Deirdre McAliskey

Bernadette Devlin McAliskey
Bernadette Devlin (1986)
Member of Parliament
for Mid Ulster
In office
Preceded by George Forrest
Succeeded by John Dunlop
Majority 18,213
Personal details
Born (1947-04-23) 23 April 1947 (age 67)
Cookstown, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland
Nationality Irish
Political party Independent (1970–1974),
Other political
Unity (1969–1970),
Independent Socialist Party (1977–1978),
Irish Republican Socialist Party (1974–1976)
Spouse(s) Michael McAliskey
Children Róisín Elizabeth McAliskey
Deirdre McAliskey
Alma mater Queens University of Belfast

Josephine Bernadette Devlin McAliskey (born 23 April 1947), usually known as Bernadette Devlin or Bernadette McAliskey, is an Irish socialist and republican political activist. She served as a Member of the UK Parliament from 1969 to 1974 for the Mid Ulster constituency, in which role she famously slapped the Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling, as a reaction to his comments on Bloody Sunday. She lost her seat to John Dunlop of the Vanguard Progressive Unionist Party, after coming third in a four-sided contest in the general election of February 1974.[1]

Political beginnings

File:Ulster.ogv Devlin was born in Cookstown, County Tyrone, and raised as a Roman Catholic. She attended St Patrick's Girls Academy in Dungannon.[2] 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.[3] Devlin was subsequently excluded from the university.[3] She stood unsuccessfully against James Chichester-Clark in the Northern Ireland general election of 1969. When George Forrest, the MP for Mid Ulster, died, she fought the subsequent by-election on the "Unity" ticket, defeating a female Unionist candidate, Forrest's widow Anna, and was elected to the Westminster Parliament. At age 21, she was the youngest MP at the time, and remains the youngest woman elected.[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 (being absent from Westminster). She made her maiden speech on her 22nd birthday, within an hour of taking her seat.[4]

The Troubles

The Battle of the 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.[5] After being re-elected in the 1970 general election, Devlin declared that she would sit in Parliament as an independent socialist.[6]

Bloody Sunday

Having witnessed the events of Bloody Sunday, Devlin was infuriated that she was later consistently denied the floor in Parliament, 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.[7]

Devlin slapped Reginald Maudling, the Home Secretary in the Conservative government, across the face when he stated in the House of Commons that the Paras had fired in self-defence on Bloody Sunday.[3] She was suspended from Parliament for six months as a result of the incident.[8]


McAliskey helped to form the Irish Republican Socialist Party along with Seamus Costello in 1974. 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.[9] 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.[10] In 1977, she joined the Independent Socialist Party, but it disbanded the following year.[11]

Support for hunger strike prisoners

She 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 Northern Ireland, and won 5.9% of the vote.[12] She was a leading spokesperson for the Smash H-Block Campaign, which supported the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike in 1980 and 1981.

Injured 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 in Coalisland, County Tyrone.[13][14] The gunmen shot McAliskey seven times in front of her children.[15] British soldiers were watching the McAliskey home at the time, but failed to prevent the assassination attempt.[3][16] An army patrol of the 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, heard the shots and rushed to McAliskey's house. The paramilitaries had torn out the telephone and while the wounded couple were being given first aid by the 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. Three attackers, including Ray Smallwoods, captured by the army patrol, were subsequently jailed.[17][18]

Dáil Éireann elections

In 1982, she twice failed in an attempt to be elected to the Dublin North–Central constituency of Dáil Éireann.[19]

Denied entry into the US

In 2003, she was barred from entering the United States and deported on the grounds that the State Department had declared that she "poses a serious threat to the security of the United States"[20] — 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.[20][21][22]

Personal life

In 1971, while still unmarried, she gave birth to a daughter, Róisín.[3] This cost her much support in Roman Catholic areas.[23] She married Michael McAliskey on 23 April 1973, which was her 26th birthday.

On 12 May 2007, she was guest speaker at éirígí's first Annual James Connolly commemoration in Arbour Hill, Dublin.[24] She currently co-ordinates a not-for-profit community development organisation based in Dungannon, the South Tyrone Empowerment Programme,[25] and works with migrant workers to improve their treatment in Northern Ireland.[3]

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.[26] At the 2008 Cannes Film Festival a biopic of Devlin was announced,[3] but Devlin stated that "[t]he whole concept is abhorrent to me" and the film was not made.


External links

  • Bernadette Devlin, The Price of My Soul, 1969 (Foreword and Chapter Twelve)
  • THE BLANKET: "Knowing Too Much and Saying It Too Well: Bernadette McAliskey Barred from US" – 23 Feb 2003, (by Anthony McIntyre)
  • The Independent on Sunday: 29 July 2007.
  • Hansard 1803–2005:
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Forrest
Member of Parliament for Mid Ulster
Succeeded by
John Dunlop
Preceded by
Leslie Huckfield
Baby of the House
Succeeded by
Dafydd Elis-Thomas

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