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)

[Key_Events] Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
PD MARCH: [Menu] [Reading] [Summary] [Background] [Chronology] ['Burntollet']

Text: Paul Arthur ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
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2: March 1969 - September 1969. In Search of a Role

The 'Long March' and the February election proved to be a watershed in PD's development. As a group it was never again to win so much popular support, and as a ginger group within the Civil Rights movement its influence was to wane. Its fundamental strategic problem had already been acknowledged by one commentator:

'. . . it is torn by the same doubts as the Student Movement - whether to remain a pressure group with Anarchist overtones, or try to work through conventional political machinery.'[1]
PD's strategy was to change. It still believed in the politics of the streets - the 23,000 votes won by its eight candidates had been construed as a mandate to pursue its policy of harassing the Government by a programme of marches and demonstrations. But community divisions had hardened - in some measure due to the activities of PD - and demonstrations were becoming a dangerous exercise. Much of its student support had disappeared, and it had failed to put down roots in any urban or rural area with the exception of Armagh and Fermanagh. Thus it was desirable to concentrate its activities outside Belfast.

One of the reasons for this change in strategy may have been helped by the increasing attention paid to Irish politics by various left-wing groups in Britain. To appreciate this shift in attitudes we must return to the events of early January 1969.

As a result of the Burntollet ambush Derry erupted in violence on January 4: 'The day ended in serious rioting. Shops and department stores were looted, windows smashed and gangs of police terrorised Bogside throughout the night.'[2] (As a result of allegations of police misconduct the Minister of Home Affairs announced on January 6 that County Inspector Henry Baillie had been appointed to conduct an enquiry into the incidents.)[3] The Bogside area of the city closed itself off to the RUC and called itself 'Free Derry.' A 'people's militia' of 500 male residents was formed and patrolled the area until the RUC returned on January 12. A radio transmitter was smuggled into the area by PD members, and Derry left-wingers launched Radio Free Derry, which broadcast traditional music and political statements while the barricades remained.[4]

For some, the barricades symbolised the first signs of the revolution to come. Eamonn McCann was to speak of Northern Ireland being 'in a pre-revolutionary situation.'[5] International, the organ of the International Marxist Group,[6]went so far as to claim in an editorial comment that 'Permanent Revolution Reaches UK in the form of the young street fighters of Derry.'[7]

In a special paper the Revolutionary Socialist Students' Federation attempted a Marxist analysis of the Irish situation and promised its support to PD:

'The importance and uniqueness of PD is that as a student organisation from the only non-sectarian institution in the country led by socialists it has combined the militancy to mobilise the Catholic working class, the principle of non-sectarianism and the example of bravery. Now its participation in the elections has given it a national presence and at the same time removed it from its university base.'[8]
A New Left Review editorial looked at the Irish situation with some envy:
'The struggle in Northern Ireland has attained a higher level than on the English mainland. The Left here has traditionally failed to win any important section of the working class to anti-imperialist positions, even where it is subjectively anti-capitalist. The situation in Northern Ireland highlights the urgency of doing so.'[9]
In the short-term the aspirations of Left-wing ideologues from Britain have not been realized, but their views are important in the development of PD for three reasons.

It reinforced the belief of the more optimistic socialists that, perhaps, Ireland was in a pre-revolutionary situation. (The importance of having an ideology should not be underestimated. 'The fact that student groups are able to fall back on ideology - usually some form of Marxism - makes it easier for such groups to survive periods of political quiescence.'[10] It gave them a sense of self-importance. For example, when one humble interviewer asked what English comrades could do to help the Irish situation, Michael Farrell told him bluntly: '. . . the best way English comrades can help the Irish revolution is by making the English revolution.[11]

Thirdly it left the PD open to charges of 'Reds' and 'Communists' and agents of international atheistic revolution.[12] The conspiracy theory did not help its cause among the Catholic working class, a factor it was to realise when it worked behind the barricades in 'Free Belfast' and when it tried to put down roots in the Catholic housing estate of Ballymurphy.

The March to Dublin April 1969.

In deciding to march to Dublin at Easter the organisers may have considered it an opportunity to pull the various left-wing strands together and thus demonstrate that the sects of the left could be united by the experience of direct action. (The 22 March Movement, which played a leading role in the struggles in France in May 1968, illustrated this type of solidarity: '. . they were an activist group containing every branch of political radicalism - anarchist, Marxist, Trotskyist, anarchist-Marxist - without compromising either their revolutionary efficacy or their individualistic this was so it appears to have been low on their list of priorities.

From its inception the New Left in PD had seen the Fianna Fail Government as a bête-noir. On November 2nd 1968, it had written to Mr. Jack Lynch 'deploring his attempt to make capital out of the civil rights issue in Northern Ireland by linking it with the question of partition.

Again, we have earlier evidence that Michael Farrell and Eamonn McCann were unwilling to accept the status quo in the Irish Republic.[14] The march was to begin in Belfast on Friday, April 4, under the banner of 'Civil Rights, North and South.' It attracted the support of about forty members of the RSSF[15] (John McGuffin had spoken at their conference in Manchester about three weeks previously)[16] about forty anarchists who had been advised by Freedom as early as March 8: 'See You At Easter ... Belfast Where It's All Happening'[17] some members of the Birmingham ad hoc Civil Rights organisation; representatives from a conglomeration of British Left-wing groups;[18] the Western Civil Rights Movement who were marching from Galway; and a number of socialist organisations in the South, some of whom had taken part in the 'Long March.'[19]

From the beginning the march ran into several difficulties. Mr Richard Ferguson MP, a moderate Unionist, and a group of 'prominent citizens' from Lisburn expressed their fears for community relations if the march went through the town. In the prevailing political atmosphere confrontation would have been dangerous. Capt O'Neill was fighting a losing battle to save his position, and it had been announced that the 'B' Specials were to be mobilised.[20] By April 3, PD decided, in the interests of peace, to begin its march in Newry, to hold a 'manifestation of personal discontent' at the City Hall, Belfast on April 4 and to have a demonstration in Lurgan on the same day. To ensure that this decision was carried out, the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Robert Porter, issued Orders at 2.00 a.m. on April 4 prohibiting any march by the PD from Belfast to Newry and also the holding of PD meetings in certain parts of Lurgan.

