The Times: Civil rights rally in Belfast (1972)

The following report of a NICRA anti-internment march in Belfast appeared in The Times (UK) on January 3rd 1972:

By John Chartres, Belfast, Jan 2nd

“A big civil right, demonstration passed off peaceably in Belfast today. It was reminiscent of the early and ideological stage of the conflict in Northern Ireland. More than 6,000 people, demonstrating against the internment policy, paraded with banners and posters through the Falls Road and assembled in a park. There, speakers from the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association proclaimed that their movement was “going back on the streets to fight its campaign.

There is bound to be intense reaction from the Protestant right wing to the fact that the Army and the police did not stop an event which any observe would have to describe as a march, although there is a total ban on such proceedings. The Rev. Ian Paisley and other right-wing Protestant leaders called for stronger action throughout last week after what they regarded as soft tactics by the Army during a civil rights demonstration on Christmas Day.

Parties of civil rights demonstrators formed up in different pasts of the main Roman Catholic area of the city and moved along the Falls Road about ten abreast, carrying banners and singing We Shall Overcome. A barricade of armoured vehicles and landrovers manned by troops of The King’s Own Scottish Borderers and bristling with firearms was placed across the road but clear access was left on the pavements…

Preparation had been made to warn the demonstrators that they were acting illegally, but I did not hear any warning given. The Army’s view appeared to be that they did not have to stop people walking on pavements and were happy not to have had a direct confrontation. The rally was well disciplined; several speakers made the point that this was going to be the future policy of the civil rights movement. The rally was also cheerful, noisy and enthusiastic. When a group of youths started throwing stones at soldiers from a field behind the arena, stewards and women brandishing umbrellas moved in and broke them up…”