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The Derry March - Summary of Main Events

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Text and Research: Martin Melaugh
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Summary of Main Events


    Derry was the crucible of the civil rights movement. It was of enormous symbolic importance as the second city of Northern Ireland,… the town in which a Nationalist majority was denied control of local government by a particularly flagrant gerrymander of the electoral boundaries. It was in Derry on 5 October 1968 that Northern Ireland crossed its Rubicon,… The events of August 1969 in Derry brought Northern Ireland close to civil war and the killing of thirteen anti-internment demonstrators in the city on 30 January 1972 precipitated the imposition of direct rule and the end of the Stormont parliament.
    Bob Purdie (1990) Politics in the Streets. Belfast: The Blackstaff Press. (p.159)

    The police handling of the demonstration in Londonderry on 5 October 1968 was in certain material respects ill co-ordinated and inept. There was use of unnecessary and ill controlled force in the dispersal of the demonstrators, only a minority of whom acted in a disorderly and violent manner. The wide publicity given by press, radio and television to particular episodes inflamed and exacerbated feelings of resentment against the police which had been already aroused by their enforcement of the ministerial ban (paragraphs l68 - l7 1).
    Cameron Report. Disturbances in Northern Ireland. September 1969. (Cmd 532) (Summary of Conclusions; paragraph 14)

    We had no doubt that 5 October was going to be a very significant day. (After the meeting at which the CRA [Civil Rights Association] had accepted our route Melaugh had remarked: 'Well, that's it. Stormont is finished.') For six months we had been making steady and seemingly inexorable progress. We began as a small, disparate group and by simple direct action tactics we had month by month accumulated support. ... Now we were in control of an event which was seriously perturbing the government and exciting concerned editorials in the Belfast papers.
    Eamonn McCann (1993) War and an Irish Town. London: Pluto Press. (p.95)

The Civil Rights march in Derry on 5 October 1968 was organised to draw attention to a series of grievances over issues related to housing, employment and electoral practices in the city. The driving force behind the idea for the march was a group of left-wing radicals who, through the Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) and other organisations, had been taking non-violent direct action to try and improve conditions in the area. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) was contacted and following a meeting the NICRA decided to support the proposed march. When the march was publicised Loyalists announced that they were holding an 'annual' parade on the same day, at the same time, and over the same route. The Stormont government then issued a banning order on all marches and parades. When the demonstration went ahead the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) blocked the route of the march and then baton charged the crowd. The scenes were recorded by television cameras and the subsequent news coverage sparked rioting in Derry. Most commentators consider the 5 October 1968 to be the start date of 'the Troubles'.


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