The 'manifestation' did not happen. Instead a meeting took place outside the City Hall attended by police and Paisleyites. It was in Lurgan that the only serious violence of the march erupted. 'Police waded into 150 PD marchers who sat down in Lurgan's Frances Street last night. Eighteen people, one of them a girl, were arrested. Twelve of these, a police spokesman said, were from "across the water." (The charges were for disorderly behaviour, assaulting the police and obstruction.) In Newry a fifteen minute sit-down passed off without incident.

It was a rather insignificant incident at the border which illustrated serious differences of opinion among the marchers. One of the organisers, Cyril Toman, challenged the Irish Republic's censorship laws by bringing with him two novels, The Ginger Man, and The Girl With Green Eyes, and presenting them at the customs post. (The former was not banned at that time in the South.) This action particularly annoyed some of the southern supporters, one of whom issued a press statement:

As co-ordinator of the Belfast to Dublin march and series of demonstrations of the PD, I, in common with the Young Socialists, Students for Democratic Action.[21] the Socialist Society TCD, and the Civil Liberties Association received an assurance from PD that they would not give prominence to the issues of birth control or censorship.

'We believed that any such action would be an adventurist attempt at breaking sectarianism by attacking areas of traditional Protestant prejudice. As a means of attaining this it cannot be successful . . Thus I would condemn as strongly as possible the adventurist gimmick of Cyril Toman in displaying two banned books at the border post on Saturday morning . . . Mr Toman's action was an anti-socialist one calculated to offend the republican socialist feelings of a large section of the Twenty-Six Counties.'[22]

The rest of the march was uneventful and badly organised, although a meeting in Dundalk had been carefully planned and meetings in Balbriggan and Swords were well attended. When the marchers arrived in Dublin on April 7, they were greeted by a crowd of 3,000 and another rebuff-four of the Galway marchers resigned and refused to have anything to do with the mass meeting in Dublin.
'We think PD are not interested in civil rights in the Republic but are here only for their own political ends.'
Further they objected to the organisation as a 'Conglomeration of all sorts' since it included British anarchists, communists and other bodies.

A march from the General Post Office to the Department of Justice led to the burning of copies of the Criminal Justice Bill and the Public Order (Amendment) Bill. Again there was some disagreement between PD and the southern groups. Michael Farrell failed to pacify the 800 dissidents who moved off to protest at the British Embassy in Merrion Square. There speakers 'claimed-and it was argued by Mr. Basil Miller, Mr. Paddy Wally, Mr. Rory Quinn, Mr. John Feeney and a number of others - that the main motive of the PD group was just to use their criticism of the South as a tactic to show the followers of Ian Paisley that they were not agents of the Government.'

At the end of the day five windows had been smashed, but PD's reputation had suffered a much more serious set back. Clearly it had alienated potential support among southern left-wingers, and generally it had received a bad matter of some concern to an organisation which realised the value of good publicity. The only exception appears to have been the Irish Times. A leader described it as: 'a useful exercise. It is a forcible reminder that to young people the border is more and more an irrelevancy . . . A united Ireland would bring much more of the aggressive thinking which these students typify into our political life, much more irreverence, and impatience, and hopefully with constructive results.

This view was to the satisfaction of PD: 'PD recognised no borders in the struggle against injustice and the march to Dublin under the slogan Civil Rights, North and South, drove that point home... PD did not expect to precipitate a revolution in the South. It did hope to arouse the anger of the working people against the exploitation of Green Tories as well as Orange ones, and against the fact that the 40,000 unemployed in the North were matched by the 60,000 in the South...'

Within PD there was a measure of disagreement as to its success. Cyril Toman was criticized for bad organisation.[24] One prominent member began to drift away from the group as a result. He saw it as 'a gimmick for Protestant support,' 'a fiasco' and it enabled people to think of PD as 'an eccentric bunch of students.[25] The anarchist, John McGuffin, felt that it was a useful exercise because it enabled British left-wingers to see the situation for themselves. As one of the two organisers he made the most out of the failings of the march since 'people found they could organise spontaneously in a short time.'[26]
On the whole anarchists were satisfied with the march if only because it gave them a greater insight into the host organisation.
'There are a lot of misconceptions about PD which is (in organisation) an open libertarian umbrella movement. It consists of many sections and is open to anyone who wishes to speak. Of course this means the rise of charismatic leaders, furthering their own factional ends. It is also evident that PD will only survive if the bulk of the people are aware of this problem and are determined to carry on their campaign of a non-factional basis with the use of free assemblies.'[27]
The relative failure of the Dublin march jolted PD's confidence, no matter what its official press statement might claim. It had expected to make a greater impact on public opinion and it did not expect the volume of hostile press comment which it received. The media were able to trivialise the march after Cyril Toman's juvenile protest at the border and left-wing activists in the Irish Republic felt that their task was being made more difficult by the incident. The bad organisation and the multifariousness of the organisations involved led to recrimination during the march. It is difficult to imagine how it increased support for PD in the North. Slogans such as 'Build Houses, Not Churches' can have impressed very few. Only the converted were assured.

The Mid- Ulster By-Election: Fragmentation Sets In

While PD was marching to Dublin, Miss Bernadette Devlin was campaigning in Mid-Ulster as a Unity candidate in a straight fight against the Unionist nominee, Mrs Anna Forrest. The march may have caused her some annoyance; she described it as 'a stupid mistake.' Certainly some of her more conservative advisers considered it to be badly timed. But there was no evidence at this stage that there was any split in PD concerning her nomination. Her manifesto was a duplicate of the PD February manifesto; her programme was 'an aggressively non-sectarian campaign speaking sometimes through hails of broken bottles and stones,' (for example in Moneymore she had to cancel a meeting after a mob stoned her platform; she promised to return the next day - she did, and held a peaceful meeting) her opponent linked her with PD, denouncing it as Communist or Republican.

