The Republican Clubs spawned Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association – By Marian Donnelly

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In recent days two parties that did not exist at the time, were out bidding each other, claiming to be inheritors of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.

It would appear that the Republican Clubs are to be written out of history by those who by their sectarianism and or violence led to the demise of NICRA.

The first meeting to set up NICRA was held in Maghera in 1967 and it was formally established in 1968.

The SDLP was not formed until 1970. The SDLP was not “born out of the NICRA” but the resurrection of Nationalist sectarian politics which continue to plague our society today.

The Squat in Caledon was organised by Brantry Republican Club. Austin Currie who was to claim credit for the Caledon squat, was a founding member of the SDLP who later as a Stormont Minister, introduced the draconian ‘Payment of Debt Act’ which allowed the Government to deduct payment from wages and benefits for those supporting the NICRA organised Civil Disobedience Campaign. His actions were a direct attack on NICRA and aimed at the most vulnerable in society.

Republican Clubs was the name adopted by Sinn Fein (Official) in the north to overcome the Stormont ban and allow them to engage in electoral politics. Not everyone in the Republican Movement supported this political direction. Those who opposed the new direction went on to form the Provisionals.

Despite some individual members attending Civil Rights marches, the Provisionals were hostile to the Civil Rights Campaign seeing it as reformist.

One prominent Provo refused to support NICRA because it used ‘Northern Ireland’ in its name. NICRA was not about Civil Rights for Catholics but for everyone. It was not a Nationalist campaign but wanted to reform and democratise Stormont. The demise of NICRA was the result of being driven off the streets by violence and on going sectarianism.

The Republican Clubs, (now the Workers Party) were to the fore in founding NICRA, organising and stewarding marches and other protests. NICRA campaigned for civil rights for all irrespective of religion, race, disability or any form of nationalism.

Among the reforms won by the civil rights campaign was the ending of the Special Powers Act, disarming of the RUC and disbandment of the B-Specials, the establishment of the NI Housing Executive and a system of fair allocation of housing.

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I am a regular contributor to discussion programmes on TV and radio both at home and abroad. An experienced political editor and author specialising in Politics, Security and 20th Century Art.


  1. The B’specials were not disbanded etc by nica that was done by james callaghan after the attack on the bogside and the burning out of almost 3000 catholic families in belfast while the stickies ( REPUBLICAN CLUBS AND THE SO CALLED IRA hid in the long bar in lesson street gerry adams included, the provisional IRA was not formed until 1970 after the arms trial and the abandonment of the nationalist people by lynch and the free state just remember the slogan by the people in the lower falls IRA == I RAN AWAY IT WAS PAINTED ON EVERY WALL IN THE NATIONALIST AREAS ACROSS BELFAST

    • All my arse, I’m afraid. Look at the dates. There was no Provisional IRA or Provisional Sinn Fein in existence, and there was no SDLP. The other sentiments are just slip. If history is stolen and twisted in a lie, it’s cancer.

  2. As an Irish woman from the north who was 19 in 1969 and who took part in the Battle of the Bog I didn’t really care if a party of little green men from Mars changed what was happening in the north just so long as the dispicable Unionist had their blood stained hands removed from power. I marched, and later on my wee son in his pram along with me, to support Sinn Fein, the Provos, John Hume, the NICRA, the Stickies, Peoples Democracy, Trade Unionism, Students Union and just about anyone else who took to the streets of Derry to change the way we were forced to live.

    The articles about who founded the NICRA are plentiful these days and to be honest I find it all very disheartening. There we are after 50 years and what have we got, loads of people will to step all over anyone who they think are undeserving of any entitlement.

    I’ve got news for you, we were all part of a huge movement that shook this statelet to its roots from Belfast to across the Irish Sea and then to the rest of the world. We all contributed our own bit, yes some more than others and this should be acknowledged. We saw some inspirational leaders, from many quarters, who stepped forward and showed us ways of moving forward to a more equal society. If anyone is looking to be crowned for being the ‘founders’ exclusively, well, IMO, I don’t think you exist. Non of what was accomplished was done in a vacuum, it took ALL of us who suffered and all of us who wanted to remove those responsible for this ‘putrid illegal statlet’ (and I make no apologies for using that term). I’m proud of what me and my pram pushing years achieved, attending funeral after funeral of dead young people who thought their way was the best way forward. Im proud ofbanging bin lids in the front street when it was saturated with Tin Pigs and British soldiers illegally raiding full streets. My own home was raided 26 times, officially, I still have the forms, but hundreds of times unofficially even when the house was empty. I could go on and on but mine is a very familiar story so I don’t need to go any further.

    We all needed inspired, educated, knowledgable people who could speak for us that couldn’t. As it turned out we had an aboundance of such people, newly educated, young and not so young, but many great people none the less. Great people who’s time was maybe a decade or so before the 60’s who wanted to play a part. Yes we all may have had differences in opinion and it showed. I can remember elections being particularly nasty between Sinn Fein supporters and the SDLP. I hated that then and I still do. I, like most others, found ‘my place’ as the years moved on and that the way it should be, but as I said already we started this together and we need to remember now that that it how it all started. So many can only see derision and are fighting to hold on to their own wee kingdom. No one collection of people or groups owned the NICRA, we all did and I’m very proud of that and the part I played in it.

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