The Caledon housing protest which took place on 20th June 1968, was prompted by the decision of Dungannon District Council to award a 3-bedroom house to Emily Beattie, a 19 year old single Protestant girl, and secretary to the local Unionist M.P. This decision was taken at a time when there were dozens of Catholic families living in sub-standard accommodation living in the Dungannon district. Prior to the Caledon incident Austin Currie, Stormont M.P. for East Tyrone, had accused Dungannon Council of blatant discrimination in the allocation of housing. At a constituency branch meeting for the Nationalist Party branch in Donaghmore, County Tyrone Currie stated:
"We have never had a problem in community relations in Dungannon and [sic] area. Unlike some other areas, our people, with the odd exception, Catholic and Protestant, have lived together amicably as good neighbours. All the trouble in Dungannon area has been caused by a small Unionist clique who are prepared to stoop to the lowest forms of injustice in order to maintain their privileged positions." Irish News - 7th February 1967.
Sixteen months later Currie accompanied by two local men, Joseph Campbell and Patsy Gildernew, occupied the house at 19 Kinnard Park that had been assigned to Miss Beattie. When the RUC arrived to evict the three men, they were accompanied by television crews and the campaign for civil rights by the Nationalist community was given a new impetus.
Two days later (22nd June 1968) a meeting was held in Dungannon to protest the evictions. The meeting was attended by Edward McAteer leader of the Nationalist Party, Republican Labour M.P.s Gerry Fitt and Harry Diamond; John Brennan M.P., National Democratic Party; Mr. Kevin Agnew, of the Republican movement, and Mrs. Patricia McCluskey, of the Campaign for Social Justice. The Caledon squat which lasted for three hours was now being viewed as a litmus test for the O'Neill government and their protestations of goodwill and cooperation towards the minority community.
There were however little signs of goodwill in the subsequent Stormont debate on the topic, when Currie accused John Taylor the Ulster Unionist MP for North Tyrone of lying. Currie stated the treatment of the Goodfellow family (who had been the subject of another eviction in the area) had been:
"reminiscent in many ways of the Penal days and the evictions that took place in this country after the great famine." Irish News, 21st June 1967."
He also made it clear where ultimate responsibility for the dispute lay:
Mr. Currie said he had spoken to officials in the Prime Minister's department and they were aware of the exact position and the tense situation in Caledon. No matter how much the Prime Minister talked of community relations, nothing would be achieved unless the Government was prepared to take steps to prevent this type of occurrence and to prevent what led to the squatting. He held the Prime Minister completely responsible for this type of thing and if the Prime Minister was not prepared to take action then he must be indicted on insincerity.
Dungannon District Council signalled its intention again later in the year when it decided to vote against a proposal for using a points based system for housing allocation and the development of five new sites to house families in need. This decision illustrated just how intimately housing was bound up with issues of voting, gerrymandering and political power. As the Cameron Report explained:
There have been many cases where councils have withheld planning permission, or caused needless delays, where they believed a housing project would be to their electoral disadvantage...
Go to civil rights glossary
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