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'1964-1969: Eclipse', from, Holding the Ground the Nationalist Party in Northern Ireland, 1945-1972, by Brendan Lynn (1979)

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Text: Brendan Lynn ... Page Compiled: Brendan Lynn

The following chapter has been contributed by the author Brendan Lynn with the permission of the publisher, Ashgate Publishing Company. The views expressed in this chapter do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
This chapter is from the book:

Holding the Ground:
The Nationalist Party
in Northern Ireland, 1945-1972
Brendan Lynn
Published by Ashgate Publishing Company, 1997
ISBN 1 85521 980 8 Hardback 273pp

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This chapter is copyright Brendan Lynn (1997) and is included on the CAIN site by permission of Ashgate Publishing Company and the author. You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without the express written permission of Ashgate Publishing Company. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.





Notes on Terminology


1. 1945-1949: Post-war Reappraisal, Stormont Westminster and the Anti-Partition League

2. 1945-1949: Stormont, The Issues Defined

3. 1950-1956: Holding the Ground

4. 1956-1963: The Illusion of Success

5. 1964-1969: Eclipse



Profile of the Nationalist Parliamentary Party 1945-1972

Profile of Interviewees

Election Results 1945-1949

Election Results 1950-1956

Election Results 1956-1963

Election Results 1964-1969



Holding the Ground: The Nationalist Party in Northern Ireland 1945-1972
Brendan Lynn

1964-1969: Eclipse

By 1964, the Nationalist Party was beginning to find itself under increasing pressure from within its own ranks, and also from new emerging groups such as NU and the McCluskeys, to modernise its policies and image as well as transforming its structure and organisation. The task that, therefore, was to face the party throughout the 1960s was whether this could be done not only against the background of the traumatic events that were to occur, but also if it was going to be possible to come up with arrangements that would satisfy all shades of opinion. This can be seen by the establishment early in 1964 by the McCluskeys and their associates of the Campaign for Social Justice (CSJ), based on the idea that as ‘we lived in a part of the United Kingdom where the British remit ran, we should seek the ordinary rights of British citizens which were so obviously denied us’.1 On the other hand, Nationalist MPs, like Healy, maintained there was ‘Nothing wrong with the Nationalist Party’ apart from the fact ‘that splinter groups would like to replace us’, and O’Reilly reasserted ‘eventual reunification’ remained ‘the mainspring of Nationalist policy’ and the ‘driving force to which all other acts are geared’.2

These apparent differences soon became public and the initial cause was to be a television debate between O’Reilly and Brian Faulkner in February 1964. The subject under discussion was to be the issue of religious discrimination in Northern Ireland and it seemed to offer the Nationalist Party a perfect opportunity not only to present detailed evidence of examples but also to show a wider audience that it was capable of successfully campaigning to rectify these.

This process had already got underway with the launch a month earlier by the party of ‘Operation Truth and Justice’ in which the aim was to visit London and place before the main political parties in Britain the ‘disabilities operating against Catholics in the Six Counties’.3 Although the Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, and the opposition leader Harold Wilson, refused to meet with the Nationalist MPs and Senators on their visit, some comfort was taken from their meeting with Jo Grimmond, leader of the Liberal Party. In particular there were his promises to investigate the evidence of discrimination they had brought and to examine the constitutional position to see if anything could be done to rectify these. Thus, on their return to Belfast, McAteer commented that their trip had been ‘surprisingly successful in view of the rather inadequate preparation’ and that there ‘is good, fruitful soil to be toiled in England’. In addition, he promised they had brought back a ‘hatful of new ideas for the continuation of our campaign.’4

The scene appeared to be set for O’Reilly to present the Nationalist case as it had been done in London before a television audience. Unfortunately his performance against Faulkner left a lot to be desired and according to James Kelly, writing in the Irish Independent it was clear that ‘James O’Reilly, the able MP for Mourne, got rather the worse of his television debate with Brian Faulkner…because his charges were diffuse and not well enough documented. He badly needed a good brief from a research team’.5 This was a view shared by party members such as James Doherty, Eugene O’Hare and a future parliamentary colleague Austin Curie, in that even though O’Reilly was a very capable and hardworking MP he had been no match for Faulkner. For Doherty it was yet another example of the urgent need for the party to freshen up and improve on its public image.’6

However, for long term critics of the Nationalist Party, O’Reilly’s lacklustre performance was seen as the final straw and as McKeown states, it forced many people to ‘reach the point of exasperation’.7 Similarly Conn McCluskey mentions how, along with others, ‘we squirmed in our seats’ as ‘the shrewd Mr Faulkner walked rings around O’Reilly on a subject where Faulkner would not have had a leg to stand on had he been faced by a competent adversary’.’ In addition, as a result of the debate, McKeown points out that NU decided ‘The general mood of disgust was such that it led us to ignore our original resolution that we would not intervene directly ourselves in electoral politics’. This encouraged NU in conjunction with Gerry Quigley, secretary of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO), to summon a gathering of ‘all the groups and lobbies National Unity had established contact with, as well as individuals and all public representatives of the nationalist community’, to make arrangements ‘for a properly organised nationalist political machine’.9

The immediate response of the Nationalist Party to such a move was one of suspicion and this was largely based upon the resolution, which was to be tabled at the proposed meeting, which declared:

That this assembly of persons convinced of the need for a Nationalist political organisation to stimulate the growth of Nationalist constituency organisations, to permit Nationalist candidates to be democratically selected and to secure adequate representation on all public bodies - (a) calls on Nationalist parliamentary representatives, in conjunction with other MPs who support the National ideal, to take immediate steps to create a democratic party, and…(b) further declares if these steps are not taken, this assembly will undertake the creation of such an organisation.’10

This can be seen in McAteer’s reply to the invitation to attend the conference when he mentioned that although he was always interested in ‘gathering new ideas and suggestions’, he believed the ‘resolution for discussion is misleading and offensive to those who have been bearing the thankless burden of representing the Nationalist cause and it is hard to see how such an approach can do good’.11

The mood on both sides became obvious when the different delegates began to gather for the meeting in Maghery on 19 April. McKeown was to recall the ‘patronizing and ridiculing’ attitude amongst ‘the supporters of the orthodox politicians’, whilst in a letter to McAteer a few weeks later Conn McCluskey expressed his shock at the ‘rigid immobility of your party’ and warned that ‘you are doomed if you do not move on’.12 On the Nationalist side, especially amongst the MPs and Senators, there remained a suspicion that those who called the Maghery conference had a hidden agenda, which was not to work with the party but to replace it. Even for men like O’Hare and James Doherty, who were anxious to see the party reform itself, there was a degree of resentment at the arrogance of the delegates present and their "We know best attitude".13 Thus at a meeting of the local party on 22 April, Curran paid tribute to the efforts of the ‘Derry contingent’ at Maghery in that they ‘had shown they wanted unity, but avoided the passage of the original motion which would have been a serious outcome’.14 In the end, instead of the Maghery meeting breaking up without any agreement, Senator Lennon proposed a compromise based on the importance of showing that there was ‘unity of purpose’ amongst the differing factions. As McAteer was to tell the Irish News the ‘keynote was unit of National forces and the end of weak division’. Agreement was therefore reached to release the following statement:

That this assembly of persons decides…(1) In conjunction with Nationalist Party representatives and…other MPs, who support the National ideal, to take immediate steps to create…a National Political Front (NPF) with all the machinery of a normal political party in such areas where these do not exist. (2) In pursuance of this…a Provisional Committee composed of all existing MPs and Senators who support the National ideal together with one delegate from each of the Westminster constituencies…(shall be) charged with the duty of implementing part…(1) of the resolution, and we hereby invite all National organisations to subscribe to this resolution.15

Although an agreement had been seemingly reached at Maghery, a question mark hung over whether the Nationalist Party was firmly committed to or believed wholeheartedly in the NPF. On 22 April McAteer told Miss Anne McFadden, later to be appointed as secretary of the NPF, that even though the Parliamentary Party had met and had decided to attend the first meeting of the Provisional Committee it was going to take ‘a massive effort of charity and goodwill to launch the ship we hope for’. This was due largely to some of the ‘unfortunate statements’ made about the party at Maghery.’16 There were also doubts elsewhere, for example in Derry, the local party, whilst accepting the fact that the ‘lack of an overall National organisation (had) created a vacuum which had caused the NPF’, still harboured doubts about their involvement. At one of its meetings the Chairman, Charles McDaid, told the members present that many of those ‘who attended (Maghery) had a different approach to Nationalism’ and the real object ‘had been to end Nationalism’.17 Not all of the members entirely agreed with everything McDaid had said, but there was a worry, as Curran concluded, that it was wrong to ask the NPF to ‘provide our policy’.18

Yet in spite of these misgivings, it appears as if MPs like Connellan and McAteer were at least prepared to give the NPF a chance to prove itself. At the end of April Connellan described the Maghery conference as ‘an experiment from which it was greatly hoped far reaching benefits would result’,’19 and when the first meeting of the Provisional Committee of the NPF was held on 5 May he was to be elected as its Chairman. McAteer, too, sought to offer the body his support and, speaking to his local party in Derry, he strongly denied the accusation that they had agreed to join any new political party. Instead, he argued they had an obligation to co-operate with any grouping provided there was ‘a chance of welding it into something useful’.20A month later he described the work of the NPF as an attempt to find a ‘common denominator’ for all nationally minded groups and that the party could not simply walk away from such deliberations because some of the people involved ‘did not measure up to our ideas’.21

The problem that was soon to confront the NPF, however, was whether it was ever going to be possible to achieve its stated aim of promoting ‘the integration of all existing parties who support the National ideal into a unified political party’, considering the underlying suspicions which still existed. For the Nationalist Party these continued to centre on the belief that any new grouping would seek to replace it. Matters were therefore to come to a head over the question of who should have responsibility for the nomination of candidates for the forthcoming Westminster election. As McAteer was to announce in the Irish News, only his party could do so and he made it clear they would find it ‘impossible to abdicate our position as elected representatives in favour of people who had no claim to representation whatsoever.’22 In addition, in a letter to Healy, McGill declared there was more at stake than just who should take a lead in calling a selection convention for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Rather, it boiled down to the fact that, if the party allowed the NPF to take over once, ‘we were all finished’.23 Subsequently Healy and Senator O’Hare organised a convention on behalf of the Nationalist Party in Enniskillen on 1 September. By an ‘overwhelming’ majority the Irish News reported that the decision was taken not to contest the seat on the grounds that it was the only course open to them in order to try to preserve ‘Nationalist’ unity in the constituency in the face of intervention by SF once again.24

For the other elements in the NPF the behaviour of the Nationalist Party in Fermanagh and South Tyrone was inexcusable and they bitterly attacked it. In a press statement they alleged that as a result of the party’s actions it had ‘laid aside any claim to represent the Nationalist people of Northern Ireland’ and as a result the only conclusion that could be reached was that ‘as a national political party they have ceased to exist’.25 A week later, further condemnation of the decision of the Nationalist Party was made at a special council meeting of the NPR In particular, the move to call a convention without consulting anybody else was denounced and the decision taken by the delegates in Enniskillen on 1 September was summarised as an act of gross ‘political cowardice'.26 These were accusations that McAteer could not accept, and he alleged that they were proof of an ongoing campaign to undermine the Nationalist Party. He revealed to a party meeting in Derry that along with his parliamentary colleagues he had turned up for the monthly gathering of the NPF in September to find that ‘a typewritten motion had been prepared before-hand’ which was highly critical of the party. For him it was quite evident that the ‘Fermanagh and South Tyrone issue was only an excuse’ and that the NPF was not going to work. It was now ‘obvious that suspicion was dominant: that the Council was not going to work as a team. There were cleavages on ideals and on the constitutional position’. This was something he regretted but he maintained he was still in favour of dialogue continuing no matter how long it took and even though, ‘the high hopes of the Maghery meeting are a long way from fermenting…I am hopeful that a new Phoenix may arise from the ashes’. At some point he believed it would ‘still be possible to embrace’ all elements in a real ‘National movement entirely free, from self-interest’.27

To a certain extent Maghery and the establishment of the NPF had relegated the debate, within the party itself, over proposals for internal reform and reorganisation. With the NPF initiative now seemingly at an end, attention was again focused on this process and for members in Derry they repeated their point that ‘organisation of the Nationalist Party was essential’. At a meeting on 30 September, the members present agreed to ‘write again to the (parliamentary) party urging the necessity for a united party in the Six Counties’.28 This was a point now accepted by McAteer, who had become leader of the parliamentary group following the death of Stewart in May. In a note to Healy he outlined his thinking on the subject:

Despite our inevitable severance from the so-called NPF each of us is under an urgent obligation to establish or improve constituency organisation. It is becoming harder…to defend the quinquennial get togethers as the sole source of our authority to speak for our people.

However, McAteer remained extremely cautious on the form which this organisation might take and so he stated his preference, ‘I do not myself envisage a rigid organisational pattern…(and which indeed seems unsuited to our people) but some form of "collegiality" with interested people in the constituencies and then further afield’.29

But there were others who did not necessarily share McAteer’s ideas on reform of the party because they did not go far enough. Amongst his parliamentary colleagues the Gormley brothers, and in particular Paddy Gormley, continued to call for a major overhaul of the party which went far beyond that advocated by McAteer. In interviews with the Irish News and the Irish Press Paddy Gormley, gave his wholehearted support for the ideals expressed at Maghery. He declared himself at one with the NPF on the need to establish a properly organised political party with a ‘card-carrying membership’ and an annual conference to decide policy. It was therefore essential that in the future ‘National policy should not be decided solely by the elected MPs. Other people of a Nationalist persuasion, who were willing and able, to give direction should be consulted’. As part of this process it was vital for the Nationalist Party to attract into its ranks ‘trained political spokesmen well-versed in economics and the social services. We would also need competent research workers to interpret the political and economic affairs of the day’.30

In support of his ideas it appeared as if Gormley had a possible ally in Austin Currie who had sought, and won, the East Tyrone by-election in June as a Nationalist candidate. (See Appendix 6: Election Results 1964-1969).

Currie in many ways was exactly the type of person the Nationalist Party needed to attract, not only was he young and a recent graduate from Queen’s University, but his experience in student politics had given him an opportunity to sharpen his political skills and to make a name for himself through television appearances. Throughout his campaign he had stressed the necessity for a new approach to be taken by the nationalist community in Northern Ireland and he argued ‘they needed unity, not only of their country but also among the national minded people of the six Counties and all over the six Counties’. To achieve this he advocated the creation of a properly organised political party based on ‘left of centre policies’ which would be capable of tackling and offering solutions for everyday ‘bread and butter issues’, such as unemployment or poor housing.31

With, as yet, no proper party structure to allow for differences of opinion over such issues as reorganisation and restructuring, and with Paddy Gormley continuing to pursue his own independent line, it was almost inevitable that conflict would occur. This was finally to happen during the by-election in East Tyrone when Paddy Gormley publicly backed Currie by helping to pay his deposit. He also strongly condemned his parliamentary colleagues over their moves to hold conventions in Mid Ulster and Fermanagh and South Tyrone to decide on whether the seats should be contested at the forthcoming Westminster elections. The danger in such moves, he suggested, was that by putting up Nationalist candidates against SF nominees, the party would be seen as deliberately splitting the vote. As a result there could be retaliation against Currie by republican voters in East Tyrone abstaining, and thereby damaging his chances of holding the seat. Gormley concluded by alleging that all of this was ‘a deliberate attempt to "knife" young Currie in the back…It was obvious that they did not want Currie elected. They were afraid if he was elected he would clean up Nationalist politics’. Currie, too, expressed concerns and although he did not go as far as Gormley, he commented that the moves with regards to the Westminster election were ‘ill advised’ at this time. Furthermore he emphasised ‘Unity was essential if they were to hold East Tyrone and that anything that would divide National minded people was to be deplored’.

