[66] held in Omagh on February 13, PD's nominee for West Tyrone, Peter Cush, stood down in favour of a local man, Dr Aidan Lagan.[67] Nor was it orthodox for candidates with a Catholic background to campaign on 'Loyalist' territory as did most PD candidates.

Before we analyse the election results it is as well to understand PD's election strategy. In the words of its chief ideologue, Michael Farrell:

'The contribution of the PD throughout the campaign was both to expose the confidence trick of O'Neillism and to continually drive home the message that there should be no compromise with the Unionist regime and no let up in the CR campaign without the total dismantling of the whole apparatus of discrimination, gerrymandering and repression. At the same time the PD warned clearly that such measures would expose the Protestant working class to the North's economic depression and split the Orange alliance wide open. Even at this stage the PD candidates argued that the only real solution to the Northern problem was the creation of an Irish Socialist Republic.'[68]
At first glance PD's success was unexpected and impressive but it must not be examined in isolation. Its eight candidates took 23,000 votes, 4.23 per cent of the total vote.[69] running pro-O'Neill candidates into third place in Mid-Armagh and Enniskillen, and depriving Capt O'Neill of an absolute majority vote in Bannside; and in South Down its candidate, Fergus Woods, was within 220 votes of victory against the sitting Nationalist, E Keogh. There is no strong evidence to suggest, however, that it persuaded people to vote across the traditional divide. In South Derry, for example, Bernadette Devlin polled almost the same vote as the Nationalist candidate in the 1949 election - that was the last time the seat was contested. Nor does Miss Devlin's claim - '. . . mainly thanks to us, the Nationalists lost three of the nine seats they held in Stormont'[70] stand up to the light of examination. These three seats were won by Independent civil rights candidates.[71]

Rather the voting indicates a shift in traditional Catholic voting attitudes. The success of the three Independent candidates was largely a note of endorsement of civil rights policies. All three had been very actively involved in the campaign from October onwards, whereas the Nationalists had been slow to see the potential in the civil rights campaign. John Hume's victory in Derry is especially instructive since he defeated the sitting member, E McAteer, Leader of the Nationalist Party, and Eamonn McCann. The latter candidate had been even more active than Mr Hume but his socialist policies proved too radical for the Catholic working class in Derry and he lost his deposit.

The Catholic voter demonstrated that he was prepared to vote for civil rights activists first rather than revolutionaries. PD received its large vote because it had proved itself, particularly at Burntollet, as the ginger group of the civil rights movement and not as revolutionary socialists. PD's attempt at continuing its demolition job on O'Neillism was only marginal. Granted that Michael Farrell's intervention in Bannside led to a damaging loss of prestige for O'Neill, but, whether Michael Farrell liked it or not, the real election battle was within the Unionist Party. Captain O'Neill failed because he did not purge the party of anti-O'Neill candidates. If one accepts PD's logic it was in its interests to inflict serious wounds on all Unionists and quite obviously it did not manage to do this in any case.

Given its lack of interest in gaining parliamentary seats, PD's real success lay in the fact that it extended its scope outside the University. The first excursion out of Queen's into Newry had broken down with the damaging march of January 11. Following the success of the general election, PD was able to set up branches in Armagh, Fermanagh, Toomebridge, Dunloy, South Derry, Newry and Cromac. Some of these were to be short-lived but at last PD seemed to have broken away from the University mentality. This had occurred fortuitously because the various candidates could not rely on student help. 'We received no support from anyone else at Queen's . . . we were forced towards the local population. They became our source of reference.'[72] Another candidate soon realized that he would have to look to the local population for support: 'My election workers were nearly all local people. PD supplied me with printed material only. One local man bought me a public address system. Local women collected for me.'[73]

A further two points strike the observer as being worthy of examination. Why did Eamonn McCann stand in Foyle as a NILP representative rather than a PD candidate? Secondly, why did PD receive so little help from the student body? To deal with the latter point firstly: we are faced with the problem that an organisation which had been able to bring 3,000 students on to the streets five months previously could not get enough undergraduate support to campaign in eight constituencies.

Undoubtedly there was dissension within PD[74] when the decision was taken to contest the election. One member, John McGuffin, who objected to fighting elections on principled grounds, made no secret of his annoyance: 'It was hypocritical to fight it. It was voted down at the PD but later a small meeting was held and the real activists managed to swing it narrowly.'[75] Yet McGuffin accepted the logic of the situation which was, that since it was the activists who decided to fight the election, they had the right to go ahead: 'It didn't shame my sense of democracy.' This attitude of mind aptly sums up the reasons for the diminution in numbers in PD. Those, the New Left, who were frenetically active, had a distinct political ideology which acted as a motivating force. Those whose liberal conscience had been shocked at police brutality in Derry on October 5, 1968, did not have the staying power nor the desire to fight left-wing activity. They started to drift away following the November reform package and because they were more concerned at passing examinations than in becoming politicians, and because they disagreed with the late decision to march to Derry. Ultra-democracy could only work where there was unanimity.

One cannot explain Eamonn McCann's candidature so easily because it raises problems of a personality clash. The Cameron Report assumes that PD and McCann were part of the same movement. If one were to examine and compare his election manifesto with that of PD's one would be forced to the same conclusion. Similarly we find that McCann involved himself in all of PD's major demonstrations and spoke at a PD meeting as early as November 6, 1968. But it would be more correct to speak of the 'PD-McCann axis.[76]

We have here two inter-related problems, one of geography and the other of personality. Eamonn McCann's political base was in Derry, and his political home was in the NILP - the Derry branch of the NILP, which was much more unorthodox and radical than the NILP generally. In the space of a few years he had built up considerable support among young Derry radicals and he was not prepared to submerge that in PD. Nor was he prepared to allow PE to establish a branch in Derry, a point he admitted frankly in interview, and a point which Cyril Toman made in a letter to the Irish Times.

'In spite of visits by several PD members to Derry, Eamonn McCann refused to join any other organisation than NILP and used his undeniable influence to dissuade others from setting up a PD branch in the city.'
While it may seem a trivial point we will discover that personality clashes were to be a recurring theme in PD's short history.

Even allowing for the temporary set-back of Newry on January 11, PD enjoyed its greatest success in the months of January and February 1969. It had reached the apex in the curve of the five-stage cycle of radical movements, the stage of institutionalization. As far as can be ascertained it is the only student movement in the Western liberal-democratic countries which has tested its popularity at the polls in a national election. 23,000 votes may not have won it any seats but it allowed it to extend its influence and it was concrete evidence that it should be taken seriously.

'Success for the movement during this stage can also be seen in the legislative arena, where repressive legislation is being increasingly accompanied by ameliorative legislation aimed at some of the criticisms which the movement is making.[77]

The setting up of the Cameron Commission on January 15 was seen by right-wing Unionists as a betrayal since it was a concession to anti-unionist activists who were either Republicans or Marxists. The introduction of the Public Order (Amendment) Bill[78] on January 28 was seen by these same activists as the first of a series of pieces of repressive legislation. While it is true that both these measures were aimed at containing civil rights agitation generally, it could be argued that the Prime Minister would not have created the former, and introduced the latter had there not been a 'Long March' with its ambush at Burntollet. Any measure aimed at the Civil Rights movement was of necessity aimed at its militant off-shoot, the People's Democracy.

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