BERNADETTE McAliskey has become the latest prominent civil rights campaigner to reject the notion that the mass protest movement of the late 1960s was inspired directly by Provisional Sinn Féin and the IRA.
The former Mid Ulster MP, who in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday slapped British home secretary Reginald Maudling across the face, insists the founding members of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (Nicra) came from a disparate political backgrounds and included liberals and communists.
She makes the remarks in The Irish News today, as she writes in response to recent claims by Sinn Féin national chairman Declan Kearney that the civil rights movement in the north was shaped by many of those who later became prominent in Sinn Féin.
Mr Kearney’s account has previously been challenged by former SDLP deputy leader Brid Rodgers and former People Before Profit MLA and author Eamonn McCann, both of who were active in Nicra.
The Sinn Féin national chairman said leading personnel from his party helped organise the civil rights movement, which he said had “multiple parents and many children”.
He subsequently accused those who questioned his narrative of “historical and hysterical revisionism”.
But Mrs McAliskey insists those behind Nicra represented different and often opposing ideologies.
“Nicra was formed by people who were members of political parties and groups who united, despite other differences to collectively campaign for basic reforms which they believed would provide basic equality of citizenship within the political structures of the north,” she writes.
She says Nicra campaigned under the slogan “non-violent; non-sectarian; non-political”.
Mrs McAliskey (70), who joined the civil rights campaign while a student at Queen’s University Belfast, also maintains that the response of the British government and unionist-dominated Stormont administration to Nicra’s calls for reform was to “increase repression”.
“They bear the brunt of historic responsibility for the period between 1972 and 1998,” she writes.
However, she is equally damning of the Stormont’s power-sharing administrations that followed the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
“From 1998 onwards, responsibility, like power, lies closer to home and is shared by those with the duty managing and administering shared government, a duty they actively sought, negotiated and seek to maintain, and from which, with deliberation, they seek to exclude others,” she writes.
Alluding to the DUP-Sinn Féin dominated executive that ruled the north for a decade from 2007, the one-time People’s Democracy activist is unforgiving.
“Without openness, transparency, accountability, and participation in decision making, leadership becomes no more than the power to control – power without accountability becomes corruption,” she writes.
“Those claiming bragging rights from 1968 might reflect with greater humility on the price paid against the degree of progress made since that first march and examine their actual contribution to the reality of 2018 – a stagnant, sectarian dysfunctional Stormont making the rich richer and the poor poorer; a damaged, demoralised and divided community; justice denied; truth distorted, and controlled management of conflict and corruption mistaken for peace.”