These were obviously claims that could not be allowed to go unchallenged and in a statement released to the Irish News on 19 June, the rest of the Nationalist parliamentary party dismissed Paddy Gormley’s suggestions as, ‘absurd and malicious’ and pointed to the fact, that through his brother Tom, he had always been kept informed of the party’s intentions in regards to the two Westminster seats. They also believed they were perfectly within their rights to consider opposing SF and had ‘nothing but contempt for the suggestion we should conceal our intentions…even to lure one solitary voter'.32

Although the dispute did not unduly affect Currie’s prospects, it appears that relations remained strained throughout the rest of the summer. For instance, in September McAteer confessed to Healy that recent events had caused him great concern and as a result he was seriously reconsidering his political future:

I am appalled at the public image which over the past few months we have shown to friends as well as enemies. It may, or may not be coincidence that this has reached a climax since I formally inherited the "leadership" but I am resolved that a change must be made soon or I will retreat behind my Derry walls.

He concluded his letter with a warning:

It is absolutely essential that we e re-combine as a fighting force or else publicly separate into agreeable groups or…units. I do not need to elaborate ... but none of us, I am sure want the continuance of the present internal tensions. It is bad for us in every way…(but) I still believe our party has all the authority and ability needed for the proper custody of our…people. It is entirely up to ourselves to make good use of this wonderful privilege.33

This was something McAteer clearly intended the party should do and so he began to build upon the momentum created by the NPE In November he wrote to other opposition MPs at Stormont with a proposal to create a new ‘United Nationalist Party'.34 As part of these discussions he led a delegation to meet with the Republican Labour Party (RLP) which was represented in Stormont by Diamond and Gerry Fitt, MP for Dock. Even though the talks were to end without agreement both sides stressed they were prepared to meet again. McAteer informed the Irish News that ‘So far as our party is concerned we will endeavour to do all we can…to promote the unity which is yearned for by the Nationalist people as a whole’. As well he promised they would do ‘everything in our power to clear the path to real unity and, with goodwill on all sides, this can be achieved’.35

In conjunction with this, Nationalist MPs and Senators came together again to launch their party’s first ever general policy statement, which became known as the "Thirty Nine Points", in Belfast on 20 November. McAteer boldly announced ‘The Party is now anxious to step into the Twentieth century’ and therefore saw the policy statement as ‘stage one in our renewal programme. The next exercise will be to establish normal political machinery with membership, constituency bodies and annual conferences’. Support came from Paddy Gormley, who declared that due to the changed atmosphere in the North, ‘We have examined ourselves from within and accepted constructive thought. For the first time in Northern Ireland there is room for the positive political action we envisage’. He also predicted, with their policy statement, the party would be in a position to start to attract the ‘floating vote’ which would develop as ‘Religious segregation’ became ‘less and less’ relevent.36

As for the actual contents of the document, McAteer asserted that they were largely a resume of what the party had been saying for years. The first article enshrined their commitment ‘To hasten, by positive political action, the inevitable re-unification of Ireland and the establishment of a democratic republican form of government’. Furthermore, under the banner of improving ‘community relations in Northern Ireland’ and the ‘maintenance of public order’, undertakings were given that the party would pursue policies which would ensure the ‘creation of an integrated community based on principles of social justice and mutual respect’, along with the ‘fullest measure of political, civil and religious liberty’ for ‘all citizens before the law’. This would have to involve the revocation of the Special Powers Act, the disbandment of the B Specials and the appointment of an Ombudsman to examine ‘complaints of improper or unreasonable exercise of statutory powers’. In the fields of social and economic matters promises were given that the parts would work to provide:

satisfactory housing for the entire population…the promotion of industrial expansion and the development of a well balanced, mixed economy…the creation of full employment and the use of all capital and local government resources to secure this end…the creation of an education system in which equality of educational opportunity is a reality…the recognition of the special place of agriculture not only in the economy but in the social structure of the community itself.37

The "Thirty Nine Points" not only provided the Nationalist Party with a detailed description of its aims and goals for the first time, but also provided it with a programme which could be presented as part of its continuing effort to be at the forefront of attempts to secure unity amongst the various opposition groupings. For example, in a letter to Healy, McAteer pointed out that ‘a very considerable part of this was provisionally agreed to by the policy making sub committee of the NPF’. He therefore remained confident that it would ‘satisfy most of our people’ as it was nothing more than ‘a more formal statement of the very things we have been urging for years’.38 This is a point later confirmed by McAteer to F.W.S. Craig when he mentioned that the party’s policy statement had been the ‘product of a lot of Committee work in conjunction with "Nationally minded" groups such as Republican Labour, Independent Labour (Frank Hanna), National Democratic Party and ourselves’. As a result he remained hopeful that ‘this document will eventually pave the way for a wider degree of unity amongst anti-Unionist forces’.39

One can therefore see the release of the "Thirty Nine Points" as a sign that the Nationalist Party, as Lennon was to establish during a debate at Queen’s University, had now realised there was room for ‘improvement in the party’ and that it was ‘their aim to achieve this as soon as possible’.40 Yet the importance of this move was soon to be overshadowed by the meeting in January 1965 between Terence O’Neill and Sean Lemass, Prime Minister of the Irish Republic, at Stormont. As Wallace points out, both men seemed to represent the fact that a new generation had assumed power in Belfast and Dublin, which appeared to be anxious to break with the past. For instance, O’Neill was the first Northern premier not to have ‘experienced the struggles of early Unionism which so shaped the characters of his predecessors’. In addition since coming to power he had emphasised the importance of developing Northern Ireland’s economy and of improving relations between the two communities in the province. Similarly Lemass, even though a veteran of the 1916 Easter Rising and the War of Independence, as well a long time ally of De Valera and a Minister in many of his Cabinets, was nonetheless very much a ‘pragmatist intent on developing the Republic’s economy'.41 This was confirmed by a statement released after their talks when both men stressed that ‘Our talks…did not touch upon constitutional or political questions’ and instead had focused upon ‘matters on which there may prove to be a degree of common interest’ such as economic and social matters. Agreement had been therefore reached to ‘explore further what specific measures may be possible or desirable by way of practical consultation and co-operation’.42

Undoubtedly for O’Neill this meeting was a huge personal and political gamble, a fact recognised by his refusal to consult with all but a few close confidantes over Lemass’s visit, in case it provoked serious dissension in his Cabinet. Further danger for O’Neill lay in alienating those Unionists who were already highly suspicious of his intentions, and for them the meeting with Lemass was final proof that he could not be trusted to safeguard their interests. Unfortunately for O’Neill, the development of such things as the ecumenical movement in the 1960s merely strengthened such views and gradually a figure emerged to give this growing movement the leadership it needed. This man was to be the Rev Ian Paisley, and in the years ahead he was to move from his position as head of the Free Presbyterian Church, to lead an ever burgeoning extra parliamentary opposition to the policies of O’Neill and ecumenism.

The O’Neill-Lemass meeting also presented a major challenge to the Nationalist Party in that it would have to be seen to be responding to the apparent rapprochement between Dublin and Belfast. If it did nothing it ran the risk of being marginalised by the talks and thereby possibly lose its mantle as the voice of nationalist opinion in the North. Almost immediately speculation began to mount whether in the wake of this historic meeting the Nationalist Party would accept for the first time the role of Official Opposition at Stormont. As both Currie and James Doherty were to make clear the dilemma that now faced the party was whether such a conciliatory gesture on their behalf would bring a similar response from the authorities at Stormont.43

This whole episode was clearly something that troubled McAteer, and in particular, he viewed it as another example of the lack of consideration shown by the authorities in Dublin towards Northern nationalists. For example he was to inform Curran:

In my role as leader of the Nationalist people, I made many trips to Dublin for talks and consultations with Dublin Ministers. I got hospitality but little real support. There was less than enthusiasm to get involved…When I returned home after my post - O’Neill talk with the Taoiseach I was more worried than ever. I got neither the encouragement nor understanding of our position…Lemass said that it appeared to him that Catholics in the North were just as intractable as Protestants. It was hardly the reaction I expected from a Taoiseach with his Republican background to the representative of the oppressed Irish minority in the six Counties…I came away with the conviction that as far as Sean Lemass was concerned, the Northern Irish were very much on their own.44

As a result McAteer was almost duty bound to act and McGill reveals that as leader of the parliamentary party he consulted his colleagues on the issue and also visited Lemass in Dublin to discuss the situation. Finally at a meeting of all MPs and Senators ‘members reported on the soundings taken by them in their constituencies and declared that the…role of Official Opposition would be acceptable to the mass of the Nationalist electorate’.45 At a press conference on 2 February the announcement was made that the parliamentary party had reviewed the ‘whole political landscape’ and had reached the 'following conclusion':

Stormont must be seen as a federal or regional Irish Parliament to continue in existence until the fears of an All Ireland parliament are finally resolved. There must be co-operation to ensure that…the existing Parliamentary machinery operates for the common good. For all practical purposes this will mean little change in existing practice and will enable us to advance the policy programme we have already issued. Our fidelity to a United Ireland…remains unaltered by this decision. Pursuit of this aim is an entirely lawful political objective in no way inconsistent with full community status. Cooperation will not and cannot be carried beyond the brink of national principle.46

Although McAteer was to receive the backing of his own party in Derry when it met on 10 February and passed a motion agreeing that the steps taken had been ‘a realistic appraisal of the needs of the moment’,47 he along with other party colleagues, had to make appeals to their supporters to give this policy a chance of producing some results. At a meeting in Newry, Connellan reiterated that people were ‘greatly mistaken’ if they believed that in the ‘name of progress’ Nationalists had ‘repudiated the idea of a united Ireland’. What had to be accepted was that ‘it (reunification) is something that cannot be brought about miraculously overnight. We must realise the road to be travelled is still a long road’. in the meantime ‘we cannot keep harping on the same string all the time’ and therefore ‘one of the most immediate and urgent duties is to help in the building of prosperity, tolerance and mutual respect among all our people in the part of the country in which we live’. A similar message was delivered by McAteer when he announced that the decision to become the Official Opposition at Stormont had not changed their ‘outlook or policy’ and he denied it was a sign the party had lost its ‘compass’. He maintained the time was right for Nationalists to observe a truce from their ‘exposure campaign until we are convinced that Unionists really do not intend to admit us to full citizenship’. Whilst he was aware of the ‘temporary party disadvantage which our forbearance may entail’, he considered it a risk ‘worth taking’ in order to overcome the suggestion that ‘militant Nationalist movements merely strengthen the Unionist Party to govern on in the interests of the ruling caste here’.48

It is therefore quite clear that McAteer was conscious of the fact that such "conciliatory gestures" ran the risk of alienating many people but, as James Doherty points out, it was a choice they felt they had to take. As a constitutional party they concluded that the onus was on them to ensure that all areas in Northern Ireland would receive the benefits from the social and economic developments which it was hoped would occur under 0’ Neill.49 Nowhere was this more important than in Derry where as Curran describes ‘the frustration of the Nationalist majority was immense, and they could see no prospect of the government making a real attempt to tackle Derry’s problems’.50

These sentiments had already been publicly aired by John Hume, then a local teacher and activist in the growing Credit Union Movement, in the Irish Times. Like many Catholics of his generation, Hume was very much a product of the post-war education reforms that had allowed children from a relatively poor background to obtain a place at a grammar school and then possibly a place at university. For Hume this had resulted in someone from a large family living in a two bedroom house in Derry, and a father who struggled to find work, to attend St Columb’s College in Derry and then graduate from Maynooth. After rejecting a career in the priesthood he had become a teacher and soon returned to St Columb's as a member of staff. As Curran concludes however, his interests soon spread beyond teaching and as ‘his experience grew and his perceptions broadened…He became a strong advocate of self-help. People, he felt, should set about using their talents to practical purpose rather than complaining about what they lacked’.51 Such ideas were clearly evident in his two articles, simply entitled The Northern Catholic, and in both he was highly critical ‘both of the (Nationalist) party and traditional nationalism’. For him,

Weak opposition leads to corrupt government. Nationalists in opposition have in no way been constructive. They have…been loud in their demands for rights, but they have remained silent and inactive about their duties…leadership has been the comfortable leadership of flags and slogans…There has been no attempt to be positive, to encourage the Catholic community to develop the resources…they have in plenty to make a positive contribution in terms of community service…the only constructive suggestion from the Nationalist side would appear to be that a removal of discrimination will be the panacea for all our ills…

As Barry White in his book, John Hume: Statesman of the Troubles, points out, Hume also went onto call for the ‘complete revitalisation’ of the Party and in particular the ‘necessity of a fully organised democratic party which can freely attract and draw upon the talents of the nationally minded community…'.52

For a period, however, it appeared as if Hume was prepared to give the party a chance and in a response to an invitation by the local branch in Derry. at its meeting on 20 May 1964, to address one of its future gatherings, he became a member and over the next few months attended some meetings.53 Throughout, his main contribution was to urge them to end what White describes as the ‘head without-a-body type of party’. On 3 June he asked members to examine why it was that ‘Only a few of his generation were present’.54 Then, as the party’s relationship with the NPF began to sour Hume’s attendance at meetings became less frequent. In one of his last contributions during a debate on the fate of the NPF, he made it clear that although sympathetic somewhat to the party’s claim ‘that many in the National Unity movement may have been trying to jump into the limelight’, the onus was firmly on them to take the lead. He argued that at least ‘the (NU) movement had its roots in something: the Nationalist Party must examine its conscience. They should grasp the nettle, call a convention and give an image of vigour’.55 With no sign of this occurring to the extent he desired, Hume resigned from the party and his letter of resignation was noted in the party minutes without comment.56

Free from any involvement in party politics, Hume returned to an area he had first identified in his articles in the Irish Times, when he had noted that, 'The need for action in the non-political front…is probably greater' and, 'There exists in the North at the moment a greater wealth of talent than ever before, and…growing desire to get together to pool…talents and to tackle community problems'.57 The opportunity for him to put this into practice came with his high profile involvement in the "non-political" campaign to ensure that the proposed new university would be sited in Derry.

