ON the 43rd anniversary of Derry’s first civil rights march in 1968, key organisers of that historic event were amongst a well-attended private function, held in the city on October 5th. At the end of a period of lively and enlightening discussions, the attendance unanimously passed the following resolution: “that this gathering supports the proposal to establish a grass-roots, cross-community, anti-sectarian and non-party political Social Justice Network, to promote human rights and civil liberties”
The gathering spent little time in retrospection, preferring to focus on current issues, which they felt should be of major public concern. Among the speakers were four representatives of loyalist groups in Derry and Belfast whose verbal contributions, and distributed leaflets, reflected the concerns of the Shankill-based group, FAST – Families Against Show Trials.
The chairperson, Tomas Timoney, a cross-community activist opened the proceedings by commenting: “It is encouraging to see this type of working-class dialogue on diverse, and at times controversial topics such as the re-emergence of dubious judicial mechanisms that cater for ‘super-grass’ testimonies. Such bodes ill for the our collective future as such can only be described as retrograde steps that speak volumes for what passes for a system of justice in these parts. In this context we fully support FAST and other groups and individuals within all communities who challenge the status quo when hey feel their rights to truth and proper justice are, or have been, undermined or denied.”
The platform address came from a local author and historian, Fionnbarra O’Dochartaigh. He referred to the ever-deepening recession and Wednesday’s one-day strike by health and education workers, which he asserted was “not to enhance their own wage-packets, but on the contrary, without selfish motives, had taken such action to alert the public to cut-backs, which, are all too often being disguised as ‘reforms’. He asserted that, "the supposedly progressive description of ‘reform’ is an insult to our individual and collective intelligence”.
Others issues raised by this co-founder of the civil rights association in 1967 included: what he claimed was a “sell-out of oil and gas resources to multi-nationals”; human trafficking; perceived targeting of those registered as disabled; alcohol and drug abuse and the need for a detox unit in the north-west; limiting student expansion at Magee University College; rights of travellers and ethnic communities, the non-implementation of the supposed agreement of August 12th 2010 at HMP Maghaberry and what he referred to as “the continuation of brutal strip-searches, which should be viewed against a background of other non-implementation of numerous prison reports, each produced at a high cost to tax-payers, which remain on ‘officialdom’s’ shelves to merely gather dust”.
Other thought-provoking contributions included those delivered by the civil rights leader Ivan Cooper who was Minister for Community Relations in the ill-fated 1974 power-sharing executive; Dr. David Latimer of First Derry Presbyterian Church, family members of Bloody Sunday victims, Dr. Anne McCloskey of the Irish National Congress, Ken Wilkinson, FAST, Belfast, the feminist and campaigning journalist Nell McCafferty, in addition to testimonies of former defendants at ‘super-grass trials’ and former political prisoners.
The highlight of the evening was Dr. David Latimer’s moving and inspirational contribution. It drew on his ‘scary experiences’, especially in the operating theatre at Camp Bastion, acting in the capacity as a medical unit chaplain of the Territorial Army. He had been called up in 2008 to serve in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, and reflected on “those awful evil outcomes of man’s inhumanity to man”. Such he related influenced his personal deep desire to promote more forcibly the true Christian message of peace by building bridges across communities, much nearer to home. He concluded that the Oct. 5th event was yet another proof, if such be needed, that communities in Derry, in particular, were drawing nearer together, which was indeed exemplary, and would, undoubtedly bear fruit elsewhere.