NICRA leader tells of facing jobs bias

 

The former honorary secretary of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association described yesterday how she lost her teaching post after it was reported that she was on the speakers' platform in Derry on Bloody Sunday.

Ms Edwina Stewart, who was from the Protestant tradition and a long-time member of the Communist Party of Ireland, told how she encountered job discrimination from both sides of the religious divide.

After Bloody Sunday, she said, she was forced to leave her teaching job at Ashfield Girls' Secondary School, Belfast, because of pressure from the right-wing unionist pressure group Vanguard and other bodies. There were demonstrations against her inside the school by pupils, and she was boycotted by other staff because of her association with NICRA.

There were death threats in a local newspaper, "and because the school did not know what to do with me, it was clear that I could not continue to teach there", she said.

She resigned and subsequently applied unsuccessfully for positions in Catholic schools. "I believe the basis for the refusals was that I was a Communist and a Protestant," Ms Stewart said.

A former chairman of NICRA, Mr Jimmy Doris, urged the tribunal to seek access to the minutes of the Stormont Joint Security Committee, which met three days before Bloody Sunday.

Mr Doris said that at the time it appeared it was the Stormont government that was directing the British army in its security policy. The day before the Derry march, another civil rights march was scheduled to take place from Dungannon to Coalisland.

The RUC blocked this march, rubber bullets were fired at point-blank range, CS gas was used and a low-flying helicopter was used to scatter the marchers. "It seemed obvious to me that there had been a change in policy on the part of the army," he said.

Mrs Margo Rice, who was also on the NICRA executive, described how she was about to climb on to a lorry at Free Derry Corner when she looked up and saw that Bernadette Devlin's "face had frozen and her eyes were as wide as saucers".

Ms Devlin roared at people to get down, the witness said. At that moment "a whistling noise flew past me from behind". Some time later she saw a man come out of a house carrying a gun. He shrugged as if to say: "I'm sorry, there is nothing I can do".

She said Bloody Sunday had effectively marked the end of the civil rights movement because people started joining the Provisional IRA in droves.