This belief that Derry was the natural location for the province’s new university was based partly on civic pride in the city, its long history as a centre of learning through Magee College, and its traditional position as Northern Ireland’s second city. Undoubtedly the campaign that was to be organised on the issue was highly effective in promoting these ideas, but its most significant feature was the way it brought the two communities in Derry together, creating ‘a city unity hitherto unknown’." This was illustrated by the establishment of an inter-denominational "University for Derry" committee, with Hume as its chairman. The impact that the campaign was to have on the people of Derry was highlighted by the holding of a mass rally in the Guildhall in February 1965. This meeting saw ‘Unionists and Nationalists taking their places together on the platform for the first time anyone could remember, and…McAteer sharing a leading role with the arch-Unionist Gerald Glover’.59

Yet all the evidence that seemed to be emerging from the Lockwood Committee, which had been established by the government to ‘report on all facets of the university question’, was that the people of Derry were going to be disappointed. This was finally confirmed by the publication of the Lockwood Report on 10 February 1965 which recommended that the new university should be located in Coleraine. In one last effort to persuade the government to reject Lockwood’s findings the "University for Derry" campaign planned to bring a motorcade of protestors from the city to Stormont. Once again Nationalist and Unionist politicians like McAteer and the Mayor, Albert Anderson, took part and when it finally reached parliament buildings an estimated 25,000 people were present. Such an appeal however failed to persuade the government and in an often bitter and acrimonious debate which took place on 3 and 4 March the Lockwood Report was approved by 27 votes to 19.60

Although the local Nationalist Party pledged its support for the campaign and McAteer was involved in bringing the protest to Stormont,61 it was to be Hume in the long term who was to benefit most of all. This was to be particularly important because, as Curran argues, for the Catholic population of the city the university issue was part of a much wider question, namely the attitude of the Stormont government towards Derry and its future development. Whilst people could grudgingly accept that the government could not force new industry to locate in the area, they believed it could and should have a significant say in where a new university should he sited. As Curran concludes 'The denial of the university really awakened even the politically dormant, and inspired the beginning of more questioning about the nature of the Northern state'. Its importance was also later recognised by Hume himself when he told Curran:

The university decision electrified the people on the nationalist side, and I think was really the spark that ignited the civil rights movement, though I suppose nobody could have articulated it in those terms then. And when the university went to Coleraine, the chance of orderly change in Northern Ireland probably disappeared. It became clear to me certainly that change could only be affected by positive political action.62

All of this, however, was still sonic time off and in 1965the pressure continued to mount from both outside and within the Nationalist Party to follow up its policy statement with its plans to establish a political organisation which would encompass the whole province. In Belfast, in February, up to 200 delegates from South Antrim. North Down, North Armagh and Belfast met to establish the National Party. According to its new chairman Gerry Quigley the 'Overwhelming conviction among the various groups represented was of the tremendous necessity to secure unity. That was the keynote of the meeting'. With Lennon and McAteer present at the meeting as observers, the new grouping pledged itself to link up 'with the reorganised associations in the rural areas to form a united political party'.63 By June, however, the National Party had grown tired of waiting and at a special conference it decided to transform itself into the National Democratic Party (NDP). The change was made, it was stated, in response to the failure of the Nationalist Parliamentary Party to put into 'effect the proposed merger' or 'to put into operation the democratic machinery 'which they had committed themselves publicly to establish'. Furthermore, the NDP expressed its belief in the need for a 'broadly based, democratically organised political party to unite all those who accepted the National ideal' and its intention 'to extend its activities to all areas where there is a demand for democratic organisation'.64

There was also a growing impatience amongst party members in Derry at the speed of reform and at its monthly meeting in May, O’Hare renewed his demand for an 'energetic attempt to obtain a proper party organisation'. He then threatened to introduce a motion criticising the Parliamentary Party for lacking any kind of 'a policy' on this important matter. Curran, too, drew attention to the fact that ‘Organisation had been promised at Maghery’ and accused the MPs and Senators of having 'a lack of confidence' and 'a fear that organisation would endanger them'. Finally, along with O’Hare he suggested that they should be given a 'last chance' and the meeting agreed to send a letter to McGill requesting he 'take immediate steps to hold a Nationalist Party convention…with a view to selling up a party organisation'.65

When McGill’s reply was placed before the next meeting in June, it did nothing to allay fears that it was the Parliamentary Party which was attempting to stall the progress towards greater party organisation. Instead, McGill urged caution and argued against the holding of 'a premature general convention' which he assumed would only produce 'newspaper copy for our opponents'. Rather, he suggested. that change should be restricted to the idea of 'organisation (being) tightened up at a local level'. If this reply was considered unsatisfactory, what really angered members was McAteer’s announcement that the letter they had sent in May had not been placed before the parliamentary group for discussion. The mood of many was summed up by Alderman James Hegarty when he pronounced that it was obvious that 'many MP’s did not want organisation'. In the end, however, it was decided this time to write to each MP and Senator individually asking them for their ‘co-operation and views’ on the need for party organisation.66 It appears that at last this mounting pressure was having some impact and at a meeting in Derry, on 30 June, McAteer announced that the parliamentary party had unanimously accepted the ‘principle of constituency organisation and an informal convention’. This had clearly been shown by his presence at a meeting in Newry, on 23 June, which had been called to address these concerns and his intention to be present at a similar gathering scheduled for Crossmaglen early in July. Then later in the year he informed members in Derry that the party’s first 'get together' was scheduled for November.67

In spite of his apparent support for this process of modernising the party, McAteer in private continued to have doubts about it and his lack of enthusiasm can be noted in a letter to Healy in September. On the subject of the holding a party convention he remarked 'I think that it might be a useful exercise even if it only meant disarming our critics of one weapon'.68 Not all of his parliamentary colleagues shared McAteer’s cautious approach arid, as has already been noted, the Gormley brothers had long been advocates of the need for the party to become an effective, modem political machine capable of taking on unionism. Since his election back in 1964. Currie had been closely associated with the Gormleys’ and their ideas by the press but he had always been keen to establish that he was "his own man" and had his own agenda to follow. At first he moved slowly, anxious to avoid the accusation that he was a "radical" who wanted to "rock the boat" by "barnstorming" the parliamentary party with his ideas.69 It was therefore, not until the summer of 1965 that he felt confident enough in himself to start actively campaigning for the type of party he wanted to see develop. On 27 August the Irish News reported that he intended to call a public meeting to establish a 'proper political organisation' in his own constituency. Currie told the paper he had always argued for the creation of 'a democratic organisation to which every interested person can belong and in which he can play a part'. This was vital as the 'National movement has for too long been frustrated by divisions amongst those whose hopes for Ireland’s future are fundamentally the same', and the 'absence of a solid and properly organised party machine' had resulted in the lack of 'effective political action'. He concluded that for 'far too long the National movement has been on the defensive. It is now time to go on the attack. A broad based democratic organisation is a necessary prerequisite for the great surge forward'.70 The following day, before an audience of 350 people, Curie picked up the same theme and urged those present to ensure that East Tyrone took the lead in creating a 'New party…built up from the grass roots…with an annual conference, central offices, a card carrying membership and a professional organisation'. In addition, its main function should not be as the Nationalist Party had become, namely a body that merely contested elections, but a 'forum for ideas and policies ... a training ground for the youth and politicians of the future and as a unifying factor among the adherents of a particular political philosophy'. Now was the time Curie urged for them to 'take as our maxim the words "Sinn Fein" and help ourselves. A proper…organisation, attracting as it will, the most energetic and able people, can be the basis of "self help" efforts’.71

Such views, however contrasted, sharply with the path that other, more senior members of the party wanted to take. At a meeting in Newtownbutler, McAteer expressed 'doubts as to whether the spirit of Nationalism was improved by being encased in a tight organisation'. It seemed a better idea at this time 'to content themselves by calling for the establishment of "alert posts" in as many districts as possible so as to pool and exchange ideas'.72 Similarly, McGill favoured a more cautious approach and in a note to McAteer advocated:

As for ourselves, we must organise on our lines. A constituency Executive, springing from local branches in electoral divisions or towns. Each executive to send…delegates to an annual conference. No cards, no fees, all voluntary. In a card carrying membership, remember, you appear to exclude those who are too shy or unwilling to ask for cards.

He also rejected out of hand the suggestion that their party should consider 'fusion' with the NDP and warned that there was a widespread feeling amongst many people in 'Mourne, South Down, West Tyrone…South Fermanagh and South Armagh' that 'fusion' would be seen as simply a 'take-over'. Whilst, along with others he was prepared to see closer ties with the NDP, it was vital to stress 'we are ourselves, not a branch, co-ordinator or otherwise of any hierarchical structure thought up by…Belfast or assimilated by what Lennon rightly calls "Johnny come latelies" '.73

Before the Nationalist Party could hold its own conference, which had been scheduled for 14 November, the event was postponed by an election called by O’Neill and polling day was set for 25 November. Although McAteer described its calling as a ‘needless waste of money’ and an attempt by the Prime Minister 'to resolve an internal Cabinet difference', he predicted ‘We (Nationalists) will certainly give…a good account of ourselves'.74 To try to ensure that this happened the party announced, during the election campaign, that it would be 'maintaining the closest possible contact and liaison' with the NDP. This involved the mutual endorsement of each other’s candidates and the exchange of speakers between both parties.75 Yet even this level of co-operation worried some members of the party in Derry and McAteer sought to reassure them by pointing out that the NDP had been ‘joint authors of the 39 Points’ and had agreed to stay out of 'traditional Nationalist constituencies'. Eventually a motion proposed by O’Hare supporting the 'efforts to bring a rapport between the NDP and our party' was approved.76

Overall, the campaign was a relatively low key affair with only four Nationalist MPs facing contests: McAteer by a Labour nominee, Richardson by an Independent Republican, whilst Connellan and O’Reilly faced Unionist opponents. As a result the party’s electoral message was an attempt to balance tradition with a pledge that it was open to new ideas and thinking. A perfect example of this came from O’Reilly and McAteer during the campaign. During an election rally, O’Reilly asserted that under no circumstances would the party listen to the 'siren voices' urging the 'Nationalist people to abandon some of…that heritage their forefathers had held' and reaffirmed the 'basic principle of the Nationalist Party despite all the sneers remained their right to form part of a free and unfettered Ireland'.77 At the same time launching the party’s manifesto, which was based largely on the 39 Points, McAteer again emphasised that they were aware of the criticism made of them and promised that change and reform was under way. Equally, they were only too aware of the responsibilities placed on them as public representatives to remove 'bitterness and hatred which had disfigured the community for so long'.78 In the end the steps taken by the party in recent years were put before the electorate and in all four seats the sitting Nationalist MP was returned with a comfortable majority. (See Appendix 6: Election Results 1964-1969).

With the election now over and the Nationalist Party according to the Irish News having 'stood firm'79 with nine MPs returned, the long awaited party conference was scheduled for 12 December in Belfast. In the run up to it McGill again emphasised the need for caution and warned McAteer 'we must be careful not to allow any changes that would cause trouble'. This meant in particular 'details of card carrying etc. can be left until there is a structure, and then it can be discussed. Merger with the NDP cannot arise…If they want unity they can unite in one existing Nationalist Party’.80

In the end, it appears that the cautious approach, favoured by the leadership prevailed, at the gathering and at the press conference afterwards McAteer stressed that the party would follow its own agenda and reject the 'sudden zeal of a hostile section of the press to see us reform in this way or that way'. He strongly rejected the accusations being made that the party had somehow lost contact with its electorate and instead referred to the fact 'In our own quiet way we have always kept in close touch with the people'. To ensure this was maintained he did not want to see any structure created which might lead to a 'barrier (being) created against the people who have opinions to express to us regarding events or trends'. Although he was keen to see the party’s newly established Co-ordinating Committee 'undertake the removal of the "closed shop" image with which the party has been labelled in the past', it was also vital 'to make our party easy to join'. His chief concern remained that 'too formal or rigid organisation…might repel people from joining' and therefore as a result agreement had been reached where even though an 'official party membership will be organised' its members would not 'necessarily be issued with cards'. Finally, he announced that the new 23-man Co-ordinating Committee, consisting of himself along with two other MPs and Senators plus two, representatives from each of the nine Nationalist held constituencies, would examine and report back on the proposal to hold the first ever party conference sometime next year.81

Although disappointed at the outcome, Currie was not completely surprised at the slow pace and the limited extent of the reforms being proposed. In any case as the party was to remain very loosely based, this allowed him the freedom to continue with his own plans. As a first step be began to create an organisation within his own constituency along the lines he had already advocated.82 This measure of independence was also carried into other areas, such as his call for the party to broaden its electoral appeal. During a debate in Belfast in February 1966, Currie insisted it was time for the party to start to deal with the 'economic facts of life' and to position itself politically 'left of centre'. In addition it was essential for Nationalists to rid themselves of the label of "Green Tories" or as the "party of publicans", and to offer a new 'radical and positive alternative to Unionism'. This could only be done by correcting 'one of the misrepresentations of the ultimate aim of the Nationalist Party. It was not (just in favour of) reunification because when reunification came it would not be the end of all our problems'. Rather he believed 'a party with leftish views could be the only effective opposition to the Unionist Government’.83 In pursuit of this he carried on with his efforts to establish a democratic organisation in East Tyrone and at the founding of a new branch in Cookstown he spoke of the 'importance of obtaining unity among all the Nationalist people'.84

The same message was also continuing to be expressed by Paddy Gormley, notably, in an interview with the Sunday Press in August. He told the paper it was extremely disappointing to find that many people still considered the pans to be a 'Catholic or Hibs Party’ made up of ‘Green Tories’. The time was, therefore, ripe for a new political alignment more broadly based than the Nationalist Party. This new grouping would have to include 'progressive elements' which could offer the electorate a 'new and virile alternative to the Unionist Party'.85

Such sentiments ran completely contrary, as has already been pointed out, to the views of senior party colleagues such as McGill who remained steadfastly opposed to the direction men like Currie and the Gormley brothers wanted to take the party. On Paddy Gormley’s demands for a 'United Anti-Unionist Front' he dismissively told McAteer that the 'whole thing is a nonsense' and asked him to 'remember (that) whatever new pattern would emerge it would bode no good for us, individually or otherwise'.86 Earlier in the year, in a series of letters to Healy, McGill returned to voice his concerns at the moves towards greater organisation within the party. For him the problem was that 'enthusiasm is difficult to sustain, and if the initial promise is not speedily followed by performance, disillusionment follows'.87 Then, on the eve of the party’s first annual conference, he summed up all his concerns:

The trouble is, as I think you pointed out on one occasion, that one starts off very well but that it is difficult to sustain the tempo and there is inevitably a reaction. We had this in the APL and I suppose ... it will manifest in this latest effort ton.

