First civil rights march was more like republican parade, said RUC report


The RUC chief informed Mr Craig: "It might be more correct to describe the march as a republican parade rather than a civil rights march. It was composed largely of republicans and sympathisers under the command of a prominent local IRA man. Thomas Mitchell (IRA), an ex-Omagh raid prisoner, was also there and on the platform. "From the conduct and behaviour of some of the speakers it is evident that the civil rights organisation is allowing its platform to be used by extremists and trouble-makers for the purpose of preaching violence and stirring up hatred amongst the people."

The Inspector General continued: "The speech of Mr Gerry Fitt MP was most provocative when he announced from the platform that the ban imposed by the police made his blood boil and called the county inspector and district inspector `a pair of black bastards'. He [Mr Fitt] went on to say that he did not fear their blackthorn sticks or batons and if it were not for the presence of women and children, he would lead the march into the Market Square. "These utterances from Mr Fitt inflamed the crowd to such an extent that the marshals had to force them back, resulting in a number of scuffles." The police prevented the demonstrators breaking through the RUC cordon separating 2,000 to 3,000 civil rights marchers and 2,000 unionists who had gathered to prevent the marchers entering Market Square, Dungannon.

"At present," the RUC Inspector General informed the Minister, "feeling is running high in the area, and it would be very easy to create an incident which could lead to serious disorder throughout the province. One thing certain is that the civil rights organisation has set off on the wrong trend in trying to create better community relations in the Dungannon area. It now seems that many of those who attended the march are disillusioned and will have nothing to do with further meetings."

The Inspector General was especially critical of the nationalist MP for East Tyrone, Mr Austin Currie (now a Fine Gael TD): "Mr A. Currie MP is carefully subscribing misleading information to the press in order to serve his own purposes and policies. There is little doubt that he is one of the prime movers behind the upsurge of alleged discrimination in housing and employment." Mr Kennedy recalled the MP's unlawful occupation of council houses in Dungannon and Caledon.

The Inspector General claimed that allegations that the police used batons or tracker dogs at the march were false. He was especially incensed at press reports that "there is a law for Free Presbyterians and a different law for Roman Catholics", adding: "to allege a ban on the parade and a restriction on free speech is sheer nonsense".

In a blow-by-blow account of the march for the information of the Inspector General, Mr G.I. Sterritt provided a detailed list of those prominent at the march. These included, apart from Mr Currie, the nationalist leader, Mr Eddie McAteer, Mr Fitt, Mr Tomas MacGiolla (president of Sinn Fein), Miss Betty Sinclair (president of the Belfast Trades Council and a leading communist) and a number of alleged republicans and Northern Ireland Labour Party supporters. Miss Sinclair, according to the officer, was loudly booed by a section of the marchers: "I heard cries of `Czechoslovakia', `Russia', and `jackboot'."