Bernadette Devlin McAliskey

Bernadette Devlin McAliskey

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

Josephine Bernadette McAliskey (née Devlin; 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. 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

1970 newsreel film about the Ulster conflict featuring Bernadette Devlin

Devlin was born in Cookstown, County Tyrone to a Roman Catholic family. 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 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.[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). 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

Battle of the Bogside

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

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] A full transcript can be read at Hansard.[9]

Devlin slapped Reginald Maudling, the Home Secretary in the Conservative government, across the face when he stated in the House of Commons that the paratroopers had fired in self-defence on Bloody Sunday.[3]


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 paralleled the Irish National Liberation Army's split from the Official Irish Republican Army.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12] 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.[13][14] The gunmen shot Devlin fourteen 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, entered the house and waited for half an hour. Bernadette Devlin McAliskey claimed they were waiting for the couple to die. Another group of soldiers then arrived.[17] 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.[18][19] 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.[20] All three were members of the South Belfast UDA. Smallwoods was the driver of the getaway car.[21]

Dáil Éireann elections

She twice failed, in February and November 1982, in attempts to be elected to the Dublin North–Central constituency of Dáil Éireann.[22]

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 that she "poses a serious threat to the security of the United States"[23] — 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.[23][24][25]

Personal life

In 1971, while still unmarried, she gave birth to a daughter, Róisín.[3] This cost her some political support.[26] 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.[27] She currently co-ordinates a not-for-profit community development organisation based in Dungannon, the South Tyrone Empowerment Programme,[28] 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.[29] At the 2008 Cannes Film Festival a biopic of Devlin was announced,[3] but she stated that "[t]he whole concept is abhorrent to me" and the film was not made.


  1. Election results for Mid-Ulster (2011),; accessed 16 March 2015.
  2. CAIN: Biographies of Prominent People – McAliskey
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 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.
  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. Retrieved 2 June 2007.
  9. Transcript (31 January 1972),; accessed 22 March 2015.
  10. Holland, Jack; McDonald, Henry (1996). INLA Deadly Divisions. Poolbeg. p. 49. ISBN 1-85371-263-9.
  11. Peter Barberis, John McHugh and Mike Tyldesley. Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organisations, Pinter Publishers (March 2000); ISBN 1-85567-264-2
  12. Nicholas Whyte (18 April 2004). "Northern Ireland and the European Parliament". ARK. Retrieved 11 March 2007.
  13. Chronology of the Conflict: January 1981, CAIN
  14. Peter Taylor, Loyalists, p. 168
  15. CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict: January 1981
  16. Taylor, Peter (1999). Loyalists. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 168. ISBN 0-7475-4519-7.
  17. McAliskey shootings,; accessed 23 March 2015.
  18. "Devlin is 'very ill' after shooting", The Guardian, 17 January 1981.
  19. Peter Taylor, Loyalists, London: Bloomsbury, 2000, p. 168.
  20. Murray, Raymond (1990). The SAS in Ireland. Mercier Press. p.263
  21. Lister, David; Jordan, Hugh (2004). Mad Dog: The Rise and Fall of Johnny Adair and 'C' Company. Edinburgh: Mainstream. p.221
  22. "Elections Ireland: "Bernadette McAliskey"". Retrieved 2 June 2007.
  23. 1 2 "Bernadette Devlin McAliskey Barred Entry to the United States", Counterpunch, 22 February 2003 Archived 9 December 2004 at the Wayback Machine.
  24. "World Socialist News". Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  25. Jimmy Breslin. "Finding Trouble in the US". Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  26. "1969: "Devlin is youngest-ever woman MP"". BBC. 17 April 1969. Retrieved 2 June 2007.
  27. "éirígí Árd Fheis 2007". éirígí. Archived from the original on 28 July 2007. Retrieved 25 May 2007.
  28. STEP website; accessed 22 March 2015.
  29. Galway Film Fleadh website Archived 23 August 2014 at the Wayback Machine.,; accessed 8 August 2015.

External links

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
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