Despite these deep-seated reservations McGill, as McAteer before him, had come to realise that the mood for change from both within and outside the party was such that some kind of steps had to be taken. As a result he accepted them, if such moves resulted 'in creating some organisational structure that will give our people a base against the emergence of Liberal and Labour elements…then something at any rate will have been done'.88

This meant that the process begun in 1965 continued and on 6 February 1966 over 60 delegates representing all nine Stormont-held constituencies met to consider the report of the Co-ordinating Committee on the prospects for the party holding an annual conference. It was subsequently accepted in full and a provisional date of 22 May was set. Such developments were most welcomed by the local party in Derry which had long been calling for such a development. At its meeting on 23 February O’Hare, a member of the Co-ordinating Committee, gave a report of its work and recommendations. He informed the members present that up to nine delegates, from the constituency parties already in existence, which basically covered the areas represented by the party’s MPs, would be invited to the proposed conference. In addition attempts would be made to include areas such as North Tyrone where as yet no organisation existed. At the same time an undertaking had been given that the party would not attempt to organise in areas 'where seats were held by like-minded people'. Elsewhere it appears as if the cautious approach outlined by McAteer in December 1965 towards the reorganisation of the party was acceptable to the members in Derry. O’Hare announced, without any criticism from any one, that 'the basis of organisation would be an elected executive in each constituency…and an open membership', and that there ‘would also be a party and executive as distinct from the parliamentary party'.89 For James Doherty these changes represented the fact that the party had taken on board the criticism of it, and was now inviting new members to join and to take the process further, if that was what people wanted.90

Yet the holding of the party’s first annual conference was still warmly received by the Irish News as a sign that McAteer’s promise to 're-fashion, reorganise, and strengthen' the Nationalist Party was underway and also meant the 'days of the caucus meeting - always calculated to scare off those who wanted to be fully identified with the party and its role - are over'91. This was also something the party itself wanted to dispel and so resolutions were tabled for debate on issues ranging from education, rural development, housing and calls for the introduction of an electoral system in Northern Ireland comparable to those in Britain and the Irish Republic.92 Later in the year this need was repeated in an appeal for funds which declared:

This decision to fully and vigorously organise on a more widespread basis and to further positive and practical policies as far as possible, means we will need resources vastly greater than anything hitherto ... Our progress will be in accordance with the backing we get and in this most important foundation year we ask for your most generous financial support.93

Whilst much time and effort had gone into trying to bring the party into the "twentieth century" in terms of its structure and organisation, the party also wanted to ensure that in the process it did not abandon its role as defending the rights of the minority community in Northern Ireland. In the hope that some improvement could be achieved in this field, the party had accepted the role of Official Opposition at Stormont, but with as yet no sign of this happening, the position soon came under review. As early as February 1966 McAteer had warned 'If we don’t get some token from the Unionists that they are going to normalise conditions here, we might have to take our troubles to Westminster again'?94 This was a point he returned to during his address to the party conference in May, when he concluded:

In our efforts to find and co-operate on matters of general good we find much misunderstanding. The Government seem reluctant to accept any ideas arising outside the narrow limits of their own Front Bench and I am wondering lately whether they really want parliamentary opposition. At times they seem to be yearning for the good old days of growl and glare…Perhaps we will some time have to review this brave experiment in normalisation.95

By the summer it looked as if this point had been reached when McAteer announced he was to visit London to meet the Labour Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, in order to end the 'system whereby Stormont Ministers are the sole official reporters of events here'. He also hoped to 'establish direct channels of communication between the Opposition’s Shadow Ministers and the British Government', and so remind the 'Home Secretary of the true state of affairs' in the province.96

Nationalist politicians had already sought to interest the authorities in Britain, as well as public opinion, in Northern Ireland affairs without any success for many years. This was largely due to the fact that on the whole, no matter what government had been in power in Westminster, there had been a marked reluctance to intervene in any matters which came under the remit of the Stormont Parliament. Thus, by the I 960s this had reached a stage where there was little interest in Northern Ireland affairs. The extent of this is noted by Ken Bloomfield in his book Stormont in Crisis: A Memoir, when he mentions the fact that the Home Office in London which had the 'responsibility for oversight of Northern Ireland', consisted of 'a small department that also handled relations with the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, the regulation of London taxi cabs, and other functions of a stimulating kind’.97

In spite of this, the return of a Labour government following the 1964 Westminster election, albeit with a small majority, had encouraged Healy and Senator O’Hare to write to Harold Wilson, the new Prime Minister, asking him to investigate alleged discrimination in housing allocations by local councils in Fermanagh. The advice Wilson received, however, from his civil servants was to repeat the answers he had given in the past to such queries. For example in reply to an earlier letter from Healy he had stated:

I share your desire to see remedial action taken when discriminatory practices are believed to exist. But I went on to say that in view of the constitutional position, it would not be proper for me to comment on the matters to which you draw attention, or seek to intervene in them. I am sure you will understand that in those circumstances it will not be possible for me…to discuss questions within the fields of responsibility of the Northern Ireland Government and Parliament.98

Yet within 18 months of the return to power of the Labour Party there were signs that this attitude could possibly change in the future. This was largely due to the increasing resentment felt by Labour back bench MPs at the presence of the 12 Unionist MPs at Westminster who continued to follow the Conservative whip, and thus threaten a government with a small working majority. In May 1965, the Irish News drew attention to the widespread anger felt by many Labour MPs at the narrow passage of a bill re-nationalising the steel industry which had almost been defeated by Unionists voting en masse with the opposition. The paper reported the growing animosity at a situation where Northern Ireland MPs’ could influence affairs in Britain, whilst British MPs’ had little say in matters regarding Northern Ireland. One possible consequence of these concerns, the paper reported, was the rumour that Wilson was considering possible changes to the voting rights of Northern Ireland MPs.99

Although these were charges strenuously denied at the time by Wilson, in his memoirs The Labour Government 1964-1970: A Personal Record he records that the 'Westminster Parliament and…many of our 1964 and 1966 entrants, was deeply concerned about human rights. It seemed inconsistent to assert human rights in Africa or the darkest areas of Europe when they were being patently denied in Ulster, a part of the United Kingdom'.100 These concerns had eventually led to the establishment of the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster (CDU) by Labour MPs in the summer of 1965 and amongst its stated aims were:

(1) to secure a full and impartial inquiry into the administration of the Government of Northern Ireland and into allegations of discrimination in the fields of housing and employment; (2) to bring electoral law in Northern Ireland into line with that of the rest of United Kingdom and to examine electoral boundaries with a view to providing fair representation for all sections of the community; (3) to press for the application of the Race Relations Act…to Northern Ireland and that it be amended to include religious discrimination and incitement.101

Then, early in 1966, up to 40 Labour MPs associated with the CDU tabled a motion at Westminster calling for the establishment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the working of the Government of Ireland Act 1920. For Wilson it was clearly now time for him to be seen taking a tougher line on Northern Ireland and accordingly, on 5 August, along with Roy Jenkins, his Home Secretary, he met O’Neill for their 'most important meeting up to that time'. Wilson emphasised that 'without constitutional reform and more liberal policies it was becoming more difficult to justify to MPs and to some members of the Cabinet, the large sums we were being asked to vote' for Northern Ireland. The meeting ended with Wilson, as he records himself, content with its outcome and satisfied with O’Neill’s promises that his reforms in the province would continue.’103

In the wake of these talks McAteer, as has already been pointed out, had judged that the time was right for Nationalists to once again press their claims for a much wider and extensive reform package. On 10 August he met Jenkins and Quentin Hogg, the Shadow Home Secretary, in London and as a result seemed to hold out the promise that progress was at last on its way. He informed the Irish News the talks 'went like a bomb…I now know there is a great interest in both sides of Westminster in Northern Ireland affairs'. He had also taken the opportunity to bring to their attention the case of Derry and, in particular, to study it and see 'democracy at its worst'. Furthermore, as a politician who remained firmly committed to peaceful, constitutional change, he was quietly optimistic of the future, 'It may seem we have stepped toward once and stepped back twice, but change is on the way and I think my visit today might accelerate this change'. The onus, he concluded, was now on the British Government and ‘having assumed ownership of Northern Ireland they should assume responsibility for it as well’.104

Yet, by 1967, the task that still lay ahead of the Nationalist Party was still an extremely daunting one. Not only was there a need to convince the authorities at Westminster and Stormont that a major programme of reform was essential to improve conditions in the province, but it had still also to satisfy the minority community in the North that the party had the ability and talent to carry this out. An opportunity to try to achieve these goals seemed to present itself with the launch in April 1967 of an inquiry into Northern Ireland by a group of lawyers in Britain who had connections or sympathy with the Labour Party. On 8 April this body which became known as the Labour Lawyers Inquiry (LLI), and consisted of S. Silkin, P. Archer, Sir F. Jones, I. Richard, Lord Gifford and C. Thornberry, invited political organisations in the province to submit written evidence to them. It would be then 'the Committee’s duty to inquire into and report on the workings of the Government of Ireland Act and other legal and constitutional provisions affecting the Stormont administration'.105

The first reaction of the Nationalist Party to the initiative by the LLI was not one of great enthusiasm and rather there were suspicions that it would have an adverse affect on their efforts. As McGill told McAteer, 'There is, as we both know, a real dilemma here, not least being my feeling that Mr Wilson has approved this way out of absolving himself from mounting an official inquiry'. At the same time, McGill argued 'it is clear we must not ignore it' and cautioned that 'if we don’t do it some other crowd will'. He therefore concluded:

I would have preferred an Official Inquiry - such as we sought - instead of this semi-put off by Wilson who, cleverer than Douglas-Home, does not turn it down outright but comes at it glancingly; but this being the best offering at the moment, we must…turn it as much into a Nationalist indictment as we can.'106

McAteer was also wary of the LLI and he immediately made it clear that he was not optimistic the inquiry would produce any immediate results. He repeated that his preferred option remained the same, 'How much simpler it would be…for Mr O’Neill to perform an act of real statesmanship arid invite representatives of the minority to sit around the table and hammer out a solution to our problems’.107 In spite of these reservations it was agreed, as McGill had urged, to work with the inquiry and on 13 April the LU wrote to McAteer stating they were 'very pleased to learn that your party will…cooperate with us in our inquiry'.108 This had already begun in Derry, where at a meeting of the local party, James Doherty announced that Eugene O’Hare was already preparing a 'dossier on electoral discrimination' and invited others to prepare material on matters such as the provision of jobs and housing by the city’s Corporation. A few weeks later it was announced that Alderman Hegarty and Councillor Brian Friel were 'working on up to date figures on job allocations', whilst Doherty 'reported he was preparing figures for house allocations'. In addition members were informed that 'L. McCollum (barrister) had agreed to put our case in "lawyer-like language" .'109 Once these were nearing completion McAteer sent a letter to Thomberry, Secretary of the LLI, on 12 May with the first dossier on ‘municipal employment in Derry’ and promised 'Dossiers on other aspects will follow shortly'.110

Elsewhere, in other areas of the province, other representatives of the party also began to collate evidence to present to the inquiry team. In Fermanagh John Carron, who had gained Healy’s seat at Stormont following his retirement at the 1965 election, agreed to establish a small committee to gather material. Canon wrote to Healy requesting that ‘If at all possible I would like yourself…for your knowledge is invaluable with O’Hare, M. Mahon, Traynor and P. Maguire’.111 By September Healy was in a position to tell the LLI 'Fermanagh County is getting ready the evidence as to the gerrymandered electoral areas, the property vote, and discrimination in housing, public posts and work generally'.112 Similarly, McGill had informed McAteer 'I have this minute sent off…about the Omagh and West Tyrone discrimination facts, being prepared in an arrangement made by you'.113

It is important to point out again that the significance of the LLI for the Nationalist Party lay not in any great expectations that it would produce any great results but in the need, as McGill had emphasised, 'to strengthen the public image for the party'.114 This was now critical for the party as after two years in the role of Official Opposition at Stormont nothing had been gained. As McAteer was to state 'We took this calculated, risky decision…based on the hope Captain O’Neill was indeed…earnest about reform. In fact we have been bluffed so far because there has been no reform’.115 The frustration that this was now producing can be identified in an editorial in the Irish News which drew attention to recent government appointments to a number of statutory bodies:

they have not hesitated to offer another insult to the minority by finding all but a few of them in default of the qualities needed to serve on the Youth Employment Service Board…two out of 33; on the Hospitals Authority two out of 22…on the General Health Services Board two out of 24.116

Nowhere however was this mounting anger more evident than in Derry, where since the loss of the new university to Coleraine, followed by other instances of the government allegedly ignoring the city, had according to Curran given 'credence to the theory that a policy to down-grade Derry was being insidiously and painstakingly pursued from Stormont'.117 Examples had included the Benson Report which proposed that the Great Northern and LMS railways should be cut from Derry so ending the city’s direct train routes to Dublin and Belfast; the government’s decision to concentrate its economic development plan around the building of a new city between Lurgan and Portadown; or the siting by the Michelin Tyre Company of their new factory in Ballymena rather than Derry. With regards to the new city of Craigavon for many, 'It was obvious that such a conception could only be undertaken at the expense of Derry' and as a result Nationalists bitterly accused the government of starving Derry industrially and strangling it politically, and the local Unionists of collusion in the two-pronged assault’.118

If this feeling of resentment was not bad enough, the fact of the matter was that for the city ‘expansion, not only economically, but physically had become a matter of life and death. Over 50,000 people were crammed into an area of just over 2,000 acres within a city boundary that had been unchanged for a century and a quarter’.119 The obvious solution to this problem appeared to be simply to extend the city’s boundaries and throughout 1966 the local party in Derry had agreed to press for such a policy.120 Support also came for this particular strategy from non-political bodies such as the Londonderry Junior Chamber of Commerce which published a pamphlet, Thoughts on Boundary Extension, which stated ‘Londonderry requires urgent expansion and the best form would be an enlarged county borough’.121 A similar conclusion was then reached by two reports which also looked into the issue, one by the Chief Officers' of the Corporation, and the other from a group of planning consultants employed by the Corporation to come up with an outline plan for the development of the Waterside area. When, however, the extension of boundary extension was raised in the Corporation, much to the annoyance of Nationalist councillors, the Unionist majority voted en masse to reject the idea. Even when the reports from the City’s Officers and the firm of planning consultants were published Unionist councillors ‘still managed to reject a proposal that the Reports be sent to the Ministry of Development for comment; instead they ordered them to be pigeon-holed and forbade their publication’. Such a move prompted Seamus Deeny, a local Nationalist councillor, to cynically conclude, ‘We have made history. We are the only city in the North where the Council has refused to extend the city boundary: we are the only city where some of the citizens have murdered their own city’.122

With signs of increasing frustration at the lack of progress towards meaningful reform, it is hardly surprising to find that some in the Nationalist Parliamentary Party continued to view with suspicion the growth in the profile and support for the new figures and groupings, who were also seeking to raise the grievances of the minority community. As Curie points out this was based on the belief that such people had a secret agenda in mind which was to usurp and eventually replace the Nationalist Party.123 Attention has already been drawn to McGill’s comments to McAteer that they needed to involve themselves fully in the LLI or other- wise 'some other crowd will' and so ensure that 'our political clothes are not stolen'. A few days later he further suggested, 'I think you ought to consider passing word to John Canon or Pat O’Hare to collaborate with Cahir and get out the Nationalist Party case for Fermanagh and that will settle the CSJ effort to…take the credit'.124

