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Michael D Higgins lauds courage of civil rights protesters

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

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President Michael D Higgins presents an award to former Stormont MP Ivan Cooper (Brian Lawless/PA)

President Michael D Higgins presents an award to former Stormont MP Ivan Cooper (Brian Lawless/PA)

President Michael D Higgins presents an award to former Stormont MP Ivan Cooper (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Irish president has said the reconciling vision and courage of Northern Ireland’s civil rights leaders should be embraced on the 50th anniversary of 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.

President Michael D Higgins gave an award to one of the founders of the movement, Ivan Cooper, and applauded after St Columcille’s Ladies Choir sang the protest songs of the time.

He said: “The 5th of October march galvanised the movement for civil rights in Ireland.”

He added: “I add my own thanks to Ivan, as President of Ireland, for the courage, the leadership and the dedication to the cause of justice – justice in all its forms – that he has demonstrated throughout his political career.”

Derry in 1968 was a Catholic and nationalist city, administered for decades by a Protestant and Unionist majority, the President noted.

Dozens of people, including the MP Gerry Fitt, were injured when the protest 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 John Hume rescued the wounded and went on to become a statesman who helped end the IRA’s violent campaign decades later.

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President Michael D Higgins (Liam McBurney/PA)

President Michael D Higgins (Liam McBurney/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

President Michael D Higgins (Liam McBurney/PA)

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Eamonn McCann addresses the crowd during the Civil Rights Festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Eamonn McCann addresses the crowd during the Civil Rights Festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Eamonn McCann addresses the crowd during the Civil Rights Festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Eamonn McCann addresses the crowd during the Civil Rights Festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Eamonn McCann addresses the crowd during the Civil Rights Festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Eamonn McCann addresses the crowd during the Civil Rights Festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Irish President Michael D Higgins delivers keynote address during the Civil Rights Festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Irish President Michael D Higgins delivers keynote address during the Civil Rights Festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Irish President Michael D Higgins delivers keynote address during the Civil Rights Festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Irish President Michael D Higgins delivers keynote address during the Civil Rights Festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Irish President Michael D Higgins delivers keynote address during the Civil Rights Festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Irish President Michael D Higgins delivers keynote address during the Civil Rights Festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Colm Eastwood as the Irish President Michael D Higgins delivers keynote address during the Civil Rights Festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Colm Eastwood as the Irish President Michael D Higgins delivers keynote address during the Civil Rights Festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Irish President Michael D Higgins delivers keynote address during the Civil Rights Festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Irish President Michael D Higgins delivers keynote address during the Civil Rights Festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

General view of the Guildhall and Peace Bridge as A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

General view of the Guildhall and Peace Bridge as A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Bernie Smyth as A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Bernie Smyth as A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Bernie Smyth as A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Bernie Smyth as A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Michelle O'Neill as A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Michelle O'Neill as A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Mary Lou McDonald as A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Mary Lou McDonald as A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Mary Lou McDonald as A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Mary Lou McDonald as A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Maria Cahill watches on as A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Maria Cahill watches on as A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Maria Cahill watches on as A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Maria Cahill watches on as A march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry leaves Duke Street for Shipquay street on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The Civil Rights March marking the 1968 march crosses the Craigavon Bridge following the route the original marchers hoped to make before being stopped in Duke Street fifty years ago. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 06.10.18

The Civil Rights March marking the 1968 march crosses the Craigavon Bridge following the route the original marchers hoped to make before being stopped in Duke Street fifty years ago. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 06.10.18

The Civil Rights March marking the 1968 march passes the point in Duke Street in Derry's Waterside where it was stopped fifty years ago. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 06.10.18

The Civil Rights March marking the 1968 march passes the point in Duke Street in Derry's Waterside where it was stopped fifty years ago. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 06.10.18

An anti-brexit float during saturdays Civil Rights March in Derry. Piucture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 06.10.18

An anti-brexit float during saturdays Civil Rights March in Derry. Piucture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 06.10.18

The Civil Rights March marking the 1968 march crosses the Craigavon Bridge following the route the  original marchers hoped to make before being stopped fifty years ago. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 06.10.18

The Civil Rights March marking the 1968 march crosses the Craigavon Bridge following the route the original marchers hoped to make before being stopped fifty years ago. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 06.10.18

The Civil Rights March marking the 1968 march crosses the Craigavon Bridge following the route the  original marchers hoped to make before being stopped fifty years ago. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 06.10.18

The Civil Rights March marking the 1968 march crosses the Craigavon Bridge following the route the original marchers hoped to make before being stopped fifty years ago. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 06.10.18

The Civil Rights March marking the 1968 march makes its way along Duke Street in Derry's Waterside where it was stopped fifty years ago. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 06.10.18

The Civil Rights March marking the 1968 march makes its way along Duke Street in Derry's Waterside where it was stopped fifty years ago. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 06.10.18

The Civil Rights March marking the 1968 march pauses a the top of Duke Street close to the point  in Derry's Waterside where the original march was stopped fifty years ago. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 06.10.18

The Civil Rights March marking the 1968 march pauses a the top of Duke Street close to the point in Derry's Waterside where the original march was stopped fifty years ago. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 06.10.18

The Civil Rights March marking the 1968 march makes its way along Duke Street in Derry's Waterside where it was stopped fifty years ago. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 06.10.18

The Civil Rights March marking the 1968 march makes its way along Duke Street in Derry's Waterside where it was stopped fifty years ago. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 06.10.18

Eamonn McCann addresses the crowd during the Civil Rights Festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Eamonn McCann addresses the crowd during the Civil Rights Festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Eamonn McCann addresses the crowd during the Civil Rights Festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights rally in Londonderry on October 6th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Mr Higgins said: “As we assemble today let us, above all, recall the vision of John Hume, so rooted in the experience of the Civil Rights movement.

“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.”

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John Hume in front of the Stormont Building (Paul Faith/PA)

John Hume in front of the Stormont Building (Paul Faith/PA)

PA Archive/PA Images

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.

Meanwhile, a parade organised by Sinn Fein recreated the original march carrying banners and singing songs. They carried placards protesting against Brexit and calling for LGBT rights.

PA