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Civil Rights body must mark all achievements

If the committee for the commemoration of the civil rights movement is concerned about endowing a better understanding, as stated by Dr Sean Byers (Write Back, January 9), then it should emphasise that the issue was not - and should not have become - sectarian, as it did. What went wrong?

The then-rule that civil rights protesters were protesting about - namely that one had to be a resident ratepayer or business ratepayer in order to vote in council elections - had applied in England until scrapped by the Attlee government. It applied equally to Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland; there was nothing sectarian about it. The business vote allowed you to vote in a ward in which you had a business and were paying rates, even if you did not live in that ward; no taxation without representation.

But it did not allow you to have two or more votes in the same ward. 'One man, one vote' confused that.

As for discrimination in employment and housing, nationalist councils were for long as guilty of that as were unionist councils. It would have been seen as political suicide for parties not to discriminate; and, it should be said, not only in Northern Ireland.

Craigavon's much quoted 'Protestant parliament for a Protestant people', for example, was a response to de Valera's Ireland being a Catholic nation as a reason for justifying the rescinding by a council of the appointment of a Church of Ireland woman librarian.

Such an appointee could not be sensitive to what books are deemed suitable reading for Catholics, they being the majority. Sectarianism was the reality of the times.

But, by the 1950s, opinion was softening (the IRA bombing campaign in the latter part of the 1950s failed to set the communities at each other's throat) under various influences - not least the working of the welfare state and the changes of the Second Vatican Council. But there were those who then respectively saw in all this a threat to their brand of 'nationalism' and their brand of 'unionism'. Both are still around today.

This threat to the respective 'brands' should not be overlooked by the commemorative committee, nor should the committee overlook earlier reforming achievements in the making of Northern Ireland (not without internal opposition) in education, health and housing, in the unionism of the latter part of the 1940s; the changes brought about may well have been a factor in opening the way.



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