Stormont concern as MPs raised civil rights issues

 

THE alarm of the Unionist Government at the increasingly high profile of Northern Ireland civil rights issues at Westminster is revealed in the Cabinet papers.

In April 1965 Mr Paul Rose, the Labour MP for Blackley, tabled a motion in the House of Commons calling on the government "to investigate fully the political situation and problems in Northern Ireland with special reference to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland MPs, electoral boundaries and voting qualifications, and discrimination in the fields of housing and employment, and to examine the possibility of preventing religious discrimination by legislation".

At the same time, a group of 38 Labour and Liberal MPs at Westminster declared their support for the aims of the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster (CDU) and pledged to work through parliament for the appointment of an impartial inquiry into local administration and alleged discrimination in Northern Ireland. The signatories included Mr Emrys Hughes and Mr Hugh Delargy (Labour MPs) and Mr Eric Lubbock, Liberal MP.

In anticipation of the debate, Stormont officials prepared a brief for the Home Office at Whitehall, containing a rebuttal of allegations of gerrymandering and discrimination in housing and employment.

In a note to R M North of the Home Office in London on April 23rd, 1965, Mr H. Black, a Stormont official, wrote: "As for alleged discrimination in employment, one aspect is the allegation made by an individual who fails to get a particular job. If that individual belongs to the minority here, he is frequently encouraged for political reasons to express the view that his failure in security employment is due to discrimination on religious grounds. In fact, as you will appreciate, many other facts are involved, he may have inadequate educational qualifications or may lack the industrial skills needed in a modern industrial society. What is indisputable is that the great majority of RC employees are employed by Protestant employers.

As to the question of preventing discrimination, Mr Black said Northern Ireland was the only part of the UK which had "built in statutory safeguards against religious discrimination" by virtue of the Government of Ireland Act.

The formation of the CDU prompted the Ulster Agent in London to write to Mr Ken Bloom field at Stormont Castle on 23 April 1965. He commented: "The forming of the committee has not been noticed by the London newspapers and there has been no impact on the lobby."