Caledon “squat” was seed that fell on well-prepared Civil Rights ground

Posted By: June 26, 2018

Michael McLoughlin Dungannon Councilor 1967-1993.


Letters to Editor.Irish News. Belfast. Tuesday, June 26, 2018Seamus McKinney’s article (June 18) on the ‘trigger’ impact of the 1968 Caledon ‘Squat’ on the 1968 Civil Rights Campaign is a factual account of the incident, a rehearsal of a well-told ‘story’ but the account misses the point that to use a biblical analogy, the incident was only the ‘seed’ to fall on well-prepared ‘Civil Rights ground’ in the Dungannon area.
 Caledon was a contentious event, but it wasn’t the first time that people in the area resorted to direct action. Street political activity was a risky strategy in Northern Ireland and, as someone who had a part to play in the unfolding drama of the first Civil Rights March in August 1968, I feel it is important to place the march in its historical context, particularly its place in the history of Dungannon. It is also important for me to seize this opportunity to pay tribute to the Dungannon-based ladies of the 1963 ‘Homeless Citizens League’, Dr and Mrs McCluskey who founded the ‘Campaign for Social Justice, my late council colleagues and friends John Donaghy, PJ McCooey, Charlie McKenna, Paddy Fox, Charlie McKay, Jim Corrigan and Labour Party member, Jack Hassard who prepared the fertile ‘Civil Rights Ground’ in which the Caledon seed flourished.

On election to the council in 1963, I spent weeks researching the council’s housing record. In October 1967 John Donaghy, Jack Hassard and I encouraged a local family to ‘squat in new houses in Fairmount Park. The incident occurred in the same week as the McKenna/Goodfellow families ‘squatted’ in Caledon.

Afterward, we formed a ‘Housing Research Team with Austin Currie MP. In late January 1968, the team published an analysis of the urban council’s discriminatory housing record in The Irish News.

In June 1968 Austin and the Gildernew family carried out their famous ‘Squat in Caledon. After the incident research shifted to the rural council and with Republican Club Members, Tom O’Connor and Brian Quinn on board we published an in-depth record in The Irish News in July.

The meetings of the ‘Housing Research Team’ became more frequent after Caledon as we planned to escalate the pressure on the Dungannon councils.

Contact was made with the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and following agreement on approaching them with a proposition to join with us in a Civil Rights march from Coalisland to the Market Square Dungannon.

A NICR committee was receptive to the proposal, and in late July with the new title of ‘local representative of NICRA attached to my name, I lodged with Dungannon police the application for the March.

The rest, as they say, is history.