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Discrimination - Summary



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Text and Research: Martin Melaugh
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Summary

Allegations about discrimination against individual Catholics, and the Catholic community as a whole, were the key driving force of the Civil Rights movement in Northern Ireland. Throughout the whole period of Unionist rule at Stormont there had been complaints that Catholics were being discriminated against in relation to electoral practices, public and private employment, public housing, regional policy, and policing. However, the issue of discrimination was to receive sustained attention when the Campaign for Social Justice (CSJ) (which foreshadowed the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association; NICRA) began to systematically document the allegations and tried to bring them to the attention of audiences outside of the region.

It was the lack of jobs and houses in Derry, and the allegations of discrimination and mismanagement by the Unionist Corporation, which galvanised support for the Derry march on 5 October 1968. The reaction of the Unionist government and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) to this event, and to the civil rights movement in general, was to lead to 30 years of conflict.

Some of the matters about which there were allegations of discrimination were the subject of reform in the late 1960s and early 1970s, for example changes to the law governing local government elections. These reforms ended the potential for mispractice. In a number of other areas reforms were to be more difficult and expensive to implement. Millions of pounds had to be spent to improve and increase the housing stock, particular public sector housing, before this issue was to almost entirely disappear from the political agenda.

A debate about the nature and extent of discrimination has been going on for many years. There are many in the Unionist community who maintain that there was no systematic overt discrimination against Catholics and any observed differences between the two communities were the result of structural factors such as geographical concentration. An example of this debate was found in the pages of the British Journal of Sociology.


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