Civil Rights Mural, Derry

Why is the legacy of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland contested?

In 2008 as sections of the two communities in the North began to commemorate the events of 1968 what was most notable was the letters section in the Irish News. There a contest was played out amongst elements of the Catholic population for the ownership of the civil rights movement. Republicans claimed ownership for the idea arguing that the republican clubs and the republican movement played a seminal role in setting up NICRA. The SDLP sought recognition that it was the party of civil rights and indeed much of the commemorative activity that year was organised by elements within or connected to the SDLP. Both claimed that their participation in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations of 1998 was the culmination of their efforts for civil rights. What was significant about the civil rights movement in 1968 was that it appeared to be a moment of unity among all shades of nationalist opinion in the North. NICRA was an important step in the evolution of national struggle of Northern Ireland because it managed to unite Republicans, Nationalists and other anti-Unionists into one group with one goal. Of course each of the groups also pursued their own agenda apart from the civil rights movement and sometimes even within it. While the leadership from NICRA did offer some general direction many people participated in the civil rights movement without belonging to any specific association. NICRA was an important but loose alliance. How then did it come to be a divisive element forty years later?

Dr Sarah Campbell

In a podcast for the History podcast series Dr Sarah Campbell (Newcastle University) looks at some of the myths surrounding the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland and examines why the legacy of the movement is contested.

The Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland:

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Image: The Civil Rights Mural, Derry. Source: Kenneth Allen [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons