Michael D Higgins lauds reconciling vision of peacemaker John Hume

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The Irish president has said the reconciling vision of peacemaker John Hume should be embraced on the 50th anniversary of civil rights protest bloodshed.

For some, the Royal Ulster Constabulary’s use of violence at Duke Street in Londonderry marked the start of decades of conflict.

Peaceful protesters seeking rights like one man, one vote, and the fair allocation of public housing were assaulted with batons.

Dozens of people, including the MP Gerry Fitt, were injured when the march backed by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association entered an area declared prohibited by then unionist minister of Home Affairs William Craig.

Nobel peace prize winner Mr Hume rescued the wounded and went on to become a statesman who helped end the IRA’s violent campaign decades later.

Irish 2018 National Ploughing Championship
President Michael D Higgins (Liam McBurney/PA)

“A vision of a shared Ireland, one that recognises the unionist and nationalist traditions, one that is capable of reconciling communities, one that, North and South, preserves human dignity and vindicates and expands fundamental human rights – in the economic, cultural and social spheres.

“If we remain true to that vision, we can not only sustain peace on our island, but can, together, confront the shared challenges of the future with confidence and courage.”

He said the Civil Rights movement was the crucible from which Mr Hume emerged as a national and international politician.

“He dedicated his political life to realising its programme, and later, its wider emancipatory potential.”

Social Democratic Labour Party’s (SDLP) John Hume
John Hume in front of the Stormont Building (Paul Faith/PA)

The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association’s leadership came from a diverse and broad cross-section of backgrounds, including Catholics, Protestants, unionists and republicans, socialists and trade unionists.

The president said they were united in their determination to combat the deep inequalities which scarred Northern Ireland – inequalities in housing, voting, and policing.

The association demanded the principle of “one person, one vote”, an end to gerrymandering, elimination of discrimination in the allocation of government jobs and housing, the repeal of the Special Powers Act, and the disbandment of the Ulster Special Constabulary.

Derry was a Catholic and nationalist city, administered for decades by a Protestant and Unionist majority.

Mr Higgins added: “Although rooted in the soil of the North and summoned to confront the structural inequalities within the society of Northern Ireland, the Civil Rights Movement was part of a global struggle for human rights – a vision of human rights that extended beyond personal or individual rights, a demand that stretched to collective rights, to shared rights.”

He urged a new spirit of global solidarity, the same spirit and qualities demonstrated by the Civil Rights Movement of 50 years ago.

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