Her brand of socialism, crude 'Connellyism' again was to the liking of PD:

'If necessary we will take over the factories for ourselves. That way there will be no discrimination because there is no sectarianism in the heart of the ordinary working man. That was put there by a bigoted Unionist party in order to keep itself in power.'
Some leading members of PD supported her by speaking on her behalf - Kevin Boyle and Bowes Egan in Omagh on April 7; Fergus Woods and Michael Farrell in Moneymore on April 10 and Strabane on April 12; Bowes Egan, Kevin Boyle and Michael Farrell at the eve-of-polling rally in Carrickmore on April 16. Her campaign was hectic - in the largst parliamentary constituency in Northern Ireland she spoke in sixteen places in ten days - and successful.[28]

Several questions pose themselves to the interested observer. How was it possible for a twenty-one year old undergraduate with only six months active political experience to capture a Westminster seat? The youngest MP to go to Westminster since Pitt in 1781 gives her own account[29] of how she managed to win the nomination and the election. What that account illustrated was the complexity of opposition politics. What the remainder of the book demonstrated was that Miss Devlin's charismatic personality made her very popular with the Catholic minority. She had demonstrated intelligence, courage, debating ability and a rebellious spirit. But the fact that she had won the Unity nomination owed itself to something more than her personal qualities. The one commentator who comes closest to describing the reason is J Bowyer Bell:

'Very young, very sincere, widely out of touch with the tradition-encrusted electorate, she was accepted by the Republicans because she did not look like a stayer in Mid-Ulster politics, backed by the civil rights movement because she symbolized all the idealism of the young and endorsed by Austin Currie because he had no choice . . . Whatever Bernadette Devlin was for, Mid-Ulster knew what to vote against - and the Unionists lost a seat. With Devlin at Westminster, the Republicans scraped through.'[30]
The choice of the mid-Ulster constituency to fight her first Westminster election must also have helped Miss Devlin. Mid-Ulster had a Republican tradition, a tradition which had been highlighted in the General Election of 1955 - (in that year Tom Mitchell, a Republican who preached a policy of absention from Westminster, defeated his Unionist opponent. However he was prevented from claiming his seat because he was a convicted felon, and a re-election was ordered. Again he stood and again he won and again a further re-election was ordered. On the third occasion Republican abstentions enabled the Unionists to win.) - and Miss Devlin faced an indifferent opponent in Mrs Anna Forrest (Unionist).

Yet much had been made of her radical socialism:

'Miss Devlin is a Socialist and preaches the Irish rebel leader James Connolly's Utopia of an Irish Workers' Republic. This, combined with her youth, may well alienate the Catholic middle class.'
She herself refused to fight as what she wryly called a 'pan-papist candidate.' She tells us:
'I'd fought the election honestly on the non-sectarian radical socialist policies I believed in. I was quite sure I'd alienate more Catholic Tory votes than I could make up for by an honest vote.'[31]
Miss Devlin is guilty of a degree of self-deception in the above statement. While it is correct that her speeches were radical and that she relied on radical support from PD and individuals like Eamonn McCann, her platform party often included conservative Nationalists.[32] (It should be remembered that PD pilloried the Nationalist Party in the February elections because it epitomised the traditional political values of a united Ireland.) And in answer to the allegation that she was a Communist, Miss Devlin issued a statement (April 10):
'. . . As a practising member of the Roman Catholic Church I cannot accept the policies of the Communist Party which denies the existence of God and opposes the basic ideals of Christianity and the teaching of the Christian Church in which I believe.' If anyone again suggests that she is a Communist, 'I shall have no hesitation in consulting my solicitor, and if necessary, clear my name in open court.'[33]
Such a statement can have done her electoral prospects no great harm in Mid-Ulster.

After her election Miss Devlin appeared to move further away from the PD organisation - one must stress 'organisation' since she had contact with individuals in PD from time to time. This caused some resentment among PD stalwarts, though Miss Devlin explained her position thus:

'I felt personally justified in that I was not a member of Parliament for the People's Democracy nor was I anything particularly unique in the People's Democracy.'[34]
She believes that it is a mistake to see the by-election as a turning point in her relationship with PD.

Her fundamental criticism of PD at this stage was that it did not move out of the University mentality. She saw the February election as an attempt to commit the movement to the people and so justify itself as a 'people's' democracy rather than a 'student's' democracy. It was at that period that the break came, though she would not put it so strongly: 'It was a natural drift. I was virtually cut off in South Derry between the February election and the by-election in April.'[35] Nonetheless her nomination and campaign exacerbated her relationship with PD leaders. She has made it clear that she would have preferred Michael Farrell's nomination to her own, and that they discussed this problem at his home.[36] But she felt that she had been let down when she did stand:

'I was sour on the PD leadership because it was their idea that I should stand as an individual on a PD basis. I felt I was being sold out. Michael Farrell and Cyril Toman were caught between two stools. They personally thought it was a good idea but were not too sure PD would back it. They refused to help me actively.'[37]
Circumstances, too, played their role in preventing PD support. Most of the activists were committed to the Dublin march. Kevin Boyle could only give limited support because he had too much academic work to do. Others, like John McGuffin, had a principled objection to elections and, besides, he could not help because 'she didn't stand as a PD candidate and she was a pan-papist candidate.'[38] There is further, admittedly slender, evidence that these last complaints were voiced by more than John McGuffin. The fact remains that her two closest advisers during the campaign were Louden Seth, her election agent and Eamonn McCann, her Press officer. Neither of them had been closely involved in PD for some time.

PD's Campaign to Spread Its Influence

If the first three months of 1969 marked the apex of PD's influence on the community, April illustrated the beginnings of the downward curve. The Dublin march had brought its share of bad publicity and Bernadette Devlin's campaign had been a victory for her rather than a triumph for PD. However, the media had now turned their attention to the power struggle within the Unionist Party.

Law and order seemed to be breaking down and the Government did not appear to have the answer. There had been attacks on electrical and other installations on March 31, April 20 and April 23 (twice) and it was widely believed that the IRA were responsible. A serious riot in Derry on the days following April 19 had led again to the temporary creation of 'Free Derry.' The last straw for the loyalist faithful was the ability of the Prime Minister to persuade the Party to accept 'One man, One vote' in principle on April 23. His Minister of Agriculture, Major James Chichester-Clark, resigned in protest over the timing of this decision. Clearly the Prime Minister could not continue in power indefinitely. On April 29 he resigned to be replaced by Chichester-Clark on May 1. The new Prime Minister took his first decisive step on May 6, when he announced an amnesty for all 'political' offences committed since the disturbances began.

PD's tiny demonstrations could not hope to compete with such news stories. It contented itself by building up its support in the urban and rural areas - and, incidentally, refuting Bernadette Devlin's criticism that PD remained part of the University mentality. Largely as a result of the February election, active branches sprang up in Fermanagh and Armagh, while others existed for only a very short period.