Suspicions had also grown over the possible impact being made at Westminster by Fitt and what he intended to do, if anything, with the high profile his work there had brought him. Since his election as MP for West Belfast in 1966 Fin had forged close links with the growing number of Labour backbenchers who had shown a greater interest in Northern Ireland affairs. This had been skillfully done by his use of material produced by the CSJ and his own political background which made him a natural ally of the Labour government. He had left his humble surroundings in Belfast to serve in the British merchant navy for 12 years between 1941 and 1953. Whilst at sea according to W.D. Flackes he had 'educated himself in law and politics' and when he left the service 'devoted himself to grass roots politics in his native Dock' area. He soon established himself as a 'personality in local politics', emphasising the need to tackle bread and butter issues, such as unemployment and poor housing.’125 As Purdie points out he considered himself to be a 'Connolly socialist', who believed that the 'Irish socialism that James Connolly had envisaged had not evolved because of partition'. The only solution Fin argued was to 'integrate the Labour movements on both sides of the border'. All of this, as Purdie suggests, was by no means ‘particularly original' as Connolly 'was a favourite icon of the Irish left in the l960s and was often used to provide a nationalist slant for socialist social and economic policies’. Rather, Purdie saw Fitt’s skill in using all of this, ‘to present just the right degree of non-sectarian imagery to wrong foot his opponents and rivals, while not straying too far from what was acceptable to his core support among Catholic Belfast voters'.126

As Rumpf and Hepburn conclude, the danger posed by Fitt to the Nationalist Party lay in the possibility that he could surpass McAteer as the 'spokesman for Ulster Catholics’.127 This was to surface after a visit of a number of Labour MPs, organised by Fitt, to Northern Ireland to enable them to see for themselves the grievances people had in such areas as Derry and Strabane, and their subsequent call for a 'united front’ amongst the various opposition parties in the province.128 Such a call alarmed McGill and he told McAteer that all this talk 'about NDP, Republican Labour, NILP and "Nationalists" all to combine to form one party - this is…an extension of the United Nationalist Front concept of last year ... (and) a regurgitation of the Gormley thesis - all against the Union'. What had disappointed him even more was the impression from the newspaper reports 'that some of our men have been encouraging this latest move and (it is) clear that Fitt’s tour was intended to advance it. We have come to a nice pass when unity can be undertaken on the say so of three British Labour MPs'. He now urged McAteer to think carefully of the future:

reflect on the position: what is projected is a united movement headed by it doesn’t matter whom, probably Fitt ... If we as a party give into this then as a party we are sunk…I am inclined to the belief that the time is coming when as leader you must find out who is with you and who is not, and if you have five or six; then take those and stand firm on the bastion. Co-operation yes, even with the Unionists if it brings practical results; but amalgamation and eventual engulfment no. You can be sure of all the fellows except the obvious trio.129

The onus was, therefore, very clearly upon the Nationalist Party to show that the recent advances it had made to modernise its image and structure had worked and now provided it with an organisation capable of going on the "offensive" against the Unionist government. Unfortunately, the impression remains that a great deal of work remained to be done and a perfect example of this was to be in Derry, which if anything was the party’s stronghold. Early in 1967 the local party had begun to consider the possibility of putting up candidates outside the South Ward in the forthcoming local government elections. At a meeting, on 8 March, delegates from the recently established Young Nationalist section, which was affiliated to the party, put forward a proposal that candidates should be nominated for the two Unionist held wards. James Doherty agreed that this should be a long term goal in order to ensure that it was clear to everyone of the party’s intention to one day secure a majority on the corporation.130 Over the next few weeks, however, the practical problems of attempting to do this immediately were discussed and in the end the conclusion was reached that it was not in their interest to do so at this juncture. On 26 April a lengthy discussion took place on the issue and McAteer finally proposed a motion, which was seconded by Alderman Hegarty, that the party should 'confine ourselves to the South Ward'. The minutes of the meeting record that the decision which was taken was based largely on the lack of self confidence and internal party organisation, and therefore, it was 'Generally felt within the party that we lacked the candidates, finance and organisations to fight these wards' and so McAteer’s motion was passed by 13 votes to seven.131

In addition, in spite of the efforts that had been made to convey the message that the party was now a province wide organisation with a membership able to come together at an annual conference to debate policy, all the signs seemed to indicate that members of the Parliamentary Party continued to pursue their own agenda. This is perfectly illustrated by the continuing activities of the Gormley brothers: in May. Tom became the first Nationalist MP to attend a Royal function by attending a garden party at Hillsborough,132 whilst Paddy kept up his calls for the creation of a 'united opposition' with the 'common objective' of fighting the 'mismanagement by the Unionist Party'. He maintained '40 shades of green existed' because there were '40 different ideologies' and if 'there was more attention paid to practical politics there would be no room for ideological differences'.133

Underlying all these problems lay the harsh fact that in spite of the long years of campaigning and active opposition in and out of Stormont nothing as yet had been won. The role of Official Opposition had been accepted back in 1965 in the hope that some practical results would be achieved but two years later the minority community was still waiting for a reform package capable of satisfying their demands. As McAteer was forced to admit during his speech to the party’s annual conference in July 'the past year had been one of patient expectations when Nationalists had looked for some remedy…But that hope had not yet been fulfilled'.134 As a result he had warned throughout the year that without some kind of response from the government 'we will certainly have to reconsider our position'.135 Yet if such a step was to be taken the question that had to be asked was what then was the alternative. That one was needed was clear by the tone of an editorial in the Irish News which contrasted O’Neill’s promise that his tenure in office marked the 'inauguration of a community happier and politically more progressive and a liberal era. Fair words and conciliatory gestures…lent colour to these hopes…Time, alas, would seem to be showing that the image was all wrong', and had proved to be a 'mirage'.136

One thing was certain however, and that was that McAteer remained firmly committed to the ideal that under his leadership the party would not deviate from its 'traditional path'.137 For Curie this amounted to no more than a pledge to continue with existing parliamentary and constitutional means to reduce the growing tension in the community and thus avoid the possibility of violence.138 McAteer persevered with his efforts to persuade either the authorities at Westminster or Stormont to take immediate steps to try to ease the situation by way of some guarantee that reforms were on the way. In September he had again visited London to meet with Jenkins and Hogg to let them know 'what is cooking as far as Northern Ireland affairs are concerned'. It was also vital he pointed out to again remind them 'that there had been precious little practical improvement in the plight of the minority so far', and that they were still waiting for 'remedies' for the 'things they so frequently complained about… discrimination against Catholics in jobs and housing', and the continuing 'failure to endow us with the One Man, One Vote system in local government'.139 Such visits did not however bring any sign of a breakthrough and more often than not McAteer’s queries were met by the now standard answer from politicians in Britain, 'The irritants of which complaint is made relate to matters which lie wholly within the constitutional ambit of the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland and I would not consider it proper on my part to intervene…'.140

Similarly McAteer tried to interest O’Neill into beginning a process where through negotiations some kind of a reform package to improve community relations could be agreed upon. In November he asked the Prime Minister for a private meeting in the hope that it would bring about an 'honest attempt to try to find some basis of progress without either of us playing to the gallery'. Yet here too he was rebutted, and the meeting lasted a mere ten minutes with McAteer’s disappointment mirrored by the Irish News which commented that 'McAteer, like many of us, must now be moving from disenchantment to disdain’.141

In spite of all these setbacks McAteer remained determined that his efforts to bring about conciliation would continue even if it ran the risk of alienating members of his own party and its supporters. Thus in June 1967 he approached James Dillon, National President of the AOH, with a suggestion that in order to improve community relations his organisation should make the 'supreme sacrifice in going out of existence’ in the hope the Orange Order would respond by taking the same course of action'.142 This was rejected out of hand by Dillon as being completely impractical and unacceptable as the Orange Order would simply use the opportunity to justify their claims that the AOH had always 'promoted acrimony and ill will'.143 Lennon, who was also Vice President of the AOH, appealed to MeAteer to reconsider his proposal and argued it would not produce the results he desired. Rather, Lennon warned of the danger it could do to the continuing relationship between the Nationalist Party and the Hibs, especially in the rural areas where the AOH 'has always been at the service of Nationalist candidates'. Furthermore, he was concerned that 'both in the United States of America and Scotland where there is a very substantial membership of the AOH this suggestion would simply not be understood and would be considered as a hostile act on your part'.144

Along with the suggestion for the AOH to dissolve itself, McAteer managed to stir up further controversy with an offer to turn the LLI into a 'court of conciliation' and he made public his belief that the 'Labour Lawyers would only be to glad to give their services in making out a peace plan'.145 This led to the editor of the Irish News, T.P. O’Keeffe, to write to Healy to inform him that McAteer’s suggestion on the LLI was completely wrong and could be 'used by the Unionists to confuse the issue'. Instead, O’Keeffe insisted, 'would it not be better to establish…that discrimination does exist in the various fields and produce the proof, once and for all. This done we could then talk all we want about conciliation'. O’Keeffe then appealed to Healy that if he agreed with this assessment, he should write an article giving his reasons, which the Irish News would print.146 The offer was accepted, and in the paper on 28 August, Healy expressed his surprise at McAteer’s suggestion to turn the LLI into a 'court of conciliation' and his worries that the whole process could be cancelled 'seemingly at our request'. His opposition was based solely on his experience with the failed Orange and Green talks and he therefore concluded 'A conciliation group of wishful thinkers would leave us as we stand, witness the result of the Orange and Green group set up a few years ago in which Mr McAteer himself co-operated and which was eventually called off by the Orange Order'. Any such move he believed would he seen as 'acting contrary to what the public expect and what we have been arguing for years', namely the 'truth brought out by an independent legal tribunal of the Westminster parliament'.147

For others, like Currie, such controversy was by now a side issue to the main problem which remained the fact that the minority community in Northern Ireland was still awaiting a meaningful reform package. Curie, was not yet sure how this could be won, hut the lack of urgency from both Stormont and Westminster seemed to suggest that other means had to be tried. What this would involve had not been settled upon but one thing was certain, the reforms so far introduced had not gone far enough.148 For instance, in December 1966 the Queen’s Speech at Stormont had, amongst other things, proposed the abolition of the business vote for Stormont elections, four new parliamentary seats to replace those still held by Queen’s University and an investigation into the nature and role of local government.’149 Over the next year, however, as government plans began to take shape, particularly with regard to local government, it became clear that this would not satisfy Nationalist demands. Although, the Minister of Home Affairs announced that the existing local government structure would be replaced by 18 new area councils, he also made it clear that no review of the local government franchise would take place until the 'streamlining of the present system’ had been completed'.150

Throughout 1967 Currie had begun to pick up on the plight of Catholic families, especially in areas in Tyrone, who were having great difficulties in obtaining houses from Unionist controlled councils. By October in Stormont he was pointing to the recent cases of squatting in the Caledon area of Dungannon Rural District Council by homeless Catholic families as an example of the 'growing desperation and frustration' and he wanted to inform people that it was capable of producing some 'real anger in Northern Ireland politics'.151 As his own patience with O’Neill ran out, he launched a bitter attack on the Prime Minister and his government during a speech at Magee College in Derry. He alleged that O’Neill had 'not even begun to tackle any of the main problems which cripple this community' and furthermore in spite of his 'expressions of pious hopes and well intentioned phrases…Down in the grass roots nothing stirs'. For him the forthcoming White Paper on local government reform presented a final 'opportunity to translate hopes into achievements' and warned that another year of 'growing frustration and anger' would 'make a real impact on politics in this area'. In particular he predicted 'There will be more squatting, more acts of civil disobedience, more emphasis on the "other means" and less on traditional parliamentary methods'. If this was to happen then 'Terence O’Neill and his Government must carry the reponsibility'.152

The views expressed by Currie in this speech on the subject of civil disobedience however were not shared by other party colleagues especially those in Derry, who had been involved in the street protests of 1951 and 1952. After such experiences they were reluctant to adopt any kind of a strategy which involved taking people onto the streets again due to the inherent risks involved, namely that it would inevitably end in serious public disturbances. The chief concern of the party in Derry remained the fact that anything other than a strictly constitutional approach could produce a period of turmoil. As a result, therefore, as "responsible" politicians it was felt that it was their duty to take an active and constructive part in politics, and to ensure that the interests of the nationalist population of the city were properly looked after.153 This was illustrated by their belief in the need for them to have an input into the development plan announced for Derry in March 1968. The plan not only proposed that it remain as Northern Ireland’s second city but included undertakings to build up to 10,000 new houses, encourage major industrial growth by improving communications and for the provision of new schools and recreational facilities. At the local party’s annual general meeting in May, whilst the secretary attacked the plan as another ‘gerrymander’, James Doherty ‘explained the necessity of the plan and the benefits it would bring’.154

By this stage Curie had decided that only direct action by the nationalist population themselves would bring about any improvement in their conditions. As 1968 progressed he began more and more to follow his own course which seemed to take him further away from his party colleagues'.155 Early in the year, in Stormont he had defended his support for the squatters in Caledon and repeated ‘If doing what he had done was called being a supporter of civil disobedience then he was an unrepentant supporter of civil disobedience’.156 A few months later he followed this with a pledge that ‘We will have justice or we will make a government system based on injustice unworkable’ and to achieve this he called for ‘all weapons in the arsenal of non-violence and civil disobedience’ to be used.157 The chance to put some of these ideas into action finally was to come in June with the eviction of the squatters in Caledon and his subsequent condemnation of the move which led to his expulsion from the chamber. Having been unable to persuade the government or the Minister of Development to intervene on the issue Curie concluded that this marked ‘a failure of traditional Parliamentary representation’ and along with a number of his supporters began his own squat in Caledon.158 A month after this, Curie then appealed to the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), which according to Farrell had been established in 1967 as ‘a multi-party lobbying organisation on civil rights issues’, to hold a protest march from Coalisland to Dungannon to highlight the situation even further. After some discussion a decision was finally reached and Curie’s proposed march was set for 24 August.’159

Whilst Curie had pursued his own course, McAteer had continued on with his efforts to try to secure change solely by constitutional means and so avoid the threat of violence which direct action could provoke. With his family background, his brother Hugh had been Chief of Staff of the IRA for a time in 1941, and long experience in politics, he was by 1968 only too aware of the growing frustration and anger amongst many in the nationalist community.160 His aim, therefore, was to continue to endeavour to persuade the government to act quickly before the situation deteriorated any further. For instance, during a debate on local government reform at Stormont in February, he urged O’Neill to involve the opposition parties in the process so as to avoid sowing 'the seeds of further recrimination in the years ahead'.161 This warning was then further developed in May when he warned O’Neill and his government that he could detect a growing 'smell of sulphur' in the air.162

As McAteer sought to ensure that change within Northern Ireland came about by peaceful means, the pressure for a reform package to be introduced immediately continued to grow. In August the interim report of the LLI was published and pointed to a number of areas where 'grievances' had been identified. Amongst these were the local government franchise, the gerrymandering of electoral boundaries particularly those at local government level, and discrimination against Catholics in the allocation of local authority housing and employment. For McAteer the report was proof, if proof was needed, that 'something is rotten in the state of Northern Ireland', and for the need for urgent action to be taken to restore 'democracy in this part of Ireland'.163

Unlike Currie, however, McAteer still considered that the best way to quicken the reform process was not by direct action, such as squatting or organising public marches, but persuading through negotiation the authorities, at either Stormont or Westminster to act. In July he had again written to the Home Office in London to ask for a meeting with the Home Secretary, and hopefully Wilson, in order to convey to them 'the anxious position which is fermenting here' and stressed even 'a brief meeting would have an important deterrent effect here'.164 At the same time, McAteer sought an-other private session with O’Neill 'to impress on him the sense of frustration and disillusionment felt by the Nationalist people’.165

Yet, as in the past, he appeared to gain little for his efforts and on both fronts the answers remained unchanged. On a visit to Belfast Lord Stoneham, the Home Office Minister responsible for the province, made it clear once again that Westminster would not intervene over issues 'such as discrimination, plural voting or gerrymandering' as these areas remained the sole responsibility of Stormont. In addition the present Labour administration under Wilson held out the hope that 'as far as possible…the Government of Northern Ireland would make changes, if necessary, to ensure there is no possible basis for (such) accusations'.166 Similarly in his meeting with O’Neill, McAteer appealed to the Prime Minister to take significant steps immediately and although he was 'not fussy' what came first he felt 'local authority administration was the nettle to grasp'. The response from O’Neill was disappointing and McAteer, on leaving the meeting ruefully commented, 'This time it lasted ten minutes instead of eight minutes the last time, so I suppose this is a 20% improvement in relations'.167

With little indication of any sign of movement, Currie attempted to persuade the Nationalist Party to commit itself to the ideas and suggestions he had adopted in order to try to secure meaningful reforms. At the party’s annual conference on 23 June he tabled a motion which stated:

This conference reaffirming the dedication of the Party to the ideal of Social Justice for all ... and recording its disappointment…with the so-called "Pace of Change" declares its willingness to support a policy of non-violent disobedience to wreck a system which has as its basis the deliberate policy of denying equal treatment and free opportunities for all.168

The possibility of such a motion ever gaining the support of the whole party was remote due to the reservations many people had about any such campaign staying non-violent. As McGill was to state, 'emphasis upon civil disobedience movements is really a conditioning of the populace towards the unknown - and unworkable unless everyone takes to the streets - (which) then makes a nonsense of passive civil disobedience'.169 During his address as party leader to the delegates, McAteer, whilst recognising the 'deep disillusionment with the lack of progress which has been made in abolishing the second class citizenship label which is hung around the necks of our people', renewed his appeal for calm and argued 'we must not allow ourselves to be goaded into precipitate action which indeed might not be fully supported by the body of our people'. Although Currie and his supporters from East Tyrone argued forcibly for the motion to be adopted, the majority of the other delegates came out against it. In particular what concerned many was the feeling that the policy had not been properly thought through on what it could possibly lead to.

With no agreement in sight, Lennon proposed a compromise 'that the Conference was not sufficiently informed' to reach a decision and suggested it be sent back to the Executive with the direction to examine it fully and report back to a Special Conference in six months’. In the end, even though Lennon’s suggestion was accepted unanimously, it did nothing to alter Currie’s view of the proceedings. As the minutes of the conference record he was ‘surprised and appalled at the attitude of some of the delegates’ and believed that the impression this would give was ‘we want justice for our people, but we do not want it all that much’. For him the decision reached that day was the final missed opportunity for the Nationalist Party to be seen at the forefront of a renewed campaign to secure "civil rights" for all. Yet as with previous disagreements within the Party, in the end it made no difference to him, nor did it change his mind on what his next steps should be. For him there was now no turning back on a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience which had already involved him squatting in Caledon or his presence on the first Coalisland to Dungannon march.170

The Nationalist Party’s rejection of Curie’s motion produced a mixed response. An editorial in the Irish News welcomed the decision and suggested that such a policy was quite ‘rightly a matter for deep consideration’ as it was still full of ‘loopholes’ which the paper claimed could easily play into the hands of ‘disruptive elements’.171 This view was not shared by Fred Heatley, a leading Republican and member of the executive of the NICRA, who concluded that the decision was a clear sign the party had ‘abrogated its claim to lead the people who are being victimised under the existing conditions here in the North’.172 Unfortunately, there were growing signs for the Nationalist Party, that this view was gathering strength in places like Derry. Throughout 1968 the Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC), a left wing pressure group containing both labour and republican elements, and under the erstwhile leadership of Eamon McCann, had launched a campaign with the ‘object of highlighting the problem of the homeless by creating havoc, as publicly as possible’.173 As McCann concludes in his book War in an Irish Town the ‘decision to select the Corporation as the primary target was in itself a minor political master-stroke’. Its meetings were picketed by supporters of the DHAC and other protests carried out, such as the blocking of the Lecky Road in the city, to highlight the grievances people had over the Corporation’s housing policy.’174 Within a few months McCann began to think that ‘such activities seemed to be bearing some fruit’ and whilst many people objected to their ‘political ideals’ this was balanced by the fact that ‘we were at least getting things done’.175 The DHAC, however, had another target in its sights and as well as the Corporation it alleged that the Nationalist Party itself was another symptom of the problems facing the people of Derry. In one of its pamphlets this point was clearly established:

The great mass of the people continue, for historical reasons to see religion, not class, as the basic divide in our society. Thus sectarian consciousness is reinforced…The machinations of Catholic and Protestant Tories such as McAteer, Glover, Anderson and Hegarty are carefully calculated to maintain the status quo…People in Derry are worried about housing and jobs and the denial of civil rights. The question before us is: how best can the discontent arising from each issue be gathered together and directed against the root cause - i.e. the political and economic set up?176

In normal circumstances the activities of an organisation like the DHAC would have probably had little impact but as Curran indicates by the summer of 1968 in Derry, 'Internal pressures were forcing the temperature up steadily'. Accordingly at a James Connolly commemoration march in the city Fitt, 'echoing the increasingly militant atmosphere', told the crowd, 'If constitutional methods do not bring justice, if they do not bring democracy to the North, I am quite prepared to go outside constitutional methods’.177 McAteer was only too aware of this growing sense of anger in the city and in August he made one last trip to London to meet the Home Secretary to highlight the seriousness of the situation. He referred to 'the feeling of frustration and disillusionment among the minority' which had been caused by the 'sense of disappointment' O’Neill had caused by raising expectations which remained largely unfilled. This had now produced an extremely 'dangerous' and volatile position.178

It was not long before this final warning from McAteer became a reality with the serious public disturbances which followed the holding of a civil rights march in Derry on 5 October. This was, after all, to be the event which finally drew the attention of the rest of the world to Northern Ireland. In order to try to understand why the events of that day took on such significance it is necessary to highlight the tensions that had been building in both communities for a considerable period of time.

On the unionist side O’Neill was faced with an ever growing threat to his authority and this began from within his own cabinet. Members, such as the Minister of Commerce, Brian Faulkner, were increasingly concerned with the path the Prime Minister was taking. At this stage Faulkner’s opposition was based largely on style and not substance, but it clearly signalled the dangers that existed for O’Neill. In particular Faulkner was concerned that:

O’Neill was making the main plank of his premiership the improvement of community relations, and I welcomed his efforts in this direction. But the methods he used were no substitute for real action and only raised hopes that were not being fulfilled…In 1967 I made a speech referring to the "change in the air"…But I stressed this should be "a gradual process, developing deep roots, undisturbed by too much probing and not forced up by the spotlights".179

In expressing such a view, Faulkner was obviously aware that O’Neill’s strategy was causing alarm in the wider Unionist community. His worry was that:

Too much publicity about our wish to change only fed the fears which Ian Paisley was beginning to exploit: fears that better North/South relations might undermine Ulster’s position as part of the United Kingdom; fears that the South was only trying to find a new way of effecting its claim on our territory; fears aroused by the massive republican celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1916 rising: and fears that the ecumenical movement was in Northern Ireland designed to reduce opposition to a takeover by the Catholic Irish Republic.180

Recent months had only illustrated this point, as Paisley had begun to organise counter demonstrations against the growing civil rights movement. For example at the Coalisland - Dungannon march he had led several thousand protestors in an occupation of Dungannon town centre in a clear exhibition of the fact that they believed that ‘ecumenism…combined with political tolerance and even encouragement of Catholics…appeared to endanger all they stood for…their religious and political inheritance'.181

As for the nationalist community, not only was its patience with O’Neill reaching breaking point, but it also appeared as if it had lost faith in the Nationalist Party. For men like Currie the party’s rejection of his call for a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience had been a grave error. As Curran was to conclude, the decision had 'cast away the Nationalists’ last chance to reassert their dominant role in deciding what direction the energies of the North’s Catholics should be directed’.182 In recent times this role had been taken over by, and would eventually be controlled by a diverse group of young, largely educated Catholics, who refused to accept any longer what they conceived to be their status as second class citizens. For many in this group, the 1960s had ushered in a new era, arid they had watched, and taken encouragement from television coverage of the campaign by Black Americans to end segregation in the Southern States and thus obtain their basic civil rights.183

By October 1968, therefore, all that was needed was something to ignite an already tense situation and it came with the civil rights march planned for Derry. The route, submitted by the local organisers, was by its very nature designed to provoke controversy, as it involved areas within the city’s historic walls which had been traditionally restricted to Orange processions. When, on 1 October the Apprentice Boys announced their intention to hold an "annual parade" over the same route William Craig, Minister of Home Affairs, took the opportunity to act. On 3 October he banned the demonstration planned by the Apprentice Boys, and announced that the civil rights march would not be allowed ‘within the walled city or in the Waterside Ward’.184

Even for McAteer, Craig’s move was considered to be the final humiliation and as he told the Cameron Commission, which was later established to inquire into the background of events leading up to 5 October, ‘I tried to persuade him (Craig) that this was a foolish thing to do…but he treated me in so cavalier a manner that I decided that I would be at the march’.185 Others shared McAteer’s frustration and according to Paddy Doherty the Minister’s decision transformed the attitude of people in Derry to the march. Whilst many had initially been very wary and suspicious of the real intentions of march organisers, like Eamon McCann, the ban changed all of this. As Paddy Doherty’s son told him ‘Craig’s challenge is not only to the civil rights movement but to all Catholics in Derry, because he has identified them as the same people. He has to be confronted or we will never get off our knees’.186

As McAteer was to correctly conclude at the time, the aftermath of these events were undoubtedly going to usher in ‘a new phase in six County politics"187 and the question that now confronted the Nationalist Party was what its role was going to be. The dilemma facing the party was to be perfectly illustrated by its contradictory attitude towards the civil rights campaign. Although it was anxious to give its support to the goal of securing "civil rights" for all, the party was still reluctant to commit itself to the campaign currently underway. To begin with, it remained opposed to the methods being used, as the party felt street protests and public demonstrations would ultimately lead to conflict. In addition, as with the attempt to bring the new university to Derry, the party took a conscious decision not to become actively involved, in case their presence was used to try to discount the claims that were being made that the call for "civil rights" was a non-political issue. As a result, when marches were being organised in Dungannon in August and Derry in October members were asked to attend as individuals and not as representatives of the party.188 The problem that this was going to create, however, was that if these marches and protests appeared to quicken the reform process who would gain the plaudits? Furthermore, would people remember the long years of fruitless opposition carried out by the Nationalist Party?

It comes as no surprise to find that after the events of 5 October O’Neill found himself under enormous pressure from Wilson to take immediate steps to end the crisis in Northern Ireland. At a meeting between the two men on 4 November Wilson emphasised that 'only speedy reform could avert the irresistible pressure for legislation at Westminster - under rights explicitly reserved by Section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act - intervening in Irish affairs'. In particular, Wilson suggested a number of areas which needed to be tackled straight away: reform of the local government franchise; action over the allocation of housing; the appointment of a Parliamentary Ombudsman to investigate claims of mal-administration by Stormont; and an investigation of certain aspects of the SPA.189 O’Neill was in no position to disagree and a few weeks later announced a five point reform package which covered most of the topics raised by Wilson and which far exceeded anything that the Nationalist Party had been able to gain in over 40 years. This was to involve the following: the abolition of the Londonderry Corporation and its replacement by an appointed Development Commission; an Ombudsman to be appointed to investigate any grievances against central government; the repeal of those sections of the SPA which 'conflicted with Britain’s international obligations'; all local authorities to be encouraged to allocate housing by a fair and equitable points system; and a major overhaul of the structure of local government which would involve such things, as the abolition of the Company Vote and consideration of the introduction of a universal adult franchise for local elections.190

This reform package was announced just at a time when the Nationalist Party was seeking to regain the ground it had lost in recent months to the new, emerging leadership which had grown out of the civil rights movement. On 12 October the party’s executive had met and James Doherty, as Chairman, declared in a sombre tone, which Lennon suggested he do in order to emphasise the seriousness of the decision, that it would ask the parliamentary party to withdraw from its position as Official Opposition at Stormont'.191 A few days later this was confirmed, when Nationalist MPs and Senators met to proclaim that they would 'cease to function as the Official Opposition until such times as the Government gives further concrete evidence of its sincere desire to remedy the present situation'.192 Then, just over a month later, the special conference promised back in June was convened and the decision taken unanimously that the party should give its backing for a policy of non-violent civil disobedience. For Currie the message was clear 'Today the Nationalist Party serves notice on the Government of its determination to keep up the fight until social justice for all is insured…We have served notice ... that our patience is at an end'.193

Yet it soon became obvious that this attempt by the Nationalist Party to re-establish itself as a potent political force still had to overcome the fact that many within its ranks now wanted a period of consolidation and not further confrontation. As James Doherty was to state the overriding aim of the party was now to build on the reforms that had been won and not to plunge the province into further chaos.’194 This was evident at a party meeting in Derry on 6 November when it was agreed to recommend that instead of a 'uniform' policy of civil disobedience across the province it should he left up to each individual constituency to decide which way to act. Subsequently, therefore, at the special conference in Dungannon on 17 November although the decision was taken to adopt a programme of non-violent civil disobedience no details were given as to how or where it would be carried out.195

In addition, opinions within the party as a whole were split over how it should react to the package of reforms announced by O'Neill at Stormont on 22 November. McAteer firmly believed it was time that the community recognised the problems the Prime Minister faced especially from within his own ranks, and therefore he pronounced 'I would like to give it a chance. It is half a loaf'.196 This assessment was supported by James Doherty during a debate at a party meeting in Derry on the newly established Development Commission. Whilst some members argued that it was no more than an attempt to prevent the nationalist majority in the city gaining power he insisted it would help to start to solve many of their grievances. The onus was therefore on them to ensure that it was 'fair, and composed of well qualified and objective men'.197

This apparent acceptance of O’Neill’s belated good intentions, however, did not meet with the unanimous approval from all of McAteer’s parliamentary colleagues. According to Tom Gormley, they were nothing more than a 'smoke screen' designed to buy the Unionist cause some time until Wilson fell from office and was replaced by their Conservative allies. From Michael Keogh, who had succeeded Connellan as MP for South Down in 1967, there was a great deal of scepticism in that 'anything in the nature of reforms which had the unanimous approval of the Unionist Party must be treated with the deepest suspicion…One could come to the conclusion that nothing was being given away'.198 These views were also shared by Curie and for him McAteer’s "half a loaf" statement was a major blunder, as it further tarnished the party’s already damaged image amongst large sections of the community, for whom O’Neill’s announcement had come "too little, too late".199

