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Discrimination - Chronology of Important Events



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Text: Martin Melaugh ... Research: Martin Melaugh and Fionnuala McKenna
Material is added to this site on a regular basis - information on this page may change

The following is a draft version.

Chronology

1964
Campaign for Social Justice (CSJ) formed. The CSJ was the forerunner of the civil rights movement and it began a programme of publicising what it saw as widespread discrimination, in a number of areas of life, against Catholics in Northern Ireland.

1 February 1967
The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) was formed. The Civil Rights Movement called for a number of reforms one of which was for 'one man, one vote', that is, a universal franchise for local government elections. At the time only rate-payers were entitled to votes, and there were other anomalies to do with additional votes for companies. The association also pressed for the end to gerrymandering of electoral boundaries. Other reforms pressed for included: the end to perceived discrimination in the allocation of public sector housing and appointments to, particularly, public sector employment; the repeal of the Special Powers Act; and the disbandment of the 'B-Specials' (Ulster Special Constabulary) which was a paramilitary style reserve police force which was entirely Protestant in its makeup.

November 1967
The Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) was formed.

Thursday 20 June 1968
The Caledon Protest
Austin Currie, then Nationalist Member of Parliament (MP) at Stormont, and a number of others, began a protest about discrimination in the allocation of housing by 'squating' (illegally occupying) in a house in Caledon, County Tyrone. The house had been allocated by Dungannon Rural District Council to a 19 year-old unmarried Protestant woman, Emily Beatty, who was the secretary of a local Unionist politician. Emily Beatty was given the house ahead of older married Catholic families with children. The protesters were evicted by members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) among whose members was Emily Beatty's brother.

Thursday 22 August 1968
Society of Labour Lawyers publish a document about alleged discrimination in Northern Ireland.

Saturday 24 August 1968
First Civil Rights March
The Campaign for Social Justice (CSJ), the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), and a number of other groups, held the first 'civil rights march' in Northern Ireland from Coalisland to Dungannon. Loyalists organised a counter demonstration in an effort to get the march banned (a tactic that was to be used throughout the period of 'the Troubles') and in fact the planned rally was banned. Despite this the march passed off without incident. The publicity surrounding the march acted as encouragement to other protesting groups to form branches of the NICRA.

Saturday 31 August 1968
A delegation from the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) met with members of the Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) to discuss a proposed civil rights march. An Ad-hoc Civil Rights Committee was established to organise the march on Saturday 5 October 1968.

Saturday 5 October 1968
Civil Rights March in Derry
[Considered by many as the start date of the current 'Troubles']
A civil rights march in Derry, which had been organised by members of the Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) and supported by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), was stopped by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) before it had properly begun. The marchers had proposed to walk from Duke Street in the Waterside area of Derry to the Diamond in the centre of the City. Present at the march were three British Labour Party Members of Parliament (MP), Gerry Fitt, then Republican Labour MP, several Stormont MPs, and members of the media including a television crew from RTE. Estimates of the number of people taking part in the march differ. Eamonn McCann (one of the organisers of the march) estimated that about 400 people lined up on the street with a further 200 watching from the pavements. The RUC broke-up the march by baton-charging the crowd and leaving many people injured including a number of MPs. The incidents were filmed and there was world-wide television coverage. The incidents in Derry had a profound effect on many people around the world but particularly on the Catholic population of Northern Ireland. Immediately after the march there were two days of serious rioting in Derry between the Catholic residents of the city and the RUC.

Friday 8 November 1968
Londonderry Corporation agreed to a Nationalist request to introduce a points system in the allocation of public sector housing.

Friday 22 November 1968
Terence O'Neill, then Northern Ireland Prime Minister, announced a package of reform measures which had resulted from meetings in London with Harold Wilson, then British Prime Minister, and James Callaghan, then British Home Secretary. The five point reform plan included:

  • a nine member 'Development Commission' to take over the powers of the Londonderry Corporation;
  • an ombudsman to investigate complaints against government departments;
  • the allocation of houses by local authorities to be based on need;
  • the Special Powers Act to be abolished as it was safe to do so; and
  • some reform of the local government franchise (the end of the company votes).

    Wednesday 15 January 1969
    Terence O'Neill, then Northern Ireland Prime Minister, announced the setting up of an official inquiry into the disturbances in Derry and elsewhere. The inquiry, under the chairmanship of Lord Cameron, a Scottish judge, was to look into the causes of the civil unrest.

    Tuesday 11 March 1969
    The Parliamentary Commissioner Bill was introduced which would allow for the appointment of an Ombudsman to investigate complaints against Stormont government departments.

    Wednesday 23 April 1969
    The Unionist Parliamentary Party voted by 28 to 22 to introduce universal adult suffrage in local government elections in Northern Ireland. The demand for 'one man, one vote' had been one of the most powerful slogans of the civil rights movement. James Chichester-Clarke, then Minister of Agriculture, resigned in protest at the reform.