The best example of a 'one issue' branch which met a very sudden death was Cromac PD. On March 12 and 19 a small group of people - never numbering more than thirty - marched to the City Hall from the Cromac area of Belfast to protest about housing conditions in their area. It ran into the same difficulty as PD in its earliest days - on both occasions it was re-routed away from Shaftesbury Square. There is no evidence of any activity by this group after March 19, 1969.

(a) Armagh

The most militant branch to appear after the general election was the Armagh PD. The committee of young people who had helped the candidate in Mid-Armagh, Cyril Toman, remained in existence to form another PD branch. Its chief spokesman and leader was Niall Vallely, a contemporary of Toman, Farrell and McCann at Queen's. It first sprung into prominence on March 22, 1969, a day in which PD and the NICRA had organised demonstrations in six centres to protest against the Public Order (Amendment) Bill, and a day in which all civil rights sympathisers were aware of undoing the valuable gains already achieved by the civil rights movement. With the exception of Armagh, where five arrests were made after scuffles with Paisleyites, all the meetings passed off peacefully.

Like its counterpart in Cromac, Armagh PD concentrated on the housing issue. On May l3 a small group of old-age pensioners and PD members held a silent picket outside Armagh Rural Council monthly meeting. Their leader, Niall Vallely, addressed the Council demanding the immediate rehousing of the residents of Mill Row and Lislea. Though that protest was peaceful the PD was dissatisfied that nothing had been achieved and returned to make their protest to the Armagh City Council annual meeting on May 27. But they were refused permission to address the Council, a scuffle developed and four PD members, including Niall Vallely, were arrested on charges of disorderly behaviour. As a result the Council imposed a ban on public attendance of its meetings.

That action, combined with an imposition of increased rents, resulted in a much larger demonstration on June 2 when 350 demonstrators protested. While PD and Civil Rights supporters held a two-hour rally in front of the City Hall, a group of two hundred people marched from four Catholic housing estates but would not join the rally. Instead, they sent a deputation to hand in a protest to the Council members, much to the displeasure of Niall Vallely who called 'the Curse of Cromwell' on the tenants and described the march as a 'Catholic tenants' protest.'

The conflict with the Council continued into July and had not resolved itself by September. An attempt at a sit-in on July 7 was foiled although a three-man deputation, led by Senator G Lennon, of the local branch of the NICRA, staged a sit-in in protest against the council's decision not to receive the deputation in the presence of the Press. While this was going on, 200 PD supporters marched through the town. At one point they were confronted by a police blockade and scuffles broke out with one policeman being injured and a number of protesters being arrested.

By July 26 PD appeared to have achieved its objective when eighteen supporters held a five-hour sit-in. But PD was not satisfied with this token occupation, so it extended its protest to highlight discrimination in jobs as well as housing in the city. Finally, on September 5, PD returned to the housing issue when it accused the local tenants' association of 'selling-out' to Armagh City Council because it postponed a rent and rates strike in the larger interests of community peace:

'This sell-out can only be regarded as the final episode in the disgraceful careers of Armagh Green Tories. This alliance with the Orange Order and abandonment of solidarity with the people of Derry and Belfast exposes the Tenants' Association for what it is.'
The extension of PD activity to Armagh clarified the militance of the organisation but not necessarily a socialist militance. It was following the traditional pattern of opposition protest by concentrating on discrimination in jobs and housing. It is difficult to see how it hoped to attract Protestant support especially in the city of Armagh which had a delicately balanced Unionist majority in the Council. By attacking other Catholic groupings it was not necessarily demonstrating its own non-sectarian base, rather it was proving to Protestants that it was a more militant, therefore more dangerous, Catholic organisation. This was seen in its protest ol July 7 when a policeman was injured. On that occasion its 20C 'supporters' included many who were not members of PD. One can only surmise that an open-ended militant organisation whose means was direct action and whose ends were vaguely utopian would inevitably attract the disenchanted, particularly in a polarised situation.

(b) The Battle with tile NICRA: Generational Conflict

One of the victims of PD's youthful exuberance was its relationshii with the NICRA. In its enthusiasm to build up branches it was inevitable that it would clash with the NICRA at central and at local level. A serious split did develop within the NICRA executive and it spread throughout the local branches never to be properly healed. This rift highlighted a fundamental difference of opinion on tactics and principles between the 'moderates' and the 'activists'. It was the first clear sign of a 'generational struggle' within the Civil Rights movement.

In Gulladuff, Co Derry, on March 6, Bernadette Devlin disclosed that the NICRA and PD were to march through Belfast to Stormont to protest against the Public Order (Amendment) Act on March 29. In fact, the NICRA's decision to support PD was not taken until March 14 when four members of the Executive - Mr John McAnerney, secretary; Mr. Fred Heatley, treasurer and founder member; Miss Betty Sinclair, former chairman; and Dr Raymond Shearer - walked out of the meeting in protest. They objected to what they considered to be brinkmanship:

'All we needed was time . . . a lull in which to see if Captain O'Neill is going to carry out the reforms he had promised. But PD would not give us time and their political views are infringing the non-political aims of the NICRA.'
Furthermore they objected to PD's political principles:
'We have been taken over by people preaching the most extreme form of revolutionary socialism, the sort of politics that have been causing trouble in France, Germany, Japan and many other parts of the world.'
(The irony in the above statment was that one of the signatories Miss Betty Sinclair, had been a member of the Communist Party all her life. PD's contempt for that organisation was an open secret and, in that respect it was in line with 'New Left' thinking in the Western world.)[39] But that is not to say that PD's political judgment was correct in this case, a fact acknowledged by Owen Dudley Edwards:
'.... before the New Left emerged on the scene, the vanguard of the movement was led by Miss Betty Sinclair of that organisation (ie the Communist Party of Northern Ireland). As the CPNI is predominantly of Protestant stock, it was in a good position to balance the predominance of Catholic stock on the New Left; but the PD and its friends, strongly anti-Communist, made extended co-operation impossible. Significantly enough, this was the one real casualty of "Popular Front" politics in Northern Ireland; the fault was not on one side only.'[40]
To charges of infiltrating the Civil Rights movement, Michael Farrell's reply was uncompromising. He described such charges as arrant nonsense. There are only two PD members in an eighteen man committee. The real crime of the PD appears to be that they want action in the field of Civil Rights.' John Murphy claimed in a letter to a Belfast newspaper that 'the Civil Rights movement never has been and never could be non-political. Any movement which campaigns to have laws changed is, of necessity, political. While the CRA constitution proclaims that it is non-political this can only be interpreted to mean that the organisation is non-party political.'

