Bernadette Devlin McAliskey

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Bernadette Devlin McAliskey
Bernadette Devlin (1986).jpg
Devlin in Amsterdam, September 1986
Member of Parliament
for Mid Ulster
In office
17 April 1969 – 28 February 1974
Prime MinisterHarold Wilson
Preceded byGeorge Forrest
Succeeded byJohn Dunlop
Personal details
Josephine Bernadette Devlin

(1947-04-23) 23 April 1947 (age 72)
Cookstown, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland
Political partyIndependent Republican (1970–1974),
Other political
Unity (1969–1970),
Irish Republican Socialist Party (1974–1976),
Independent Socialist Party (1977–1978)
Spouse(s)Michael McAliskey
ChildrenRóisín McAliskey
Deirdre McAliskey
Alma materQueen's University Belfast

Josephine Bernadette McAliskey (née Devlin; born 23 April 1947),[citation needed] 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.

Political beginnings[edit]

Devlin in a 1970 newsreel film about the Troubles.

Devlin was born in Cookstown, County Tyrone, to a Catholic family.[citation needed] She attended St Patrick's Girls Academy in Dungannon.[1] 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.[2] Devlin was subsequently excluded from the university.[2]

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 broke Devlin's record.[2][3]

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[4] and made her maiden speech within an hour.[5]

The Troubles[edit]

Battle of the Bogside[edit]

A mural in Derry depicting Devlin at Bogside.

After engaging, on the side of the residents, in the Battle of the Bogside, she was convicted of incitement to riot in December 1969, for which she served a short jail term.[6] After being re-elected in the 1970 general election, Devlin declared that she would sit in Parliament as an independent socialist.[7]

Bloody Sunday[edit]

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.[8][9]

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.[2]


Devlin helped to form the Irish Republican Socialist Party with Seamus Costello in 1974.[10] This was a revolutionary socialist breakaway from Official Sinn Féin and paralleled the Irish National Liberation Army's split from the Official Irish Republican Army.[11] She served on the party's national executive in 1975, but 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.[12]

Support for prisoners[edit]

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.[13] She was a leading spokesperson for the Smash H-Block Campaign, which supported the hunger strikes in 1980 and 1981.

Wounded in loyalist shooting[edit]

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.[14][15] The gunmen shot Devlin nine times in front of her children.[16] 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.[2][17] 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.[18] 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.[19][20] 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.[21] All three were members of the South Belfast UDA. Smallwoods was the driver of the getaway car.[22]

Dáil Éireann elections[edit]

She twice failed, in February and November 1982, in attempts to be elected to the Dublin North-Central constituency of Dáil Éireann.[23]

Denied entry into the US[edit]

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"[24] — 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.[24][25][26]


McAliskey is chief executive of the South Tyrone Empowerment Programme (STEP) and was involved in its founding in 1997.[27] Step provides a range of services and advocacy in areas including community development, training, support and advice for migrants, policy work and community enterprise.[28]

Personal life[edit]

In 1971, while still unmarried, she gave birth to a daughter, Róisín.[2] This cost her some political support.[29] She married Michael McAliskey on 23 April 1973, which was her 26th birthday.[30]

On 12 May 2007 she was guest speaker at éirígí's first Annual James Connolly commemoration in Arbour Hill, Dublin.[31] She currently co-ordinates a not-for-profit community development organisation based in Dungannon, the South Tyrone Empowerment Programme,[32] and works with migrant workers to improve their treatment in Northern Ireland.[2]

In popular culture[edit]

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.[33] At the 2008 Cannes Film Festival a biopic of Devlin was announced,[2] but she stated that "the whole concept is abhorrent to me" and the film was not made.

McAliskey, and her assault on MP/Home Secretary Reginald Maudling after the Bloody Sunday massacre, were the subject of the title song to anarchist pop/punk band Chumbawamba's 1990 album, Slap!


