‘Father’ of civil rights movement dies

Posted By: January 14, 2014

Irish News.( Belfast).December 17, 013

John Manley Political Reporter

THE man described as the “father and inspiration” for the north’s civil rights movement has died in Dublin.

Co Down-born Dr Conn McCluskey died yesterday morning, aged 99. A general practitioner by profession, Dr McCluskey and his late wife Patricia were key figures in the 1960s campaign to secure civil rights for Northern Ireland’s Catholics.

In their home town of Dungannon in 1963 they helped found the Homeless Citizens’ League to campaign against discrimination in housing allocation by the unionist-dominated council.

Little over a year later the couple were central in the establishment of the Campaign for Social Justice, of which Mrs McCluskey was the first chairperson. The organisation was seen as a forerunner of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (Nicra).

The McCluskeys compiled a dossier called The Plain Truth outlining the extent of unionist discrimination.

The document helped bring the plight of the north’s Catholics to international attention.

Mrs McCluskey was later elected as councillor in Dungannon while both became founding members of the Nicra in 1967.

In 1989 Dr McCluskey published Up Off Their Knees, a personal account of those turbulent times in the mid-to-late 1960s.

In 2008 the McCluskey Civil Rights Summer School, which is held every year in Carlingford, Co Louth was established in his honour.

In retirement the couple settled in Dublin after travelling extensively. Patricia McCluskey died aged 96 in December 2010.

Denis Haughey, chairman of the Civil Rights Commemoration Committee, described Dr McCluskey as “one of the truly great men of our time” and a “father and inspiration” for the civil rights movement. “The passing of Dr Conn McCluskey this morning is the end of an era in the history of Northern Ireland, and especially of the Irish nationalist community within Northern Ireland,” he said. The former Stormont junior minister said Conn and Patricia McCluskey were “utterly without any political ambitions” and “hadn’t a sectarian bone in their bodies”. “They devoted much of their lives to working for the alleviation of poverty and to end the abuse of civil and human rights,” he said. “For that reason they are a model for all who are involved in public life.”

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said that along with his wife, Dr McCluskey made a “tremendous contribution” towards the civil rights movement. “They sowed the seeds and lit the path for many who came after,” he said. “As someone who did not enter elective politics Conn showed, with his courage and determination, the vital and central role of activism on the ground.”

Dr McCluskey’s remains will leave his Foxrock home in Dublin today ahead of burial tomorrow at St Mary’s Cemetery, Burren, Co Down.

He is survived by his three daughters Sheila, Margaret and Darine, along with 10 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.