The argument did not remain within the Belfast area. In Derry Ivan Cooper MP and John Hume MP resigned as Chairman and Vice-Chairman respectively for Derry Citizens' Action Committee, perhaps in sub-conscious solidarity with the NICRA dissidents: 'We will still serve on the action committee, but we felt our role as politicians might be misconstrued with our role as civil rights supporters.'

In Omagh eight of the thirteen-man CRA committee resigned in sympathy with the four dissidents: 'We feel that the Civil Rights movement is being undermined by extremists for whose action we cannot hold ourselves responsible.' (The Omagh Committee had been formed only in January and the resignations meant that it no longer officially existed because the five members remaining did not constitute a quorum.)

At a meeting in Enniskillen Town Hall on March 15, a decision was taken to join PD for a march on the Public Order (Amendment) Bill in the town the following Saturday. The chairman described Fermanagh Civil Rights Association as 'an umbrella under which all bodies can unite and demand for civil rights.' Five members of the local executive would not accept this decision and resigned, explaining that the committee had already taken a decision (March 10) that the People's Democracy was a political party, and could not therefore receive the support of a non-political body.

It was against this unhappy background that PD and NICRA embarked on a series of demonstrations against the Public Order (Amendment) Bill in six centres on March 22. Since a special conference had been called for Sunday, March 23, to investigate the split in the movement, it was vital that the protests pass off peacefully. The demonstrations were organised by the local Civil Rights Associations in Newry and Toomebridge, and jointly with PD in Enniskillen; in Derry by the local Unemployed Action Committee; and in Belfast and Armagh by PD. With the exception of Armagh they passed off peacefully, and PD distributed 30,000 leaflets explaining the proposed act.[41] However, this did not satisfy the dissidents who refused to withdraw their resignations at the conference.

Genuine attempts seem to have been made to prevent a further exacerbation of the rift between NICRA and PD. The proposed march to Stormont on March 29 was postponed until after Easter. (It never took place.) Instead PD supporters made their way to Derry where they marched with 8,000 others over the route refused to them on October 5, 1968-this was the first legal march over that route. Miss Bernadette Devlin MP, Eamonn McCann and Michael Farrell shared the same platform as Ivan Cooper MP and John Hume MP who welcomed 'friends from the PD and people from Belfast, Dungannon and all over the North.' Again in Omagh on April 12 and Enniskillen on June 14 PD speakers appeared to be in agreement with the NICRA speakers. Perhaps the most sucessful alliance occurred in Dungiven, Co. Derry during June. On June 8 an Orange parade was attacked as it passed a Gaelic Athletic Association field in Dungiven. One policeman was injured and eleven people were arrested. Fears were expressed that the planned unfurling of a new banner for an Orange lodge in the village on June 28 would meet the same fate.[42] During the next fortnight some members of PD, notably Kevin Boyle, travelled to Dungiven and met local people and politicians in an attempt to prevent violence erupting on that day. They drew up a leaflet,[43] persuaded people to boycott the parade and marchers, and to poster the village with civil rights material. The parade passed off peacefully and could be considered a minor success for the civil rights movement. It may have helped to have restored PD's somewhat tarnished image. Kevin Boyle considered it 'one of the most successful non-Old Left activities.' He accepts responsibility for not getting enough publicity for PD,[44] although he believed that 'Ivan Cooper and company took advantage of the situation.' (Certainly in a Commons debate on the march Ivan Cooper did not mention PD's role in the affair at all.)[43] The fact that PD could not generate enough favourable publicity was more indicative of its irrelevance to the situation in general.

While members of the Orange Order were unfurling their banner in Dungiven, a civil rights march was taking place in Strabane. (The march had originally been planned for January 18 but had been postponed because of the abject failure of the Newry march of the previous Saturday.) The demonstration, attended by about 3,000 people, followed the same format with the same platform speakers who had orated and harangued in so many different centres over the past nine months. What was peculiar about the platform speeches on that occasion was the tendentious material uttered by two prominent activists, Miss Bernadette Devlin MP and Eamonn McCann.

The latter wanted to know: 'What the hell are three Opposition MP's (Mr Austin Currie, Mr P. O'Hanlon and Mr P. Kennedy) doing on the same platform if they believe the Government's reform time-table is reasonable?' He was followed by Bernadette Devlin who claimed that she had never heard more sectarian speeches from an allegedly non-sectarian platform:

'It does not matter what your religion is; it is the whole system of the individual minds of people . . . You have got to stand up with the Protestant working class who have "got it." You march for employment in Strabane but you march with employers who pay low wages in Strabane.'
Mr. John Hume MP who was not present at that meeting, issued a press statement clarifying the parliamentarians' point of view and demonstrating the rift between the moderates and the militants. He pointed out that 'the acceptance of a timetable did not mean the acceptance of the reforms. We could not accept what we have not seen.' He explained what he understood the civil rights movement not to be about:
'It is not, it never has been, and it has been repeatedly stated not to be a movement which seeks to promote either a socialist or a conservative society. It seeks only a just society, and the achievement of justice and democracy is surely a necessary first step in Northern Ireland to end for ever the equation of religion and politics before normal politics can take place . . . the place to express these views is on a political platform. To seek to use the civil rights platform to express these views is dishonest.'
To counter charges that the platform speeches were sectarian he gave his definition of sectarianism:
'To me, it is an attempt by one religious group to promote hatreds against or to seek to dominate another. This has never been the policy or the attitude of the Civil Rights Movement or of the thousands of the people who marched for justice. We have always upheld the rights of all sections of the community and we can hardly be held responsible for the fact that there are still many people in the community who cannot support our call for no more or no less than simple justice . . . I am convinced that the approach to our problems of people like Mr McCann and the People's Democracy - which is today far removed from the large number of sincere students who sat down in Belfast last October - is much more likely to lead to sectarian strife than the approach which we advocate.'
Significantly there is no evidence to indicate any attempt to refute this reasoned reply to the militants. Of further significance is the fact that Michael Farrell had not been part of the initial attack on the Opposition MP's, an example of a rift within a rift. The one undeniable fact is that the split which had first appeared in March but which had been temporarily healed was now irrevocable. Necessity, in the form of the greater enemy, Unionism, might force them to join in temporary alliance but they could never work together effectively again.

