People's Democracy (Ireland)

People's Democracy (Ireland)

:"People's democracy is also a term used to refer to the People's Republic."People's Democracy was a political organization that, while supporting the campaign for civil rights for Northern Ireland's Catholic minority stated that such rights could only be achieved through the establishment of a socialist republic for all of Ireland. It was founded on 9 October 1968, after Royal Ulster Constabulary police had attacked a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march in Derry on 5 October. It demanded more radical reforms of the government of Northern Ireland than the NICRA.

The founders included Queen's University, Belfast students such as Bernadette Devlin, Michael Farrell and Cyril Toman.

In imitation of Martin Luther King's Selma to Montgomery marches, about 40 People's Democracy members held a four-day march between Belfast and Derry starting on 1 January 1969. The march was repeatedly attacked by loyalists along its route, including an incident at Burntollet bridge on 4 January where the marchers were attacked by about 200 unionists, including off-duty special constables, armed with iron bars, bottles and stones while police stood by and watched.

The PDs were created out of a milieu of various leftist student organizations - in the late 1960s Queen's University gained its first Labour Club (affiliated to the forerunner of Labour Students as well as its Irish equivalent) and a Young Socialist Alliance which grouped together many radical leftists.

The PDs became increasingly radicalized - many of their members turning towards Maoism as a result of the events of 1968. They also attacked the censorship laws in the Republic — earning a rebuke from Ruairi Quinn and Basil Miller, then leaders of Students for Democratic Action, a revolutionary socialist student organization, for letting British imperialism off the hook. In later years members of the PDs either quit politics altogether or became independent left wing activists (such as Devlin and Farrell).

In 1971, PD became a founder of the Socialist Labour Alliance. In the mid-1970s, a group left to form the Left Revolutionary Group.

During the 1970s it evolved towards Trotskyist positions and, by merging with the Dublin-based Movement for a Socialist Republic, and was recognized by the reunified Fourth International as its Irish section in 1976.

People's Democracy was especially active around the issues of internment and prisoners' rights. The organization held 2 seats on Belfast City Council in the 1980s during a period when Sinn Féin were boycotting electoral contests. People's Democracy critically defended the Provisional IRA against Britain.

Following the formation of the National H-Block/Armagh Committee in 1979 to build support for the Republican prisoners then on the "blanket protest" in support of political status, and the subsequent death of Bobby Sands and nine of his comrades during the H-Block hunger strikes, a number of members of the organization led by Vincent Doherty, then a member of the Political Committee and a former party general election candidate, argued that the organization should join Sinn Féin, who had moved sharply to the left in the late 70s and early 80s.

In 1981 two members of People's Democracy were elected to Belfast City Council. Fergus O' Hare won the council seat from Gerry Fitt a sitting Westminster MP. Fergus O Hare had been a founding member of the National H-Block Armagh Committee and had previously been Chairperson of the Political Hostages Release Committee which spearheaded the campaign against internment in the early 1970s. He subsequently went on to found the first Irish language secondary school in Northern Ireland Meánscoil Feirste.

When Sinn Féin ended their boycott and gained mass support among the nationalist community, People's Democracy entered a political crisis. From 1982 a number of activists left PD and joined Sinn Féin. At a PD 1986 national conference a tendency including Anne Speed proposed the dissolution of the group, and that the members all join SF as individuals. This position was defeated by 19 votes to 5. A few weeks later the minority of 5 resigned from PD and joined SF. The majority who continued to oppose this view maintained People's Democracy as a small propaganda group.

In the early 1990s the remaining members of People's Democracy initiated the Irish Committee for a Marxist Programme as an attempt to regroup socialists and left wing republicans. This project ended in 1996 when PD dissolved and reconstituted itself as Socialist Democracy, adopting the program put forward by the ICMP.

External links

* University of Ulster CAIN project : [ The People's Democracy 1968 - 1973]

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