Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Institutionalized Sectarianism in the North of Ireland – Ian Paisley, Prayers for Partition, Marching Feet in Derry

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Today’s Stormont Administration is controlled by the Democratic Unionist Party, founded by far-right religious rabble-rouser Ian Paisley. Despite the honeyed words of today’s peace process, the Northern state’s government is choked by institutionalized sectarianism. Paisley’s spiritual children will descend on Armagh City on October 21 reciting prayers for partition.

October 11 1988 – Ian Paisley heckles the “AntiChrist” Pope in the European Parliament

“This day 33 years ago – 11 October 1988 – Ian Paisley interrupted Pope John Paul II as the pontiff was speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Paisley held up a sign with the words, ‘Pope John Paul II Antichrist,’ and shouted, “I renounce you as Christ’s enemy!”

To read more about when Ian Paisley interrupted Pope John Paul II, pick up a copy of This Day in Irish History, available online and in all good bookshops. Perfect for those with an interest in Ireland’s past!

Source “This Day in Irish History” Facebook page

October is also the month when marching feet in 1968 shook the foundations of partition in Ireland.

On 1 October the Apprentice Boys gave notice of an ‘annual’ parade on 5 October over the same route as the Civil Rights march. No one in Derry had ever heard of the ‘annual’ parade before but it served the purpose. Craig [Bill Craig, the Unionist Police Minister] banned all parades, except in the ghetto, on 5 October. NICRA dithered and were about to call it off when the Derry groups and the Belfast Young Socialists said they would go ahead regardless. NICRA hurriedly agreed and the march assembled on 5 October. Craig [Bill Craig, the Unionist Police Minister] had drafted in a massive force of police, including the RUC Reserve force and two water cannons. He boasted that this would not be another Armagh – where the Republicans had successfully defied his ban at Easter. Two thousand marchers set off from the Waterside station and got about 200 yards. They were met by a solid wall of RUC, who batoned Gerry Fitt [then a Westminster MP] at the head of the march. Crushed in the narrow street most of the marchers didn’t even see this, and the organisers tried to hold a meeting.

Northern Ireland the Orange State, Michael Farrell, 1976, Pluto Press

The birth of People’s Democracy

Northern Ireland the Orange State, Michael Farrell’s Marxist Classic

The Young Socialists made a determined effort to get through however and the RUC baton-charged. The marchers were caught between two lines of police, batoned savagely and then hosed with the water cannon. Even the government-commissioned Cameron Report later criticised the indiscriminate violence of the police. Scattered fighting broke out throughout the city as the RUC charged groups of marchers and ended up in the Bogside, where barricades were put up that night and petrol bombs used for the first time in Derry. 77 civilians were injured and a number arrested, though the charges were later dropped. The march had been well covered by television. Viewers all over Ireland and Britain saw the RUC smashing up a peaceful demonstration. A wave of anger swept through the frustrated minority, and stirred liberal opinion in the North. The Young Socialists and student left were organising. On 9 October a thousand students set out to march to the City Hall in Belfast. Paisley held a counter-demonstration at Shaftesbury Square and the RUC rerouted the students. They accepted, only to be stopped again nearer the city centre because half a dozen Paisleyite women had blocked the road. The students (including the author, then a postgraduate student and teacher) held a three-hour sit-down in the street and then went back to the university. That night they set up the Peoples Democracy (PD), a loose activist body committed to civil rights reforms, but with a tough Young Socialist hard core. It was to become the dynamic driving force of the Civil Rights movement.

Northern Ireland the Orange State, Michael Farrell, 1976, Pluto Press

See Also :

In the cafe inside Derry’s Waterside railway station, three old friends meet. They have come to remember October 5th, 1968, and the civil rights march which changed everything.

“I think if I had missed October 5th I’d probably have missed the whole thing, and my life would have been incredibly different,” says Bernadette McAliskey, then 18-year-old student Bernadette Devlin.

“Nothing was the same again politically, I don’t think, and for most of the people who witnessed that march nothing was ever the same again.”

What happened is well known. The marchers gathered at the station and were stopped at nearby Duke Street by the RUC. The pictures of the policemen attacking the unarmed marchers with batons and blackthorn sticks were viewed around the world, and it would come to be regarded as one of the starting points of the Troubles.

‘Elders of the Rebel Alliance’ remember the day that everything changed, Irish Times, October 9 2021

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