This had been perfectly illustrated by the fact that people continued to take to the streets in protest throughout November and December. By this stage, their demands had gone beyond the reforms announced by O’Neill on 22 November, to include such things as: the immediate introduction of One Man, One Vote for all elections; the complete repeal of the Special Powers Act; the dismissal of Craig, the Minister of Home Affairs; and the establishment of an independent inquiry into the events surrounding the march on 5 October.200 Faced by the growing threat of civil unrest and from mounting opposition from within his own party O’Neill made a final appeal for calm on television on 9 December. He began with the by now famous words "Ulster stands at the crossroads" and went on to speak 'of the need for justice to all sections of the community and the inevitability of intervention if Northern Ireland did not put its own house in order'.201 In his response the following day, McAteer again repeated the necessity for a period of calm and concurred with O’Neill’s warning that the province could slip into civil war. Whilst he recognised the fact that the government had still a long way to go 'I take the Prime Minister’s point that the Civil Rights message has been received and understood'. As a result he remained optimistic that the 'good seed will not again fall on stony ground'.202

In the end, however, this appeal and further attempts by the government to try to meet the demands of the civil rights movement proved to be unsuccessful. The Prime Minister followed up his appeal with a further set of concessions which involved the sacking of Craig, the appointment of an Ombudsman to investigate grievances at a local government level and a general amnesty for all those charged over the disturbances of the past few months, but it was not long before the situation deteriorated even further.203

The next potential flash point came with the announcement in December by Peoples Democracy (PD), 'a leftish, student based civil rights organisation', that it had organised a march between Belfast and Derry over the New Year period.204 The danger that such a march could ignite an already tense situation led McAteer to urge those involved to abide by a statement by the NICRA calling for a "truce" over the Christmas period. Furthermore, he considered it opportune to 'publicly…express my thanks to the wise heads in the Cabinet who decided on the so-called amnesty in connection with the Civil Rights…Some time has been bought and the feeling of truce is in the air (it) must not be wasted'. Thus, his advice to the PD was simple 'I think it isn’t good marching weather in more senses than one and I feel the public has become browned off with marches and that they have lost their novelty'.205

It is therefore quite clear that since 5 October McAteer had sought to ensure that the Nationalist Party remained a voice of moderation in what were troubled times. This theme was developed in a number of speeches he was to make on the current state of affairs in the province. At a local party meeting in Derry he had issued a new challenge to those present:

If indeed the ugly discrimination era is nearing its end, what are our reactions, what are our new attitudes then?…Yes, there will be startling amendments to Nationalist thinking. What of it? Nationalism has already changed greatIy in fifty years - further accelerated change is natural and to be expected. If Belfast is in Ireland, would it be treasonable to work towards rule from Belfast rather from Dublin? Could a two-piece Ireland not be fitted into a sort of little United Nations grouping of these islands? I have no cut and dried answers. But we must think…and open our minds to the hurricane of change which beats upon us all.206

Equally revealing was his address to a meeting of the United Ireland Association (the UIA had emerged from the remnants of the APL in Britain in the 1960s) in London when he referred to the fact it was vitally important that, 'We who are engaged in the laborious work of modernising the North have an obligation in conscience to look for practical results as distinct from winning laurels for our own Party brows'. In addition, he revealed his distaste for 'the no-quarter-go for the groin kind of politics, though that is the treatment which has been meted out to me'. At the present time he considered that 'my task…is to say as little as possible…a difficult task for a politician. I do not want to say or do anything that would endanger the prospect of an honourable peace in the North…To me an ounce of progress is worth a ton of publicity'.207

The problem however that now confronted McAteer and the Nationalist Party was that conditions in Northern Ireland had deteriorated to such an extent that such a message was lost in the violence which followed the Belfast-Derry march organised by the PD. Once again the spotlight had fallen on the party with regards to its attitude and position on the recent events in the province. Bitter attacks were made on it and typical of these was a letter to the Irish News, which stated 'If anyone had listened to McAteer, the deprived citizens of Derry and indeed of Northern Ireland, would still be dispirited, frustrated and paralysed under…Stormont’.208 In addition, for many people in Derry McAteer’s pronouncement that "half a loaf" was better than nothing was taken as final proof that the party had lost touch with a community that had decided it had enough of Stormont and all it stood for.209

These criticisms then lead onto the accusation that the Nationalist Party had failed to provide the minority community with strong leadership at a time of major upheaval. In particular, critics pointed to the failure of the party to fulfil the promises it had made back in 1965 to create a vibrant and viable province-wide organisation capable of providing strong opposition to unionism. As far back as the party’s decision in Fermanagh not to contest the Lisnaskea by-election in February 1968 the Irish News had accused it of failing to implement the reforms it had promised, such as a card carrying membership or to establish itself in areas where there was not a substantial nationalist vote.210 Later in May the NDP pointed to the fact that attempts to get the two organisations to work towards a unified party had foundered. This was due largely to their reluctance to accept the claim that simply because a constituency had a Nationalist MP meant it was properly 'organised' by the Nationalist Party. According to the NDP there was still a lack of any party organisation in many areas especially at local government level.211

The critical position that the party now faced only became too apparent when O’Neill decided to call a general election early in February 1969, with polling day set for 24 February. Although McAteer could attempt to dismiss the election as no more than an attempt 'to paper over the ever-widening cracks in the Unionist Party', across the province his party faced opponents who were seeking to offer an alternative to the nationalist electorate. In three constituencies Foyle, Mid Derry and South Armagh men such as Hume, Ivan Cooper and Paddy O’Hanlon, who had all emerged out of the civil rights movement made clear their intentions to stand. Then in South Fermanagh and South Down candidates from the PD were nominated against sitting Nationalist MPs. Finally, in Mid Tyrone Tom Gormley, was to be opposed by Tom McDonald of the newly established People’s Progressive Party, which believed in the 'socialism of James Connolly', hacking for the civil rights campaign and a pledge not 'to accept any longer the mealy mouthed crumbs from Stormont'.212 Elsewhere, in Mourne, O’Reilly faced a Unionist opponent and in West Tyrone, in spite of much speculation that a PD nominee would stand, O’Connor was returned unopposed.

As for Currie it is significant that from the outset it was apparent that he was not to face a rival candidate from the nationalist community. This he believed could be explained by the fact that in recent times he had pursued his own agenda which had placed him firmly in the civil rights campaign and as a result had distanced himself from the Nationalist Party. For instance, in a speech in Dublin in January 1969 he had spoken of the important impact the civil rights movement had had on opposition politics in the North. In particular it had 'shown the inadequacy both of abstention and timorous attendance and…the necessity for a new alignment of political forces in the North'. There was also great encouragement in the way in which the campaign for civil rights had helped to 'capture the idealism of the young' and had allowed for the emergence of a 'new leadership…few of whom will be prepared to play a part within the pre-Civil Rights political framework'. Now was the time therefore for the creation of a 'new united political movement’ and as far as he was concerned the sooner the better’.213 On accepting the nomination of his local party in East Tyrone Currie vowed 'to vigorously follow up those policies which he had consistently advocated since first being elected' and especially 'to work for the formation of a new political organisation of which he would then become a member’.214

Of all the contests probably the most important and the one with the greatest significance was in Foyle where Hume was attempting to defeat McAteer, in what was after all the main stronghold of the Nationalist Party. The prospect of a clash between the two men was not something that was overtly welcomed by either of them, but by 1969 the feeling had grown in Derry that it was something which was almost inevitable.215 After all, Hume had come close to running in 1965, when men like Paddy Doherty, Dr Jim Cosgrove and Michael Canavan had hoped to persuade to him stand to provide new leadership for the nationalist community. Yet in 1965 Hume had turned them down, as he had been unsure whether he could defeat McAteer and also because he had been reluctant to resign from his teaching job.216 Now, however, as Curran concludes the election 'was his rubicon. He had either to fight McAteer for the leadership of the Nationalist people or abdicate to him'. Still the decision was not an easy one to take and Hume told Curran 'I was reluctant to stand…but I felt that a more progressive political attitude and movement was vital. I had the feeling that the movement on the streets had attained its immediate objective, and must now be consolidated by political advance’.217

Equally for McAteer the prospect of a bruising contest was not one he was about to relish and in any case after almost 25 years in politics he was keen to retire in order to devote more time to his family and business. Such an admission shocked the local party and at a meeting called for 5 February to nominate him, McAteer confirmed he was not seeking to go forward again. Frantic efforts were then made to try to get him to reconsider and the meeting was adjourned to the following evening to allow this to continue. Finally the pressure on McAteer proved to be too much and in the end he agreed to accept the party’s nomination.218

In spite of all this uncertainty, once campaigning got underway it quickly became obvious that the Nationalists welcomed the opportunity to put their case and as James Doherty informed Paddy Doherty 'I feel like an old war horse who is excited by the smell of battle. The Nationalist Party will fight and win this election'.219 The party was anxious to stress, that although it welcomed the reforms that had been introduced in recent months, their main aim and guiding principle remained the commitment to a united and independent Ireland.220 As Curran concludes the campaign allowed them to highlight 'the degree of discomfort felt by traditional nationalists within the civil rights movement', and in their belief 'that the Hume line was too six-County orientated, and that the importance of the border issue had been down-graded'. An example of this was McAteer’s assertion that even though he recognised the need to ensure 'unity of action' amongst all sections of the community, in order to create a 'framework of such a broad movement to deal with the problems of the future', he would refuse to change the 'colour of my coat from one door step to another'.221

Others were quick to defend the work carried out by McAteer and the party for the people of the city down through the years. According to Dr Jim McCabe, 'In the last 20 years they have each had hundreds of personal talks with the people of Derry…We have knocked on their doors and they knocked on our doors'.222 Finally, in spite of the promises made that it would be a clean fight, almost inevitably Hume became a target for the Nationalist Party. Alderman Hegarty alleged he could have 'no reasonable defence against the allegation he was endeavouring to make political capital out of the popularity gained in the Civil Rights Movement'. This attack was supported by O’Hare who rebutted Hume’s claims that he was attempting to bring people together and, instead, argued his decision to seek 'a personal mandate to form a new party' was tantamount to increasing division. For O’Hare the issue was simple 'My idea of unity is to bridge gaps not to widen them; to embrace all, not to attempt to destroy large sections'.223

By its very nature Hume’s campaign was inevitably going to focus upon the record and performance of the Nationalist Party. For him, and for many of those involved in its planning and operation, such as Paddy Doherty, the ultimate aim was to see McAteer and his party replaced with a new, vibrant organisation.224 This was a point picked up frequently by Hume when he argued that the issues raised in the election were straight forward, 'It’s about opposition and strong opposition to Unionist policy'. He believed it was no longer enough simply 'to raise the flag of Ireland once every five years by using it as a political emblem…while doing nothing about the basic problems of the people'. It was evident that people had been forced onto the streets because of their 'disillusionment with the existing political attitudes to the problems of social justice' and the abject 'failure of existing opposition to force the Unionist Government to abandon their policies which offend…'.225 Thus, what Hume was asking for was a new ‘mandate’ to allow him to take a different approach to tackle the problems facing them and this was outlined in his manifesto. He undertook to:

(1)…work for the formation of a new political movement based on social democratic principles, with open membership, and an elected executive to allow the people full involvement in the process of decision making. (2) The movement must provide…strong and energetic opposition to conservatism…pursuing radical, social and economic policies. (3) The movement must be completely non-sectarian and must root out a fundamental evil in our society, sectarian division. (4) The movement must be committed to the ideal that the future of Northern Ireland should be decided by its people, and no constitutional changes accepted except by the consent of its people.226 When the results were announced it was quite obvious that the Nationalist Party had suffered a severe setback with three seats Foyle, Mid Derry, South Armagh lost and South Down retained by only 200 votes. (See Appendix 6: Election Results 1964-1969).

McAteer himself summed up the results perfectly when, commenting on his own defeat, he mentioned 'It’s a dull day for a funeral'.227 Yet, although bitterly disappointed at the outcome, he made it clear to Brian Friel that he still firmly believed that the party and the ideals it stood for would survive and flourish again. His immediate reaction to the party’s poor showing was to look for answers largely outside their control. He told Friel, 'I have a throaty feeling that so many of our people seem to have turned their backs on that lovely ... thing which I mean by Nationalism', but he held out the hope they would return when they have 'filled themselves with the mess of "British rights and welfare benefits" '.228 With regards to the party’s loss of three seats, McAteer informed others that, whilst he could accept the ‘possibility we may have failed to change with the times’, he firmly believed that elements within the civil rights movement had exploited it for their own purposes. In particular, he pointed out, that a lot 'of which we hear so much at present is simply an efficient takeover of the work which has been carried on for many years by us'. This 'takeover' had largely been 'helped by the folly of…Craig' and 'our own lack of guile in thinking the civil rights movement was really non-political’.229

As the local party gathered after the election, these points were to be picked up on as an explanation for why the seat had been lost. According to James Doherty, important lessons had to be learnt especially the fact that their opponents by means of 'a well financed team' and 'good advertising’ had 'sold a mediocre product in preference to one of better quality'. Along with other members a call therefore went out for the party to come up with a set of 'well defined policies' and a determination to 'sell ourselves to the public'. In order for this to happen the meeting agreed to establish a new party executive with the task to prepare ‘the framework of the new look party’.230 A week later this new body was formally established, and as James Doherty announced, it was to be given the task of attracting a younger element to the party ranks and the production of detailed 'social and economic policies' in order to 'show the electorate we need not aspire to be citizens of one of the depressed areas of Britain'.231

This job of trying to re-establish the party not only in Derry but across the province was going to be an immense one as the nature of politics had changed and would continue to do so in the months ahead in Northern Ireland. McGill had recognised this when commenting on the election results to Healy, when he had stated 'The trouble all round is that the wave of emotion consequent on recent events on the streets rose and swamped all before it'.232 As the Irish News had concluded in the wake of the election:

the demand for Civil Rights is now to be carried from the streets into Stormont…Since the emergence of the Civil Rights Campaign and street marches, the Nationalist Party has been subjected to close scrutiny and its weaknesses and human failings continually cited in support of its ultimate disappearance by those, who could not remember, nor wanted to be told of the party’s thankless efforts to keep alive national ideals and to resist, however impotently, the heavy hand of Official Unionist domination.233


