Paul Foot

Do-It-Yourself Politics Threaten
N. Ireland’s Police Regime

(26 October 1968)


From Socialist Worker, No. 94, 26 October 1968, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.


All the signs are that the exploited people of Northern Ireland, denied even the semblance of parliamentary democracy available to the rest of the United Kingdom, are beginning to ‘do it themselves’, to act to seize the basic rights and services denied them by an intolerant and reactionary government,

Eamonn Melaugh, secretary of the Derry Housing Action Committee, formed last March with the express purpose of encouraging and stimulating rent strikes and other forms of direct action to improve some of the worst housing conditions in Europe, told me:

‘We’ve had 50 years of talk, 50 years of pacifism and 50 years of failure to end discrimination, poverty and exploitation in this city.’
 

Bludgeoned

It was the Derry Housing Action Committee which inspired the weak, liberal Civil Rights Association to hold a march in Londonderry – a march, which, as we reported two weeks ago, was bludgeoned out of the streets by police fanatics.

During the weekend following the march, in one street in the Catholic heart of the city, all the ground-floor windows were broken by a posse of police yelling ‘Come out, you fenian bastards!’

The police, like the government, rely upon religious prejudice to maintain their squalid regime. The Ulster Unionist Party gets the support of masses of Protestant workers because it has fanned the flames of religious intolerance for half a century, setting one section of the workers against another with the inevitable lurid tales of Catholic horror.

Such men are frightened now. The movement started by the Derry Housing Action Committee is not founded, as was the Irish Republican Army, on religious sectarianism.

John White, secretary of the Derry Republican Club, one of the most active organisations affiliated to. the DHAC, told me:

‘We are socialists. We want an Irish workers’ republic, and we will work with anyone who works in a militant way toward that aim.’

The movement, started in Derry, has now taken root in Queens University, Belfast, which used to be the most reactionary university in Britain.

During the last three weeks it has been transformed by scenes which bear comparison with the Sorbonne University in Paris last May. Hardly an evening has gone by without the massive McMurdie Hall being filled with some 600–700 students meeting spontaneously to discuss the next form of action for ‘civil rights’.

As a result of these meetings, the students have marched twice into the centre of Belfast. On the first occasion the police would not let them through to City Hall, because, they argued, there would be a fight with the supporters of the extremist Protestant Unionist, the Rev. Ian Paisley.

The second time, however, last Wednesday (October 16) the students called in support from Young Socialists and workers, doubled their numbers and marched unimpeded to the City Hall where they held a meeting.

In the enthusiasm and spontaneity of the meetings the students have moved from a vacuous liberalism to harder, more militant demands.

On the morning of the first march, for instance, they agreed unanimously to support their Vice-Chancellor and ban all non-student elements from the march. That same evening, after the sit-down, the vast majority voted to invite young workers and Young Socialist organisations to the next demonstration.

The terror of the authorities at the prospect of workers and students acting for themselves can be measured by the reactions of William Craig, known variously as the Papadopoulos or the Lardner-Burke of Ulster.

First, Craig tried to justify the brutality of his riot squads in Derry by claiming that the march was organised by communists. This was greeted with wild laughter.

Betty Sinclair, Communist Secretary of the Belfast Trades Council and secretary of the Civil Rights movement, had originally been opposed to marching in the face of a police ban, and, on the students’ first sit-down had rushed up and down the line of sitting students begging the demonstrators to ‘go home now you have made your point’.

Then Craig said that the IRA was behind it all – an allegation which was laughed at equally loudly.

Finally, on October 16, Craig made a statement in the Stormont parliament ‘naming names’ of conspirators in the Irish Workers’ Group, who, he said, wanted to end the bourgeois state in Northern Ireland.

He named Gery Lawless, who lives in London, Eammon McCann of the Derry Labour Party and Rory McShane, next year’s President of Queens Students Representative Council.
 

Resentment

The reply to Craig is simple.

YES, the men he named do wish to end the bourgeois state in Ireland.

YES, they do intend to campaign for an Irish workers’ republic.

But, unhappily for Craig and his fanatical friends, they do not intend to do it with sectarian slogans and adventurist violence.

They intend to do it by helping to direct the resentment and frustration of the Irish workers away from Catholicism or Protestantism – away, in short, from themselves and towards their real oppressors whom Mr. Craig represents.


Last updated on 11 October 2020