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60 Years Since the Campaign for Social Justice in Northern Ireland was Founded

Authored by Tommy Dolan
Published on 17th January, 2024 5 min read

60 Years Since the Campaign for Social Justice in Northern Ireland was Founded

On this day (17/01/2024), 60 years ago, Patricia McCluskey and her husband, Dr. Conn McCluskey (pictured), inaugurated the Campaign for Social Justice (CSJ) in Dungannon, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland. As it proclaimed in one of its early pamphlets, the CSJ was formed for the purpose “of bringing the light of publicity on the discrimination which exists in our community against the Catholic section of that community representing more than one third of the population”.[1] 

The CSJ developed as a result of the McCluskeys’ involvement in the Homeless Citizens League (HCL), which was established in Dungannon in August 1963. Similar to other towns in Northern Ireland, particularly across the west, such as Derry/Londonderry and Omagh, Dungannon had a sizeable Catholic population. Yet its Unionist-controlled council appeared reluctant to build houses in Catholic electoral wards or to allocate housing to Catholics in predominantly Protestant wards. Importantly, at that time, voting entitlement was limited to a householder and their legal partner. As groupings such as the HCL, and subsequently the CSJ, were keen to highlight, discrimination in housing allocation was therefore key in terms of maintaining Northern Ireland’s gerrymandered electoral system, designed to ensure a perpetual parliamentary majority for Unionism at Stormont and throughout local government. They were equally determined to document the bleak living conditions that this system precipitated for many within the Catholic community.

The CSJ was one of several, similarly-minded organisations that emerged within Northern Ireland’s Catholic nationalist community throughout the late 1950s and 1960s, such as National Unity, formed in 1959; the Derry Housing Association, formed by the Reverend Anthony Mulvey and John Hume (the future leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party) in 1965; and the National Democratic Party, also formed in 1965.[2] Broadly speaking, their aims and outlook differed from previous nationalist groupings and the Irish republican movement at the time. As opposed merely to denouncing the partition of the island into two states (as had occurred via the Government of Ireland Act in 1920) and claiming that the only real solution to the island’s woes (North and South) lay in the creation of a united Ireland, groups such as the CSJ sought the improvement of social, economic, and political conditions within Northern Ireland.[3]

Austin Currie, a Catholic nationalist who became Northern Ireland MP for East Tyrone in July 1964 and who was among the founders of the Social Democratic and Labour Party in August 1970, recalled how, rather innovatively, the CSJ “rarely mentioned Partition. The facts and figures they collected and published stood alone as an indictment of unionist rule.”[4] “Their main focus”, as Currie explained, “was on public opinion, especially in Britain…[and their] major concern was the humanitarian one of removing discrimination and inequality from public life in Northern Ireland.”[5] As Currie (and others) have pointed out, the inauguration of the CSJ in 1964 was pivotal in terms of the development of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland later that decade. In fact, five CSJ members were present when the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was formed at the International Hotel in Belfast on 29 January 1967.[6] 

Pamphlets published by the CSJ, as well as accompanying literature, can be accessed online for free at the University of Ulster’s excellent CAIN Archive: https://cain.ulster.ac.uk/.

(Image: nicivilrights.org)

[1] Campaign for Social Justice in Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland: Why Justice Can Not Be Done — The Douglas Home Correspondence (Dungannon: CSJ, February 1964), 2, available https://cain.ulster.ac.uk/events/crights/pdfs/csj85.pdf

[2] On Hume’s career and influence see my “John Hume and his Ideas” in The Routledge Handbook of the Northern Ireland Conflict and Peace, ed. Máirtín Ó Catháin and Laura McAtackney (Oxon: Routledge, 2024).

[3] Peter McLoughlin has dubbed this outlook “revisionist nationalism” and Sarah Campbell has labelled it “new nationalism”. See P. J. McLoughlin, John Hume and the Revision of Irish Nationalism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010); Sarah Campbell, “New nationalism? The S.D.L.P. and the creation of a socialist and labour party in Northern Ireland, 1969–75”, Irish Historical Studies 38 (2013): 422–438. I have highlighted some problematic aspects of Campbell’s and McLoughlin’s scholarship on the development of “new” or “revisionist” nationalism and demonstrated how it was informed by visions of true patriotism and the common good that had emerged within the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. See my “Maynooth, History, and the Intellectual Origins of John Hume’s Political Thinking”, Historical Journal 62, 4 (2019): 1045–1068.

[4] Austin Currie, All Hell Will Break Loose (Dublin: O’Brien Press, 2004), 50. On the SDLP, see Ian McAllister, The Northern Ireland Social Democratic and Labour Party: Political Opposition in a Divided Society (London: Mcmillan, 1972); Gerrard Murray, John Hume and the SDLP: Impact and Survival in Northern Ireland (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1998).

[5] Currie, All Hell Will Break Loose, 50.

[6] Conn McCluskey, Up Off Their Knees: A Commentary on the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland (Rep. of Ireland: Conn McCluskey and Associates, 1989), 104, available at https://cain.ulster.ac.uk/events/crights/McCluskey/McCluskey_1989_Up_p104-140_r.pdf.    



Authored by Tommy Dolan

Tommy Dolan

Tommy Dolan is Senior Editor at British Online Archives. He gained his PhD in History from the University of Edinburgh in 2016. Between 2019 and 2022 he was a post-doctoral fellow on the Leverhulme-funded project 'Rethinking Civil Society: History, Theory, Critique' at the University of York. He then joined the metadata team at the University of York library. Tommy has published in the Historical Journal, the Journal of the History of European Ideas, and Studia Hibernica. His research focuses on the way in which readings of history have influenced political thought in Ireland, particularly with respect to the architects of the Northern Ireland Peace Process. Tommy is currently also co-editor of Writing the Troubles.


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The British Online Archives Notable Days diary is a platform intended to mark key dates and events throughout the year. The posts draw attention to historical events and figures, as well as recurring cultural traditions and international awareness days, in both religious and secular contexts.

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