Following the Strabane affair two other marches tended to underline the split. A march of 2,000 Civil Rights supporters on July 5, along the route banned to them on January 11, in Newry was attended by only two Opposition MP's. (Mr P Kennedy and Mr P O'Hanlon.) On the previous day Miss Devlin MP had requested people at the unemployment exchange to march under the banner of 'Newry Unemployed' but she had been warned by local CRA committee members that she and PD must conform to the march programme.

At the public meeting following the march she had to seek permission to address the crowd.

(c) Fermanagh

The Fermanagh branch of PD was another active group formed after the general election, though it was not as consistently militant as the Armagh PD. Its early activities are best studied within the broader context of the civil rights movement. Events in Fermanagh during July illustrated PD intransigence and the worsening of relations with the local CRA committee. At the beginning of the month the local branches of both organisations issued a joint statement announcing two marches to take place on July 19 (later postponed one week) in the county. Both marches would converge in Enniskillen where a rally would be held to call attention to the high rate of unemployment in the county, the continued flight of people from the area and the iniquitous behaviour of the County Council. On July 24 the Fermanagh Civil Rights Committee withdrew from the march on the grounds that it was ill-timed and ill-advised. Later Major Bunting had warned: 'We will be glad to advise the loyalists in Fermanagh on how to hinder or harry the revolutionaries of the so-called PD movement.'

On July 25, the Minister of Home Attairs banned the march and all meetings between Newtownbutler and Enniskillen, but Peter Cosgrove,[46] for the local PD told a small meeting that it would defy the ban by holding a rally in Enniskillen.

The proposed meeting in the Diamond, Enniskillen, never took place. It had been occupied by a group of Paisleyites. An impromptu meeting in Church Street, a protest procession in single file to the police station and a sit-down led to the arrest of fifty-four PD sympathisers.[47] At a special court that evening thirty-seven of those arrested were remanded in custody. The heavy handed administration of the law led to the inevitable closing of the ranks. Protest meetings were held in Birmingham by the Irish Civil Rights movement, in London by the local NICRA branch, in Downpatrick by the local Civil Rights committee, in Armagh by PD, and in Derry by the NILP branch. At this latter meeting Eamonn McCann made a veiled reference to the latest split:

We would point out that it was the action of the 'moderate' leadership in the Civil Rights movement that tried to denigrate and isolate the Fermanagh PD protest which gave the authorities the confidence to behave in such a manner.
At a special vacation sitting of the Northern Ireland High Court thirty-four of the thirty-seven prisoners were released on bail on July 29.

The Fermanagh episode demonstrated a lack of responsibility on the part of the PD leadership, though one of them described it as 'brinkmanship of the worst sort.[48]

The annual celebrations of the July 12 ceremonies had illustrated that intercommunal violence was very near to the surface. Serious rioting on the days following July 12 in Derry, Belfast, Lurgan and Dungiven had made it evident that any form of street politics could have a debilitating effect on the local community. Nor could the leadership excuse itself on grounds of lack of foresight; the Burntollet ambush had brought the politics of innocence to a rapid close. The events of July 28 only succeeded in importing sectarian strife -albeit on a minor scale - to Enniskillen.[49]

(d) Belfast

In Belfast PD had lost the initiative and was aware of the fact. Its ingenuity was stretched in trying to take the lead again. It realized that the parliamentary opposition was now in the hands of men of ability and it was they who were getting the publicity. The successful civil rights candidates transferred the politics of the street into parliament - in the short-term at any rate. (One incident, in particular, suggested that the opposition could still embarrass the Government without having to resort to protest on the streets. When the Government decided to press ahead with the Public Order (Amendment) Bill - seen as a repressive measure directed against civil rights campaigners - opposition MP's tabled fifty-eight amendments in a fourteen hour sitting. The Government Chief Whip reacted by moving a closure motion, a rare occurrence in Northern Ireland. The opposition, in its turn, staged a sit-down on the floor of the House singing 'We Shall Overcome.' For their pains they received a week's suspension from the House but managed to prevent the Bill becoming law by Easter.)

By contrast PD's words and deeds were mostly hollow. Its threat to undertake a massive campaign of civil disobedience, and to involve trade unionists in its opposition to the Public Order (Amendment) Bill did not materialise.[50] It had attempted an abortive housing campaign when eleven demonstrators occupied a large office block in the centre of Belfast in protest against the building of prestige office blocks; and it reacted to the City Council's decision to sell off some of the grounds of Belfast Castle to private enterprise by organising a folk festival in the 'People's Park' on June 14.

Attempts were made by PD personalities to influence events in certain areas after they erupted but they met with limited success. There were riots around Hooker Street on the Crumlin Road for a mumber of nights after May 16. After allegations of police brutality had been made by local people, Belfast CRA, the Ardoyne Citizens Action Committee and PD offered their assistance. Michael Farrell, Kevin Boyle and a few other PD supporters took statements from residents and spoke at public meetings. But their influence was not very strong, because when a four man deputation was being selected to meet the City Commissioner of the RUC, Mr H Wolseley, the Ardoyne Citizens Action Committee, which was in control, made it clear that it did not want anyone from PD on the deputation.[51]

The one attempt to establish some sort of left-wing unity at this time also failed. Michael Farrell tried 'to form a Socialist Alliance with people like the Newtownabbey Labour Party,[52] but it was a half-hearted gesture. He may have known that PD socialism had not made the required impact, a fact which Eamonn McCann was to comment on much later:

'By the middle of 1969, the Left was established in the public mind as those who were most impatient, who were willing to run most risks, who wanted to go along the same road as the moderates, but further faster. It was not clear that the Left wanted to go along a different road.'
At this stage it was probably too late to change course anyway. On the streets the occasonal skirmish had been replaced by widespread communal rioting. Rioting on the Crumlin Road, Belfast, for a number of nights after August 2 - the worst riots in the city since 1935; pitched batt'es in four centres - Belfast, Lurgan, Dungiven and Derry - following the July 12 celebrations; these ominous manifestations of sectarian warfare put PD's activities in the shade.

