In America in the early 60’s the Black Rights Movement used a non violent approach to get the results they wanted. Their success inspired other people, who felt that they were treated unfairly, to fight for their rights. In Ireland, 1967 the members of the Campaign for Social Justice and others formed the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA/ CRA). The CRA based their campaigns on those of the Black Rights Movement. In August 1968 was the first Civil Rights March in Northern Ireland. 2,500 people marched from Coal Island to Dungannon to protest over housing discrimination of the Catholics.
Supporters of the CRA were varied, they included Liberal Unionists. Membership was mainly Catholic. As anyone could join the CRA some political groups used it as a cover for their needs, such as Eamonn McCann, who formed the Derry Housing Action Committee. The DHAC encouraged homeless Catholic families to squat in newly built council houses. What Unionists wanted to know was who were the members of the CRA and was it just a cover for something more violent? But why did Protestants oppose the CRA? The reasons for this can be split into three categories- social, political and economic.
One political reason that the Protestants opposed the CRA was because they thought it might be a cover for the IRA. The Cameron Report, ordered by the British government in 1969, was to find out about the CRA membership. Here are their findings: “The membership… was politically varied… included persons of… extreme Republican views as well as members of the Northern Ireland and Liberal Parties… membership is mostly Roman Catholic”, “There is no doubt that the IRA has taken a close interest in the Civil Rights Association from its beginning”.
So, the IRA was involved, somehow with the CRA. But was it all a cover? The Cameron report goes on to say that the CRA “it was non- sectarian and concerned only with obtaining reforms and changes in the law”. Eamonn McCann’s views are different to those of the Cameron Report. The DHAC invited the CRA to hold a march in Londonderry. “None of the placards demanded ‘Civil Rights’… We used slogans such as ‘Class War Not Creed War’, ‘Orange and Green Tories Out’, ‘Working Class Unite And Fight'”. So other groups used the CRA as a front. Not necessarily just the IRA, if they did at all.
Another Protestant fear was that if the CRA was successful that they would want Ireland to become united. This too, was a Political reason. If the Catholics got equal rights then, as the Catholic population want Ireland to be united- the process might be accelerated. This would especially happen if more Catholics got into Stormont- through equal rights. As there should be a proportional representation in Stormont. If Ireland became united then the Protestant religion would become the minority in Ireland. The Unionist government would be threatened by Catholic Parties.
The Unionists fight to keep Ireland British. They set up the party to oppose Nationalists. Unionists fear a Dublin Parliament, controlled by a Catholic majority, would threaten their hold on power as well as their Protestant way of life. This is shown through some of the CRA demands- “The vote for everybody as in the rest of the United Kingdom”- the Unionists would oppose this because they don’t want Catholics in Northern Ireland, to have much say as then Nationalist Party might become elected and the Protestant society will be threatened.
Another demand the Unionists opposed was “Laws against discrimination in employment at local government level”, the reason they would oppose this is basically just like the last demand- Protestants don’t want Catholics to be in the government as they will all campaign for a united Ireland and might succeed if they have enough force. The next group of reasons that led most Protestants to oppose the CRA are religious ones. If the Catholics had equal rights as Protestants then, as Catholics don’t believe on birth control will out number the Protestant Population. This would happen if Catholics had good jobs and housing.
If this all happens then Ireland would have Rome in charge of them. If Ireland became united as one, then as Catholicism is the majority, Rome would be in charge, like it is in Southern Ireland. The Catholic religion is a lot more ‘controlling than Protestantism. Protestants feared that they would lose their freedom and culture in a Catholic dominated United Ireland. Here are some Protestant views of Southern Ireland in the 1930’s and 1960’s- “The libraries, newspapers and publishing firms in Eire are almost completely dominated by the Roman Catholic outlook”; “In Eire..
The Roman Catholic church has claimed the exclusive right to train the nations children”; “the Irish Republic is undeniably governed according to a moral code approved by the Catholic Church” and “they [clergy] have almost complete control of 95% of the population”. The Catholic church is involved in culture, education and the media. The Protestants felt that if they gave them enough rights they would use it against them, taking away their freedom and culture. The last group of reasons to why the Protestants opposed the CRA are economical. Catholics who lives in Northern Ireland were generally very poor.
A large percentage of the unemployed were Catholics. This was mainly down to propaganda. Basil Brook said in 1938 “In Northern Ireland the Catholic population is increasing. 97% of Catholics are disloyal and disruptive”. This fact is untrue. Brooks, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland from 1943- 63, said in 1968 “How can you give somebody your enemy a higher position in order to allow him to come out and destroy you? “. This statement highlighted Protestant fears. The Protestants didn’t want to give up their jobs in high places, they wanted to continue to get rich, while Catholics got poorer.
As the British ruled Northern Ireland the Welfare State applied to them as well. If Ireland became united, then Northern Ireland would lose Welfare. Southern Ireland didn’t have anything like it. The Welfare Sate took care of medical bills etc. Without it the cost of living would go up and for a lot of people in Northern Ireland they couldn’t afford it. The Catholic population would increase if they were given equal housing rights, which is another economical reason. Better housing would mean that Catholic families would increase.
There are lots of varied economic, religious and political reasons to what led many Protestants to oppose the CRA. Most of the reasons come down to the same idea- that if Catholics get too many rights then they will try and unite Southern and Northern Ireland. To have a united Ireland would disrupt the Protestant culture and religion as Catholics would be the majority, Rome and the Pope would be in charge of the country. Protestants would have to lose their freedom. The reason that many Protestants opposed the Civil Rights Association is because they valued their freedom and culture and didn’t want it taken away.