Bernadette Devlin McAliskey
Josephine Bernadette McAliskey (née Devlin; born 23 April 1947), usually known as Bernadette Devlin or Bernadette McAliskey, is an Irish civil rights leader, and former politician. She served as Member of Parliament for Mid Ulster from 1969 to 1974.
Bernadette Devlin McAliskey
Devlin in Amsterdam, September 1986
|Member of Parliament|
for Mid Ulster
17 April 1969 – 8 February 1974
|Preceded by||George Forrest|
|Succeeded by||John Dunlop|
Josephine Bernadette Devlin
23 April 1947
Cookstown, County Tyrone, Ireland
|Political party||Independent Republican (1970–1974),|
Irish Republican Socialist Party (1974–1976),
Independent Socialist Party (1977–1978),
People Before Profit (2011)
|Alma mater||Queen's University Belfast|
Devlin was born in Cookstown, County Tyrone, to a Catholic family, where she was the third eldest of six children born to John James and Elizabeth Bernadette Devlin. Her father raised her to hold Irish Republican ideals before he died when Bernadette was nine years old. Subsequently, the family had to depend on welfare to survive, an experience which affected Bernadette deeply. Bernadette's mother died when Bernadette was nineteen years old, leaving her to partially raise her siblings while also attending university.
She attended St Patrick's Girls Academy in Dungannon. She was studying psychology at Queen's University Belfast in 1968 when she took a prominent role in a student-led civil rights organisation, People's Democracy. Devlin was subsequently excluded from the university.
She stood unsuccessfully against James Chichester-Clark in the 1969 Northern Ireland general election. When George Forrest, the MP for Mid Ulster, died, she fought the subsequent by-election on the "Unity" ticket, defeating the Ulster Unionist Party candidate, Forrest's widow Anna, and was elected to the Westminster Parliament. Aged 21, she was the youngest MP at the time, and remained the youngest woman ever elected to Westminster until the May 2015 general election when 20-year-old Mhairi Black eclipsed Devlin's achievement.
Devlin stood on the slogan "I will take my seat and fight for your rights" – signalling her rejection of the traditional Irish republican tactic of abstentionism. On 22 April 1969, the day before her 22nd birthday, she swore the Oath of Allegiance and made her maiden speech within an hour.
Battle of the Bogside
After engaging, on the side of the residents, in the Battle of the Bogside in August, she was convicted of incitement to riot in December 1969, for which she served a short jail term. After being re-elected in the 1970 general election, Devlin declared that she would sit in Parliament as an independent socialist.
Almost immediately after the Battle of the Bogside Devlin undertook a tour of the United States in August 1969, a trip which generated quite an amount of media attention. She met with members of the Black Panther Party in Watts, Los Angeles and gave them her support. She made an appearance on The Johnny Carson Show. At a number of speaking events, she made parallels between the struggle in the U.S. by African-Americans seeking civil rights and Catholics in Northern Ireland, sometimes to the embarrassment of her audience. During an event in Philadelphia, she had to goad an African-American singer to sing "We Shall Overcome" to the Irish-American audience, many of whom refused to stand for the song. In Detroit, she refused to take the stage until African-Americans who were barred from the event were allowed in. In New York, Mayor John Lindsay arranged a ceremony where he would present a key to the city of New York. However, Devlin, frustrated with conservative elements of the Irish-American community, had quietly already left to return to Northern Ireland. In her place, she sent Eamonn McCann, who on her behalf explained that she would be gifted the key to a representative from the Harlem chapter of the Black Panther Party, believing the freedom of New York should go to the American poor.
Having witnessed the events of Bloody Sunday, Devlin was infuriated that she was later consistently denied the floor in the House of Commons by the Speaker Selwyn Lloyd, despite the fact that parliamentary convention decreed that any MP witnessing an incident under discussion would be granted an opportunity to speak about it therein.
The day following Bloody Sunday, Devlin slapped Conservative Home Secretary Reginald Maudling across the face when he incorrectly asserted in the House of Commons that the paratroopers had fired in self-defence on Bloody Sunday.
Thirteen years later, Edward Heath recalled the event: “I remember very well when an hon. Lady rushed from the Opposition Benches and hit Mr. Maudling. I remember that vividly because I thought that she was going to hit me. She could not stretch as far as that, so she had to make do with him.”