'Free Belfast': The Concept of Dual Power

Ironically, it was the death and destruction of August 1969 which re-activated PD and gave it some credibility - in the eyes of its remaining supporters at any rate. The Apprentice Boy's parade in Derry on August 12 led to the inevitable violence of stone-throwing at the RUC followed by a withdrawal into the barricaded Bogside and the resurrection of 'Free Derry.' On this occasion the residents of the area were determined that the police would not gain entry and had taken all the necessary precautions. One month previously a Citizens Defence Committee, representing a broad spectrum of political opinion within the Bogside, had been formed and was ready to take control of the defence of the area. The intensity of hatred for the police by the local people revealed itself in the fierce rioting which showed no sign of abatement.

On the next day when it became inevitable that this battle would continue, and that it would be supported in other areas - already RUC stations in Strabane and Coalisland had come under attack, and there had been a sit-down in Newry - NICRA issued an ultimatum to Stormont demanding the immediate withdrawal of police from the Bogside. It threatened to hold meetings in about twelve centres in defiance of a Government ban if its wishes were not met.[53]

The crisis had taken on a momentum of its own by this stage. A verbal intervention by the Premier of the Irish Republic and an angry reply by Mr Chichester-Clark escalated the situation. Rioting spread to Toomebridge, Dungannon, Enniskillen and Belfast. After Catholics attacked the Andersonstown and Hastings Street RUC stations in Belfast, Protestant militants retaliated by launching a fierce attack on the Catholic ghettos. By Saturday, August 16, the official death toll had risen to eight, the injured numbered many thousands and hundreds of homes were either destroyed or badly damaged. It was the Catholic communities of the Falls and Ardoyne areas which had borne the full weight of the attack. They fell back on the traditional means of defence by building huge barricades.

The speed and nature of events took everyone, including the IRA, by surprise. 'The IRA, like everyone else unprepared for the August outbreak, had too few men on the ground, no real chance to bring in people from the South.. . and very few available arms in the city.'[54] A Republican, Jim Sullivan, was responsible for forming a co-ordinating body for the defence of the areas, the Central Citizens Defence Committee, on August 16. Eventually, this body elected ninety-five delegates to represent 75,000 people in Free Belfast. The PD did not have a single representative on any of the defence committees. The group was tightly stretched in August: Fergus Woods was on holiday in London and returned as quickly as possible; John McGuffin was in Morocco and could not get back until September 1; Peter Cosgrove was in Fermanagh but returned to Belfast; Cyril Toman stayed in Belfast until August 13, moved on to Armagh for a few days, then to Dublin for one day to raise support, and finally to assist in Free Derry. Others were involved in the NICRA - Kevin Boyle produced most of its press and propaganda material, and Niall Vallely assisted in Monaghan, where a CRA had been set up.

During the period of Free Belfast it is difficult to get a precise picture of the role played by each organisation behind the barricades.[55] There were very few examples in the press of PD activity and therefore we are forced to rely on material obtained by interviewing some of the personalities who worked in the Free areas. Besides information that Michael Farrell spoke in Toomebridge, and Peter Cosgrave spoke in Enniskillen on the night of August 13, there appear to be only two examples of Press statements made by PD- in one it criticises the role of Mr John McQuade MP and in the other it rejects a speech made by the Prime Minister. In interview, Michael Farrell gave one reason for PD's lack of publicity. He said that about twenty Republicans had been detained under the Special Powers Act and PD supporters did not want to draw attention to themselves lest they be arrested.[56]

This seems somewhat plausible. Nor does one gain any insight from Farrell's pamphlet which devotes only two paragraphs to 'Free Belfast.'[57] One would have expected a close analysis of the situation behind Belfast's barricades since the author had first-hand experience of it and since he has stressed earlier his concept of 'dual power.

'We cannot call for all power to the Soviets because our present basis is not the working-class as a whole, or the working-class and small farmers as a whole, it is only one section of the working class. This leaves us with the question of whether we concentrate initially on putting forward the largely reformist demands which could unite Catholic and Protestant working class, or whether we concentrate on posing the question of dual power in areas where the Catholic population is concentrated and militant - by getting the local Catholic population to take over and run its own affairs, a sort of "Catholic power". This would be a very serious decision, but it is just possible that it might be necessary for us to establish such dual power; on the one hand Catholic-based power, of a socialist form, and on the other, Unionist state power.'[58]
The Free Belfast experiment lasted just over one month, that is a period when Catholic power ruled. There is no evidence, however, that PD was in the vanguard of the movement to create a socialist area. What is evident is that PD was subservient to the Republicans who controlled the CCDC.

PD acted as a miniscule but important group behind the barricades. Both Fergus Woods and Michael Farrell could only remember about ten of its members being actively involved. It produced most of the literature and manned Radio Free Belfast most of the time but it had to pass on its material first to the Republicans who vetted it.[59] (This happened after one of the PD members threatened a particular 'B' Special over the air; the CCDC considered this to be sectarian and insisted on censoring all proposed broadcasts and news-sheets.)[60] Also there was criticism of PD on the one occasion when it tried to assert its own identity by holding a meeting in Leeson Street; it was charged with taking people away from the barricades.

It is from the Radio[61] and from the Citizen Press that we can glean PD attitudes during these days. Both the newspaper and the radio were similar in style and content. Generally, the paper reflected the aspirations and the fears of those behind the barricades. For example, an early edition of Citizen Press published what minimum demands would have to be met before the barricades would come down:

  1. Disband the 'B' Specials.
  2. Disarm and re-organise the RUC.
  3. Amnesty for those held without trial, and those threatened because they fought to save their homes.
  4. Use of Article 75 of the Government of Ireland Act to force those reasonable demands through.

But the paper also indicated attitudes which were to become familiar in Free Citizen[62] when it attacked 'moderates' or prominent persons from the Catholic community.

Radio Free Belfast presented much the same material as the news sheet, in some cases quoting directly from it. Mostly it broadcast political statements[63] and music . . . 90 per cent of the material put on by 'Radio Free Belfast' was made up of Catholic music (that is to say the political music of the Catholic community).[64] One of the people involved in producing the Radio agreed that some sectarian music was played.[65] Attempts were made at being satirical in two series entitled 'Profiles in Carnage' and 'Profiles in Corruption'; some of it may have been slanderous, and most of it was vituperative. The socialist content of the Radio was virtually nonexistent, apart from a number of platitudes directed at the Protestant working class urging them to recognise their real class interests and unite with their Catholic comrades.