  1. ^ CAIN: Biographies of Prominent People – McAliskey
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Moreton, Cole (5 October 2008). "Bernadette McAliskey: Return of the Roaring Girl". Independent on Sunday. London. Archived from the original on 11 December 2008. Retrieved 5 October 2008.
  3. ^ Holland, Kitty (22 September 2016). "Bernadette McAliskey: "I am astounded I survived. I made mad decisions."". Irish Times. Retrieved 15 April 2019.
  4. ^ Journal of the House of Commons, Session 1968-69, p. 217
  5. ^ Maiden speech in Commons, 22 April 1969,; accessed 8 August 2015.
  6. ^ "1970: "Violence flares as Devlin is arrested"". BBC. 26 June 1970. Retrieved 29 May 2007.
  7. ^ F. W. S. Craig, "British Parliamentary Election Results, 1950–1973", Parliamentary Research Services, Chichester, 2nd ed. 1983, p. 687.
  8. ^ Ros Wynne-Jones (9 March 1997). "Daughters of Ireland". The Independent. Archived from the original on 24 May 2008. Retrieved 2 June 2007.
  9. ^ Transcript (31 January 1972),; accessed 22 March 2015.
  10. ^ "Irish Republican Socialist Party Loses Members 1975".
  11. ^ Holland, Jack; McDonald, Henry (1996). INLA Deadly Divisions. Poolbeg. p. 49. ISBN 1-85371-263-9.
  12. ^ Peter Barberis, John McHugh and Mike Tyldesley. Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organisations, Pinter Publishers (March 2000); ISBN 1-85567-264-2
  13. ^ Nicholas Whyte (18 April 2004). "Northern Ireland and the European Parliament". ARK. Retrieved 11 March 2007.
  14. ^ Chronology of the Conflict: January 1981, CAIN
  15. ^ Peter Taylor, Loyalists, p. 168
  16. ^ CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict: January 1981
  17. ^ Taylor, Peter (1999). Loyalists. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 168. ISBN 0-7475-4519-7.
  18. ^ McAliskey shootings,; accessed 23 March 2015.
  19. ^ "Devlin is 'very ill' after shooting", The Guardian, 17 January 1981.
  20. ^ Peter Taylor, Loyalists, London: Bloomsbury, 2000, p. 168.
  21. ^ Murray, Raymond (1990). The SAS in Ireland. Mercier Press. p.263
  22. ^ Lister, David; Jordan, Hugh (2004). Mad Dog: The Rise and Fall of Johnny Adair and 'C' Company. Edinburgh: Mainstream. p.221
  23. ^ "Elections Ireland: "Bernadette McAliskey"". Retrieved 2 June 2007.
  24. ^ a b "Bernadette Devlin McAliskey Barred Entry to the United States" Archived 9 December 2004 at the Wayback Machine, Counterpunch, 22 February 2003[unreliable source?]
  25. ^ "World Socialist News". Retrieved 17 June 2010.[unreliable source?]
  26. ^ Jimmy Breslin. "Finding Trouble in the US". Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  27. ^ Moriarty, Gerry (1 July 2016). "Brexit campaign in North 'played on racism and emotions'". The Irish Times. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  28. ^ "STEP - South Tyrone Empowerment Programme". Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  29. ^ "1969: "Devlin is youngest-ever woman MP"". BBC. 17 April 1969. Retrieved 2 June 2007.
  30. ^ Holland, Kitty (22 September 2016). "Bernadette McAliskey: 'I am astounded I survived. I made mad decisions'". The Irish Times. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  31. ^ "éirígí Árd Fheis 2007". éirígí. Archived from the original on 28 July 2007. Retrieved 25 May 2007.
  32. ^ STEP website; accessed 22 March 2015.
  33. ^ Galway Film Fleadh website Archived 23 August 2014 at the Wayback Machine,; accessed 8 August 2015.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Forrest
Member of Parliament for Mid Ulster
Succeeded by
John Dunlop
Preceded by
Les Huckfield
Baby of the House
Succeeded by
Dafydd Elis-Thomas