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Bernadette Devlin McAliskey

A mural by the Bogside Artists in Derry's Bogside, depicting Devlin

Member of Parliament
for Mid Ulster
In office
Preceded by George Forrest
Succeeded by John Dunlop
Majority 18,213

Born 23 April 1947 (1947-04-23)
Cookstown, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland
Nationality Irish
Political party Unity
Spouse(s) Michael McAliskey
Alma mater Queens University of Belfast
Religion Atheist (Formerly Roman Catholic)

Josephine Bernadette Devlin McAliskey (born 23 April 1947, in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland), also known as Bernadette Devlin and Bernadette McAliskey, is a socialist republican political activist. She served as a Member of Parliament at Westminster from 1969 to 1974 for the Mid Ulster constituency.


Political beginnings

Devlin was studying Psychology at Queen's University Belfast in 1968 when she took a prominent role in a student-led civil rights political party called the People's Democracy.[1] Devlin was subsequently excluded from the university.[1] She opposed 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 the age of 21, she was the youngest MP at the time.[1]

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, rather unconventionally within an hour of taking her seat.[citation needed]

Many Catholics approved of her activities, while many Protestants were critical of her and referred to her as a "Fidel Castro in a miniskirt."[2][3]

Youngest woman MP

She remains the youngest woman ever to have been elected to British parliament.[1] Her 1969 book, The Price of My Soul, publicised discrimination against Catholics in Northern Ireland.[citation needed]

The Troubles

The Battle of the Bogside

Her radical left-wing politics resulted in conviction of incitement to riot in December 1969. She had actively engaged, on the side of the residents, in the 'Battle of the Bogside', which is widely marked as the beginning of Northern Ireland's 30-year "Troubles".[citation needed] She served a short jail term.[4] After being re-elected in the 1970 general election, Devlin declared that she would sit in Parliament as an independent socialist.[citation needed]

Bloody Sunday

Devlin witnessed the events of Bloody Sunday. She was later infuriated that she was consistently denied the chance to speak in Parliament, although parliamentary convention decreed that any MP witnessing an incident under discussion would be granted an opportunity to speak about it in Parliament.[5] Devlin punched Reginald Maudling, the Secretary of State for the Home Department in the Conservative government, when he made a statement to Parliament on Bloody Sunday stating that the British Army had fired only in self-defence.[1][6] She was temporarily suspended from Parliament as a result of the incident.[7]


McAliskey helped to form the Irish Republican Socialist Party in 1974.[citation needed] 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.[8] She served on the party's national executive in 1975, but she left the party after a short time when it became clear that it regarded political activity as subordinate to the INLA.[citation needed] She attacked the Peace People as dishonest in 1976.[citation needed] In 1977, she joined the Independent Socialist Party, but it disbanded the following year.[citation needed]

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.[9] She was a leading spokesperson for the Smash H-Block Campaign, which supported the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike in 1980 and 1981, though she remained publicly critical of Gerry Adams and other Sinn Féin leaders.[citation needed]

Injured in shooting

On 16 January 1981, she and her husband were shot by Ulster Freedom Fighters[10] paramilitaries who broke into their remote County Tyrone home. British soldiers were watching the McAliskey home at the time, but failed to prevent the assassination attempt.[1][11] 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 in Belfast under intensive care. Three attackers, including Ray Smallwoods, captured by the army patrol, were subsequently jailed.[12]

Dáil Éireann elections

In 1982, she twice failed in an attempt to be elected to the Dublin North Central constituency of Dáil Éireann.[13] Her daughter Róisin has been arrested twice in high profile cases. Her younger daughter, Deirdre McAliskey, is also politically active, most recently as a student leader at QUB.

Deported from USA

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", although she protested that she had no terrorist involvement — hinging ostensibly on her conviction for incitement to riot in 1969 — but had been permitted to frequently travel to the United States in the past.[14][15][16]

Personal life

In 1971, while still unmarried, she gave birth to a daughter Róisin.[1] This cost her some support in conservative Roman Catholic areas.[6] She married Michael McAliskey on 23 April 1973, which was her 26th birthday. In the February 1974 general election she was opposed by other Nationalist candidates and lost her seat.[12]

McAliskey remains an active commentator and activist on the margins of Northern Irish politics, where she has expressed strong opposition to the Good Friday Agreement and to Sinn Féin's entry into government in Northern Ireland stating that IRA volunteers had not died to create "a common teaching qualification".[citation needed] She has occasionally spoken at public meetings organised by Fourthwrite, a journal supported by dissident republicans, socialists, and ex-prisoners and on 12 May 2007 she was guest speaker at éirígí's first Annual James Connolly commemoration in Arbour Hill, Dublin.[17] She is currently involved in the South Tyrone Empowerment Programme, and works with migrant workers to improve their treatment in Northern Ireland.[1]

At the 2008 Cannes Film Festival a biopic of Devlin was announced, to be called The Roaring Girl.[1] Devlin will be played by Sally Hawkins.[1] Devlin herself has stated that "[t]he whole concept is abhorrent to me" and that her lawyers are challenging the film.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Moreton, Cole (2008-10-05). "Bernadette McAliskey: Return of the Roaring Girl". Independent on Sunday. Retrieved 2008-10-05. 
  2. ^ Knauer, Kelly (editor). "1969: Woodstock, the Moon, and Manson: The Turbulent End of the '60s." (special) TIME. 2009. 40.
  3. ^ "Travels of Bernadette." TIME. Friday September 5, 1969. 2. Retrieved on July 12, 2009.
  4. ^ "1970: "Violence flares as Devlin is arrested"". BBC. Retrieved 2007-05-29. 
  5. ^ Ros Wynne-Jones (9 March 1997). ""Daughters of Ireland"". The Independent. Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  6. ^ a b "1969: "Devlin is youngest-ever woman MP"". BBC. Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  7. ^ David McKittrick (26 January 1997). ""Bloody Sunday: the ghosts that won't lie down"". The Independent. Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  8. ^ Holland, Jack & McDonald, Henry (1996). INLA Deadly Divisions. Poolbeg. pp. 49. ISBN 1-85371-263-9. 
  9. ^ Nicholas Whyte (18 April 2004). "Northern Ireland and the European Parliament". ARK. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  10. ^ Peter Taylor, Loyalists, p.168
  11. ^ Taylor, Peter (1999). Loyalists. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 168. ISBN 0-7475-4519-7. 
  12. ^ a b "Devlin is 'very ill' after shooting", The Guardian, 17 January 1981
  13. ^ "Elections Ireland: "Bernadette McAliskey"". Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  14. ^ "Bernadette Devlin McAliskey Barred Entry to the United States", Counterpunch, 22 February 2003
  15. ^ World Socialist News
  16. ^ Bernadette Devlin banned from USA | Catholic New Times | Find Articles at BNET
  17. ^ "éirígí Árd Fheis 2007". éirígí. Retrieved 2007-05-25. 

External links

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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