1921 First Northern Ireland parliament elected
1964 Campaign for Social Justice (CSJ) formed
Dehra Chichester, later Dame Dehra Parker (1882-1963) was elected as a Unionist to the first Northern Ireland parliament in 1921 and served there for 35 years. She was the first woman to sit in the Northern Ireland cabinet and introduced legislation on education and other social topics. She was grandmother to two Prime Ministers of Northern Ireland: Terence O'Neill and James Chichester-Clark.
Sheelagh Murnaghan (1924-93) was Northern Ireland's first woman barrister and a Liberal MP representing Queen's University, Belfast. Her attempts in the 1960s to bring about reform in local government were unsuccessful as was her attempt to introduce a Human Rights Bill.
Before the 'Troubles' began in Northern Ireland in 1969, there were several occasions when women and men united across barriers to appeal for justice by peaceful protest. They collected hard facts about discrimination and passed them on to politicians, the media and the general public, often in novel and dramatic ways. Most failed to achieve their aims to a sufficient extent before violence broke out.
Angela McCrystal, angry at the persistent denial of decent public housing to young Catholic families in Dungannon in 1963, helped to form the Homeless Citizens League (HCL). This group, partly influenced by the civil rights movement in the USA, submitted their grievances to Dungannon Urban Council and picketed council meetings accompanied by their children and pushing prams. Patricia McCluskey and her husband Conn joined and collected systematic evidence, so thoroughly researched that it proved without doubt the existence of discrimination.
|A squat was organised which eventually involved thirty-seven women and their families ...The combination of widespread coverage of the squat by the Belfast media and the detailed nature of the statistics presented by the delegation was sufficient to force Stormont to put pressure on the Dungannon Council who were obliged to abandon their plans to eject forcibly the squatters and make provision for homeless Catholics more quickly...
Catherine B. Shannon, 'Women in Northern Ireland' in Mary O'Dowd & S. Wichert, Chattel, servant or citizen? Belfast, 1993, p.240.
Encouraged, the McCluskeys and others formed the Campaign for Social Justice (CSJ) in 1964 to research other aspects of injustice in Northern Ireland - injustices such as gerrymandering which ensured Unionist domination in local government and also discrimination against Catholics in public employment as well as housing.
|Our first objective will be to collect comprehensive and accurate data on all injustices done against all creeds and political opinions, including details of discrimination in jobs and houses ... A booklet will be published for the widest circulation in which we will feel no need to select or slant our facts for the best effect ... We will make as full use as funds allow of newspaper, poster and leaflet publicity outside Ireland, availing of the services of an advertising consultant. In this way we will force all the disturbing details of life here to the attention of the British and American people so that it can never again be said that they were unaware of what was happening in Northern Ireland.
Conn McCluskey, Up off their knees: a commentary on the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland, Belfast, 1989.
The CSJ encouraged the minority population to register and vote in local government elections and Patricia McCluskey and three other CSJ members were elected to Dungannon Council in 1964. She presented her data to prominent politicians in Westminster where a Campaign for Democracy in Ulster (CDU) was set up. But the British and Northern Ireland governments took no effective action at this time.
The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) was founded in 1967. It included women members Patricia McCluskey and Bríd Rogers from the CSJ, trade union leader Betty Sinclair, republicans and young students, including Bernadette Devlin, Inez McCormack, Eilish McDermott, Ann Hope and Madge Davison.
CSJ and NICRA chose the route from Coalisland to Dungannon for their first march in August 1968 because of the history of discrimination in Dungannon and a housing squat by Austin Currie in nearby Caledon.
|Thus the founding of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), is as much the result of their [women's] groundwork as of the various trade union, republican and civil liberties groups that joined in establishing the organisation in April 1967.
Catherine B. Shannon, 'Women in Northern Ireland' in Mary O'Dowd & S. Wichert, Chattel, servant or citizen? Belfast, 1993, p.241.
A Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) protest march in Derry in October 1968 was broken up by a police baton charge which was filmed and shown on television world wide. From now on, protest marches were spoiled by sectarian rioting, police violence, paramilitary involvement and repressive measures while high hopes for resolution of injustice by peaceful protest were fading.