The Free Belfast experiment did little to enhance PD's reputation as a radical organisation with revolutionary socialist overtones. It did leave it open to charges, by the New Ulster Movement, of attempts at exploiting the situation:

'. . . the street rioters and agitators of the People's Democracy have been capitalising on the legitimate fears of the Roman Catholic population by insisting that the barricades in the Falls, Ardoyne and Bogside must stay up. The disease has now spread. The followers of Mr Paisley and the other rabid Protestant extremists are trying to get in on the act by erecting further barricades.'
It did not enable it to sink roots in the area, although local people were aware of 'the students' as being a separate group who were trying to help them. (Fergus Woods remembers that 'it was recognised that PD contributed quite a bit' but some people objected to it as being 'communist').[66] In fact in the long protracted arguments as to when the barricades would come down, PD was not consulted. As a result PD withdrew its 'support from the Radio and Citizen Press. There were other reasons - in particular PD insisted in criticising the Fianna Fail Government, a liberty which some Republicans wanted to deny it.[67]

In Derry, PD had little influence. Bernadette Devlin and Eamonn McCann personified left-wing activism and opinion, a factor which annoyed Cyril Toman:

'. . . some PD supporters, including myself, held public meetings at Free Derry Corner to keep up morale and make it more difficult for the CDC to arrange the dismantling of barricades. Mr McCann was always too busy participating in the deliberations of the CDC - where he represented the NILP - to attend the public meetings.'[68]
Frequently they gave press statements and demonstrated that they exercised some control in the area. PD's role at the time was to help in running Radio Free Derry, which did not play as important a function as its counterparts in Belfast, but then the situation was much more serious in Belfast.

PD activists did not seem to realise the implications of their failures in the 'Free' areas. They were more aware of an atmosphere of solidarity - 'There was a good spirit behind the barricades'[69] - and of possibilities for the future:

'. . .Those who doubt people's ability to manage themselves could consider the soviets set up here in Ireland during the civil war and even various aspects of conditions prevailing in Free Belfast and Free Derry . . . Moreover, the atmosphere of solidarity behind the barricades was in itself a political education to many sceptics.'[70]

'The very success of the institutionalization stage leads to the fourth stage, fragmentation. As the movement and some of its leaders gain increasing respectability, they come to have an increasing stake in maintaining the status quo, or at least in not changing it too rapidly. In short, they are "bought off'. Radical militancy is reduced also by the realization that some of the radical programme has been implemented, or at least picked up as part of the campaign of one or more of the establishment political parties. Increased repression, meanwhile, is making the radical stance more and more costly. It is perhaps inevitable that such conditions should make for a great proliferation within the movement of varied degrees of radicalism, as each radical individual continues to assess and reassess his position vis-a-vis an everchanging establishment. It is just as inevitable that this proliferation should lead to segmentalization into small factions (fractions) representing the various degrees of radicalism.'[71]

Fragmentation had occurred at two levels - within the Civil Rights movement generally and within PD.

We should not underestimate the success of the Civil Rights movement. The November reform package; the sacking of the right-wing Minister of Home Affairs, William Craig, on December 11, 1968; the appointment of the Cameron Commission on January 15, 1969; the acceptance by the Unionist Party of 'One man One vote' in principle on April 23, and the announcement of a general Amnesty, for all those convicted of 'political' offences during the civil disturbances, on May 6; all contributed to an easing of civil rights demands. The success of the three civil rights candidates in the general election of February ensured that protest would be removed from the streets and taken into parliament.

This was not to the liking of PD activists, a fact which revealed itself in the split within the NICRA executive and in the platform disunity of Strabane on June 28. It also revealed a measure of generational conflict - PD supporters were youthful and impatient whereas most of the NICRA members belonged to the older generation and appeared to be satisfied with most of the concessions gained from the Government - but that aspect of the conflict was not too important. The row in Strabane highlighted the dangers of adopting a millenarian approach to the Northern Ireland problem:

'. . . splitting the civil rights movement on a class basis was a dangerous thing to do, since people in Derry and PD who suddenly saw their goals in terms of the distant ideal of a James Connolly Socialist Workers Republic, rather than the pragmatic achievement of specific reforms and immediate projects, then found themselves acting not in relation to people and neighbourhoods, which must be respected, but on a vast stage dominated by historical forces in a battle between good and evil for an ideal future. In this battle the individual is insignificant, trapped in a situation where violence is inevitable and his individual acts can be judged by no more precise criteria than what has helped most in the light of history in the struggle for a Socialist Workers Republic.'[72]
Fragmentation within PD appeared during this period. It had been going on ever since the reform package of the previous November was announced. It continued after the February election for a number of reasons. PD's electoral success had been ephemeral simply because it did not win any seats. The partially successful tactics of the opposition in the new session of Parliament encouraged some PD supporters to place their trust in the efficacy of the parliamentary process. Bernadette Devlin's by-election victory encouraged this reasoning, since it demonstrated that parliament was open to radicals. The march to Dublin with its continuous public bickering was a positive example of the failure of radical unity attempts. And the row at Strabane indicated that PD and its allies were quite willing to destroy the successful civil rights alliance and replace it with some vague formula for a Workers' Republic.

The growth of PD branches in such places as Fermanagh and Armagh revealed varying degrees of radicalism, even within the PD movement. The Armagh branch undertook a series of militant demonstrations which won it a measure of notoriety but which did little to narrow the sectarian divide. This fragmentation and segmentalization took its toll on PD to such an extent that it could only muster about ten supporters to work behind the barricades in Belfast in August.

With such small numbers Michael Farrell's 'dual power' theory could not get off the ground. ('Double power' was considered by the New Left to be the most important political innovation of the 'May Revolution' in France. It owed its development to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and found its contemporary expression in the insurrectionary centres (focos) of the Guevarists in certain South American countries. Its function was not only to challenge existing social values and institutions but was also to create the embryo of a new society to which it aspires in a parallel movement.)[73] Thus, by the end of September 1969, PD had a base and had the basis of an ideology, but it lacked the necessary support to build the Workers' Republic.

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