This interview with leading members of People’s Democracy took place in Derry on the evening of April 20 1969, as the crisis which was finally to unseat O’Neill opened. Three days previously, Bernadette Devlin had been elected in Mid-Ulster. On the previous evening, a march through Burntollet had been banned, and a protest in Derry had exploded into a full-scale confrontation between the police and the Catholic working class. The participants in this interview are:- Liam Baxter, 23, student and member of Queen’s University RSSF; Bernadette Devlin, 22, student at Queen’s and now an M.P.; Mike Farrell, 25, technical college lecturer and member of the executive of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association; Eamonn McCann, 26, unemployed and member of the Derry Young Socialists; Cyril Taman, 26, technical college lecturer. Apart from Liam Baxter, all the participants stood for PD in the Stormont elections.
How did the Civil Rights movement and People’s Democracy start and what is their relationship to each other?
Farrell. Formally the Civil Rights Association has been going for about two years and was conceived by its founders as an all-party organization similar to the National Council for Civil Liberties in England. It went out of its way, for example, to ensure that there was a pet Unionist on its executive. The tendency which wants to keep the cra as a broad class-collaborating organization still remains within it.
McCann. The cra behaved in the manner of all such organizations: it did nothing except issue press statements calling on the Unionist Government to be a bit more liberal. Then in August 1968 a number of people in Dungannon decided to have a Civil Rights march to protest over the allocation of housing in that area.
People’s Democracy began as a result of the police behaviour in Derry on October 5th. A number of Queens University students who were among the Civil Rights marchers went back to Belfast and organized a march there in protest against the police brutality. That march was also stopped and the students returned to the University somewhat demoralized and very confused. They began talking about what they should do and pd emerged from that discussion.
Farrell. But pd is not just part of the Civil Rights movement, it is a revolutionary association. Its formation was considerably influenced by the Sorbonne Assembly and by concepts of libertarianism as well as socialism. It has adopted a very democratic type of structure; there is no formal membership and all meetings are open. At the moment this structure is not working very satisfactorily, and I think it will be necessary, within the overall framework, to find a way of introducing a little more co-ordination. I had hoped that the pd would realise the necessity of taking a stand on class issues, and would therefore transform itself into a broadly socialist body, though a non-sectarian one in which socialists of several different tendencies could co-operate. I no longer think this will happen of its own accord. There have recently been some sharp disagreements within pd and differences have arisen between socialists and an alliance of anarchists and right wingers.
Had the militants in pd worked together before it was formed?