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Civil rights

Civil rights march, 1969

The Catholic civil rights movement of the late 1960s played a significant part in the demise of unionist control and the introduction of British troops onto the streets of Northern Ireland.

Unionists had ruled Northern Ireland for more than 50 years. During that time, the nationalist and Catholic minorities were subject to various kinds of discrimination and special laws were put into place to safeguard the state from internal threat.

In the late 1960s a group of nationalists, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, began to work for change. It catalogued discrimination against Catholics in housing and employment and demanded equal voting rights for all in local government elections. Unionists regarded the civil rights movement with deep suspicion believing that its real objective was to create a united Ireland.

The group also moved their protests onto the streets to highlight the problem of inequality and civil liberties in Northern Ireland. One of its early protest marches took place in Londonderry on 5 October 1968. The Unionist government banned the march and the ban was enforced by the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Their use of force to break up the march drew international attention to the problems within Northern Ireland. It also gave rise to increased hostility in the nationalist community towards police and Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom.

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