Devlin helped to form the Irish Republican Socialist Party with Seamus Costello in 1974. This was a revolutionary socialist breakaway from Official Sinn Féin and, on the afternoon after the morning the party was established, Costello also created the Irish National Liberation Army's as a split from the Official Irish Republican Army. Devlin did not join the INLA and while she served on the party's national executive in 1975, she resigned when a proposal that the INLA become subordinate to the party executive was defeated. In 1977, she joined the Independent Socialist Party, but it disbanded the following year.
Support for prisoners
Bernadette Devlin stood as an independent candidate in support of the prisoners on the blanket protest and dirty protest at Long Kesh prison in the 1979 elections to the European Parliament in the Northern Ireland constituency, and won 5.9% of the vote. She was a leading spokesperson for the Smash H-Block Campaign, which supported the hunger strikes in 1980 and 1981.
Wounded in loyalist shooting
On 16 January 1981 she and her husband were shot by members of the Ulster Freedom Fighters, who broke into their home near Coalisland, County Tyrone. The gunmen shot Devlin nine times in front of her children. British soldiers were watching the McAliskey home at the time, but failed to prevent the assassination attempt. It has been claimed that Devlin's assassination was ordered by British authorities and that collusion was a factor. An army patrol of the 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment entered the house and waited for half an hour. Devlin has claimed they were waiting for the couple to die. Another group of soldiers then arrived and transported her by helicopter to a nearby hospital. The paramilitaries had torn out the telephone and while the wounded couple were being given first aid by the newly arrived troops, a soldier ran to a neighbour's house, commandeered a car, and drove to the home of a councillor to telephone for help. The couple were taken by helicopter to hospital in nearby Dungannon for emergency treatment and then to the Musgrave Park Hospital, Military Wing, in Belfast, under intensive care. The attackers, Ray Smallwoods, Tom Graham (38), both from Lisburn, and Andrew Watson (25) from Seymour Hill, Dunmurry, were captured by the army patrol and subsequently jailed. All three were members of the South Belfast UDA. Smallwoods was the driver of the getaway car.
Dáil Éireann elections
Denied entry into the US
In 2003 she was barred from entering the United States and deported on the grounds that the United States Department of State had declared her to pose "a serious threat to the security of the United States" – apparently referring to her conviction for incitement to riot in 1969 – although she protested that she had no terrorist involvement and had frequently been permitted to travel to the United States in the past.
McAliskey is chief executive of the South Tyrone Empowerment Programme (STEP) and was involved in its founding in 1997. Step provides a range of services and advocacy in areas including community development, training, support and advice for migrants, policy work and community enterprise.
Funeral of Dominic McGlinchey
In 1994, McAliskey attended the funeral of former Irish National Liberation Army Chief of Staff Dominic McGlinchey. The INLA had been the armed wing of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, which McAliskey had helped found. During the funeral, McAliskey spoke and berated journalists' portrayal of McGlinchey, stating "curs and dogs. May every one of them rot in hell. They have taken away Dominic McGlinchy's character and they will stand judgement for it. He was the finest Republican of them all. He never dishonoured the cause he believed in. His war was with the armed soldiers and the police of this state". McGlinchey had previously told the media in 1982 he was personally responsible for at least 30 killings in Northern Ireland, earning him the moniker "Mad Dog". This includes admitting involvement in the Droppin Well bombing, which killed 11 off duty soldiers and 6 civilians who were attending a disco and injured 30 more.
In 1971, while still unmarried, she gave birth to a daughter, Róisín. This cost her some political support. She married Michael McAliskey on 23 April 1973, which was her 26th birthday.
In popular culture
In 1969 John Goldschmidt, a director and producer, made the documentary film Bernadette Devlin for ATV, which was shown on ITV and on CBS's 60 Minutes and included footage of Devlin during the Battle of the Bogside. Another documentary, Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey, directed by Leila Doolan, was released in 2011. At the 2008 Cannes Film Festival a biopic of Devlin was announced, but she stated that "the whole concept is abhorrent to me" and the film was not made.
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With McGlinchey in charge, however, more and more civilians were killed. The bombing of a disco in Co Londonderry killed six off-duty soldiers but also 11 civilians, while there was particular shock when three people died in an INLA attack on a gospel hall service at Darkley, Co Armagh. In his Sunday Tribune interview McGlinchey admitted involvement in the disco bombing.
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