1. McCluskey, Up Off Their Knees, p.16.
2. Healy to Professor. Scott, Undated 1964, D2991/B/l3, Healy Papers. Plus Irish News 24 July 1964.
3. Irish News 1 January 1964.
4. Irish News 31 January and 3 February 1964.
5. Irish Independent 9 March 1964.
6. Interviews with J. Doherty, E. O’Hare and A. Curie.
7. McKeown to M. Vinney. Irish Times 5 May 1964.
8. McCluskey, Up 0f Their Knees, p.63.
9. McKeown, The Greening of a Nationalist, p.25.
10. Note containing the Resolution for debate at the Maghery Conference, McAteer Collection.
11. McAteer to Miss A. McFadden, 16 April 1964. McAteer Collection.
12. McKeown, The Greening of a Nationalist, p.26. Plus C. McCluskey to McAteer, 8 May 1964, McAteer Collection.
13. Interviews with E. O’Hare, J. Doherty and Anonymous Sources in Derry.
14. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 22 April 1964, McAteer Collection.
15. Irish News 20 April 1964.
16. McAteer to Miss A. McFadden, 22 April 1964, McAteer Collection.
17. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970,3 and 24 June 1964, McAteer Collection.
18. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 24 June 1964, McAteer Collection.
19. Irish News 29 April 1964.
20. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 20 May 1964, McAteer Collection.
21. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 24 June 1964, McAteer Collection.
22. Irish News 9 September 1964.
23. McGill to Healy, Undated, D2991/B/24, Healy Papers.
24. Irish News 2 September 1964.
25. Irish News 3 September 1964.
26. Irish News 9 September 1964.
27. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 30 September 1964, McAteer Collection. Plus Irish News 9 September 1964.
28. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 30 September 1964, McAteer Collection.
29. McAteer to Healy, 28 September 1964, D2991/B/21, Healy Papers.
30. Irish News 20 June 1964 and Clipping from Irish Press 31 May 1964, McAteer Collection. Plus G. Thayer, The British Political Fringe: A Profile, (London, 1965), pp.215-216.
31. Irish News 20 June 1964 and Interview with A. Currie.
32. Irish News 18 and 19 June 1964.
33. McAteer to Healy, 28 September 1964, D2991/B/21, Healy Papers.
34. Irish News 3 November 1964.
35. Irish News 7 December 1964.
36. Irish News 21 November 1964.
37. Nationalist Party - Statement of Policy, (1964), McAteer Collection.
38. McAteer to Healy, 5 November 1964, D2991/B/21, Healy Papers.
39. McAteer to F. W. S. Craig, 21 June 1966, McAteer Collection.
40. Irish News 17 November 1964.
41. M. Wallace, British Government in Northern Ireland: From Devolution to Direct Rule, (Newton Abbot, 182), p.26.
42. Irish News 15 January 1965.
43. Interviews with J. Doherty and A. Curie.
44. Curran, Countdown to Disaster, pp.37-38.
45. P McGill, 'The Senate in Northern Ireland, 1921-1962’, (Ph.D. Thesis, Queen’s University, Belfast, 1965), p.111.
46. Irish News 3 February 1965.
47. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 10 February 1965, McAteer Collection.
48. Irish News 24 June 1965.
49. Interviews with J. Doherty and Anonymous Sources in Derry.
50. Curran, Countdown to Disaster, p.26.
51. Ibid., pp.39-40. Plus B. White, John Hume: Statesman of the Troubles, (Belfast, 1984), pp.5-28.
52. Irish Times 18 and 19 May 1964. Plus Curran, Countdown to Disaster, p.41 and White, Hume: Statesman of the Troubles, pp.42-43.
53. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 20 May 1964, McAteer Collection.
54. White, Hume: Statesman of the Troubles, p.45. Plus Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 3 June 1964, McAteer Collection.
55. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 30 September 1964, McAteer Collection.
56. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 18 October 1965, McAteer Collection.
57. Irish Times 19 May 1964.
58. Curran, Countdown to Disaster, p.30.
59. White, Hume: Statesman of the Troubles, p.38.
60. Curran, Countdown to Disaster, pp.27-39. Plus White, Hume: Statesman of the Troubles, pp.38-39.
61. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 10 February 1965, McAteer Collection. Plus Irish News 6, 9, 11, 13 and 18 February 1965.
62. Curran, Countdown to Disaster, pp. 42-43. Plus interview with F. Curran.
63. Irish News 8 February 1965.
64. Irish News 21 June 1965.
65. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 19 May 1965, McAteer Collection.
66. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 16 June 1965, McAteer Collection.
67. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 30 June 1965 and 18 October 1965, McAteer Collection. Plus Irish News 24 June 1965 and 9 July 1965.
68. McAteer to Healy, 7 September 1965, D2291/B/21, Healy Papers.
69. Interview with A. Currie.
70. Irish News 27 August 1965.
71. Irish News 28 August 1965.
72. Irish News 31 July 1965.
73. McGill to McAteer, 30 November 1965, McAteer Collection.
74. Irish News 28 October 1965.
75. Irish News 1 and 5 November 1965. PIus O’Reilly’s endorsement of D. Rice, NDP candidate in East Down, (PRONI). D231/2/61.
76. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 3 November 1965, McAteer Collection.
77. Irish News 22 November 1965.
78. Irish News 20 November 1965.
79. Irish News 27 November 1965.
80. McGill to McAteer, 6 December 1965, McAteer Collection.
81. Irish News 13 December 1965.
82. lnterview with A. Currie.
83. Irish News 3 February 1966.
84. Irish News 30 April 1966.
85. Clipping from the Sunday Press 21 August 1966, McAteer Collection.
86. McGill to McAteer, 29 September 1966, McAteer Collection.
87. McGill to Healy, 23 January 1966, D2991/B/24, Healy Papers.
88. McGill to Healy, 22 April 1966, D2991/B/24, Healy Papers.
89. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 23 February 1966, McAteer Collection.
90. lnterview with J. Doherty.
91. Irish News 25 May 1966.
92. Programme of the First Annual Conference of the Nationalist Party, 22 May 1966, McAteer Collection.
93. Nationalist Party Appeal for Funds, McAteer Collection.
94. Irish News 7 February 1966.
95. Programme of the First Annual Conference of the Nationalist Party, 22 May 1966. McAteer Collection.
96. Irish News 5 August 1966.
97. K. Bloomfield, Stormont in Crisis: A Memoir, (Belfast, 1994), pp.87.
98. Letter from Healy and Senator O'Hare to H. Wilson, 20 October 1964; Wilson to Healy,13 January 1964, and Healy and Senator O’Hare to Wilson, 7 January 1965, (PRONI), HO/S/186.
99. Irish News 29 March, 1 April, 23 April and 7 May 1965
100. H. Wilson, The Labour Government 1964-1970 A Personal Record, (London, 1971), p.270.
101. Irish News 17 February 1966.
102. Ibid.
103. Wilson, The Labour Government 1964-1970, p.270.
104. Irish News 11 August 1966.
105. Irish News 8 April 1967.
106. McGill to McAteer, 10 April 1967, McAteer Collection.
107. Irish News 8 April 1967.
108. Labour Lawyers Inquiry to McAteer. 13 April 1967, McAteer Collection.
109. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 12 April and 26 April 1967. McAteer Collection.
110. McAteer to C. Thornberry, Secretary of LLI, 12 May 1967, McAteer Collection.
111. J. Carron to Healy, Undated, D2991/B/87, Healy Papers.
112. Healy to LLI, 17 September 1967, D2991/B/87, Healy Papers.
113. McGill to McAteer, 19 April 1967. McAteer Collection.
114. Ibid.
115. Irish News 12 April 1967.
116. Irish News 26 September 1967.
117. Curran, Countdown to Disaster, p.25.
118. Curran, Countdown to Disaster, p.25 and p.40. Plus Irish News 23 and 26 August 1967.
119. Curran, Countdown to Disaster, p.47.
120. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970 - the topic of boundary extension was debated throughout 1966, McAteer Collection.
121. Curran, Countdown to Disaster, pp.47-48.
122. Ibid., pp.50-51.
123. Interview with A. Currie.
124. McGill to McAteer, 10 and 19 April 1967. McAteer Collection.
125. W.D. Flackes, Northern Ireland: A Political Directory, 1968-1979, (Dublin, 1980), pp.60-61.
126. B. Purdie, Politics in the Streets: The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland, (Belfast, 1990), p.61.
127. Rumpf and Hepburn, Nationalism and Socialism in Twentieth Century Ireland, p.192.
128. Irish News 19 April 1967.
129. McGill to McAteer. 19 April 1967, McAteer Collection.
130. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 8 March 1967, McAteer Collection.
131. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 26 April 1967, McAteer Collection.
132. Irish News 25 May 1967. Plus Purdie, Politics in the Streets, pp.58-59.
133. Irish News 17 January 1967.
134. Irish News 2 July 1967.
135. Irish News 12 April 1967.
136. Irish News 4 November 1967.
137. Interviews with J. Doherty and Anonymous Sources in Derry.
138. Interview with A. Currie.
139. Irish News 29 August, 6 September and 12 September 1967.
140. R. Jenkins to McAteer, 28 November 1967, McAteer Collection.
141. Irish News 28,29 and 30 November 1967.
142. McAteer to J. Dillon, 17 June 1967, McAteer Collection.
143. Dillon to McAteer, 21 June 1967. McAteer Collection.
144. Lennon to McAteer, 26 June 1967, McAteer Collection.
145. Undated Note from McAteer, D2991/B/87. Healy Papers.
146.T.P. O’Keefe to Healy, 10 August 1967, D2991/B/87. Healy Papers.
147. Irish News 2 August 1967.
148. Interview with A. Currie.
149. Irish News 14 December 1966.
150. Irish News 21 December 1967.
151. Irish News 13 September, 19 and 20 October 1967.
152. Irish News 24 October 1967.
153. Interviews with E. O’Hare, J. Doherty and Anonymous Sources in Derry.
154. Irish News 5 March 1968. Plus Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 8 May 1968, McAteer Collection.
155. Interview with A. Currie.
156. Irish News 24 January 1968.
157. Irish News 22April 1968.
158. Interview with A. Currie. Plus Irish News 19, 20 and 21 June 1968.
159. Interview with A. Currie. Plus Purdie, Politics on the Streets, p.135 and Farrell, The Orange State, pp.245-246 and p.357.
160. Interview with Anonymous Sources in Derry.
161. Irish News 22 February 1968.
162. Irish News 8 May 1968.
163. Irish News 23 August 1968.
164. McAteer to the Home Office, 5 July 1968, McAteer Collection.
165. Irish News 26 June 1968.
166. Irish News 7 June 1968.
167. Irish News 26 June 1968.
168. Programme of the Third Annual Conference of the Nationalist Party, 23 June 1968. McAteer Collection.
169. McGill to McAteer. 4 September 1968. McAteer Collection.
170. Interviews with A. Currie, F. O’Hare, F Curran and J. Doherty. Plus Irish News 24 June 1968 and Programme of the Third Annual Conference of the Nationalist Party. McAteer Collection.
171. Irish News 24 June 1968.
172. Irish News 27 June 1968.
173. White, Hume: Statesman of the Troubles, p.61.
174. E. McCann, War in an Irish Town, (London, 1974), p.28 and pp.27-36.
175. Ibid., p.33.
176. Ibid., p.30.
177. Curran, Countdown to Disaster, p.65 and p.68. Plus Irish News 22 July 1968.
178. Irish News 21 August 1968 and Interviews with Anonymous Sources in Derry.
179. B. Faulkner, Memoirs of a Statesman, (London, 1978), p.42.
180. Ibid.,pp.42-43.
181. Wichert, Northern Ireland Since 1945, p.94.
182. Curran, Countdown to Disaster, p.68.
183. Interview with A. Currie.
184. Farrell, The Orange State, pp. 245-247, Plus Purdie, Politics in the Streets, pp.138-141.
185. Statement of E. McAteer to the Cameron Commission, 6 May 1969, McAteer Collection.
186. Interview with Mr P. Doherty 18 August 1994. PIus P. Doherty, Bogside of the Bitter Zeal, (unpublished), p.55.
187. Irish News 7 October 1968.
188. Interview with J. Doherty. Plus Irish News 21 August 1968 and Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 25 September 1968, McAteer Collection.
189. Wilson, Labour Government 1964-1970, p.672.
190. Irish News 23 November 1968. PIus White, Hume: Statesman of the Troubles, p.68 and Farrell, The Orange State, p.248.
191. Interview with J. Doherty. Plus Irish News 12 October 1968.
192. Irish News 16 October 1968.
193. Irish News 18 November 1968.
194. Interview with J. Doherty.
195. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 6 November 1968, McAteer Collection. Plus Irish News 18 November 1968.
196. Irish News 23 November 1968.
197. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 4 December 1968, McAteer Collection.
198. Irish News 25 November 1968.
199. Interview with A Currie.
200. Irish News 11 December 1968.
201. Bloomfield, Stormont in Crisis, p.101.
202. Irish News 10 December 1968.
203. Irish News 12 and 18 December 1968.
204 Farrell, The Orange State, p.358 and pp.249-250.
205. Irish News 18 and 30 December 1968.
206. Curran, Countdown to Disaster, p.92.
207. Address by McAteer to UIA, 14 November 1968, McAteer Collection.
208. Irish News 2 January 1969.
209. Interview with F. Curran and P. Doherty.
210. Irish News 11 March 1968.
211. Irish News 30 May 1968.
212. Irish Times 20 February 1969.
213. Interview with A. Currie. Plus Irish News 16 January 1969.
214. Irish News 10 February 1969.
215. Interviews with J. Doherty, P Doherty and F.Curran.
216. Curran, Countdown to Disaster, pp.43-45 Plus White, Hume: Statesman of the Troubles, pp.53-55.
217. Curran, Countdown to Disaster, pp.115-116.
218. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 5 and 6 February 1969, McAteer Collection. Plus Interviews with J. Doherty and Anonymous Sources in Derry.
219. P. Doherty, Bogside of the Bitter Zeal, p.34.
220. Interview with J. Doherty.
221. Curran, Countdown to Disaster, p.115. Plus Irish News 7 and 17 February 1969.
222. Irish News 24 February 1969.
223. Irish News 17 and 24 February 1969.
224. Interview with P. Doherty.
225. Irish News 17 and 24 February 1969.
226. Curran, Countdown to Disaster, p.115.
227. Irish News 26 February 1969.
228. McAteer to B. Friel, 27 February 1969, McAteer Collection.
229. Irish News 26 February 1969. Plus McAteer to Mrs C. Philpott, 24 March 1969, McAteer Collection.
230. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 5 March 1969, McAteer Collection.
231. Minute Book of the Derry Nationalist Party 1963-1970, 12 March 1969, McAteer Collection.
232. McGill to Healy, 14 May 1969, D2991/B/124, Healy Papers.
233. Irish News 27 February 1969.

Appendix 6: Stormont Parliamentary Election Results 1964-1969

Stormont Parliamentary By-Election: 30 June 1964

Tyrone, East1


Turnout %







A. Currie
A. Blevins





Stormont Parliamentary Election: 25 November 1965

Armagh, South2


Turnout %







E.G. Richardson P. McSorley







Down, Mourne3


Turnout %







J. O’Reilly
Mrs K. Forde





Down, South4


Turnout %







J. Connellan
I.C.W. Hutchinson





Londonderry, Foyle5


Turnout %







E. McAteer
S. Quinn







Stormont Parliamentary Election: 24 February 1969

Armagh, South6


Turnout %







P. O’Hanlon
E.G. Richardson
P. Byrne





Down, South7


Turnout %







M. Keogh
F. Woods

Peoples Democracy




Londonderry, Foyle8


Turnout %







J. Hume
E.G. McAteer
E. McCann





Londonderry, Mid9


Turnout %







I. Cooper
P.J. Gormely
J. O’Kane

Labour Party







1. Elliott, Northern Ireland Parliamentary Results 1921-1972, p.82.
2. Ibid., p.63.
3. Ibid., p.70.
4. Ibid., p.72.
5. Ibid., p.78.
6. Ibid., p.63.
7. Ibid., p 72.
8. Ibid., p.78.
9. Ibid., p.79.

CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.

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