    Tuesday 26 August 1969
    The Hunt Committee was appointed to consider the structure of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the 'B-Specials' (Ulster Special Constabulary, USC).

    Wednesday 27 August 1969
    James Callaghan, then British Home Secretary, visited Belfast and Derry for talks with the Unionist government and others. The Stormont government announced the establishment of an inquiry, to be chaired by Justice Scarman, into the circumstances of the riots during the year.

    Friday 29 August 1969
    Following the visit to Northern Ireland by James Callaghan, then British Home Secretary, a communiqué on behalf of the Stormont and British governments was released. This communiqué set out a number of further reforms mainly in the area of government administration.

    Friday 12 September 1969
    The Cameron Report (Cmd 532) into disturbances in Northern Ireland was published.

    Thursday 9 October 1969
    James Callaghan, then British Home Secretary, made a second visit to Northern Ireland between 9 and 10 October 1969. Following meetings between Callaghan and the Stormont government, plans for further reforms were agreed in a communiqué. The matters covered included: the establishment of a central housing authority; reforms to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, in light of the Hunt Report; reforms to the legal system; and the issue of fair employment.

    Friday 10 October 1969
    The Hunt Report was published. The Report recommends that: the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) should become an unarmed force; the Ulster Special Constabulary (the 'B Specials') should be disbanded; a new RUC Reserve should be set up; and a new locally recruited part-time force should be established under the control of the British Army [this force was to become the Ulster Defence Regiment, UDR].

    Tuesday 25 November 1969
    The Commissioner for Complaints Act (Northern Ireland) became law. The act allowed for the establishment of a Commissioner to deal with complaints against local councils and public bodies.

    Tuesday 25 November 1969
    The Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) became law. The main provision of the act was to make the franchise in local government elections in Northern Ireland the same as that in Britain.

    Thursday 27 November 1969
    A Commissioner for Complaints, John Benn, was appointed to deal with matters related to local government and public bodies.

    Friday 29 May 1970
    The Macrory Report Review Body on Local Government in Northern Ireland (Cmd 546) dealing with local government structures was published. The main recommendation is the abolition of the old structure of local government and its replacement with 26 new district councils. The new system would also involve the creation of area boards to manage the health, education, and library services in Northern Ireland. It was envisaged that the control of the new system would rest with the Northern Ireland government. [Following the introduction of direct rule on 30 March 1972 much of the control of the main services passed effectively to Westminster. Elected councillors only had responsibility for a number of matters including refuse collection, public conveniences, crematoria and cemeteries ('bins, bogs and burials' as it was termed in Northern Ireland). The term 'the Macrory Gap was coined to highlight the lack of local accountability on the part of those controlling the centralised services.]

    Thursday 2 July 1970
    The Prevention of Incitement to Hatred Act became law.

    Thursday 25 February 1971
    The Housing Executive (Northern Ireland) Act became law. The Act provided for the establishment for a central authority for public sector housing in Northern Ireland and to also oversee the provision of grants for improvement to the private sector.

    Tuesday 23 March 1971
    The Local Government Boundaries (Northern Ireland) Act became law. The Act provided for the appointment of a Boundaries Commissioner to recommend the boundaries and names of district council and ward areas.

    Thursday 30 March 1972
    The legislation which introduced direct rule, the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act, was passed at Westminster.

    Thursday 6 April 1972
    The Scarman Tribunal Report (Cmd. 566) was published. The report was into the causes of violence during the summer of 1969. The report found that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) had been seriously at fault on a number of occasions.

    Monday 5 May 1975
    The Fair Employment (NI) Bill was introduced to the House of Lords. [The resulting Fair Employment Act came into effect on 1 December 1976.]

    Wednesday 1 December 1976
    The Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act came into effect. The Act was introduced to give effect to the anti-discrimination provisions contained in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. The Fair Employment Act established the Fair Employment Agency (FEA) which had two main functions: (i) the elimination of unlawful discrimination on the grounds of religious belief or political opinion, and (ii) the promotion of equality through 'affirmative action'. [The Act proved not to be strong enough and further legislation was introduced. A Command Paper was published in May 1988 entitled Fair Employment in Northern Ireland, and this was followed by the Fair Employment Act in 1989. Further information can be found at the Fair Employment Commission for Northern Ireland web site. {external link}]

    October 1987
    Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, Religious and political discrimination and equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland: report on fair employment, (Cm; 237) was published.

    Tuesday 15 September 1987
    The Northern Ireland Office publishes Religious Equality of Opportunity in Employment: An Employers' Guide to Fair Employment.

    May 1988
    The Northern Ireland Office published Fair employment in Northern Ireland, (Cm. 380).

    Thursday 15 December 1988
    A new Fair Employment Bill for Northern Ireland was introduced. [Fair Employment Commission part of the legislation.]


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