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Bernadette Devlin

Bernadette Devlin, also known as Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, born on April 23, 1947, is an influential figure in Irish civil rights and politics. Rising from humble beginnings in Cookstown, County Tyrone, she was deeply influenced by her father’s Irish Republican ideals. After his death when she was nine, the family struggled, relying on welfare to survive. Despite adversity, Bernadette pursued education, attending St Patrick’s Girls Academy in Dungannon and later studying psychology at Queen’s University Belfast.

Her political journey began in earnest during her university years in 1968 when she became involved in the student-led civil rights organization, People’s Democracy. However, her activism led to her expulsion from Queen’s University Belfast. Undeterred, she entered the political arena, contesting the 1969 Northern Ireland general election unsuccessfully before winning the subsequent by-election for the Mid Ulster seat in the Westminster Parliament. At just 21, she became the youngest MP at the time, advocating for civil rights and rejecting the traditional Irish republican principle of abstentionism.

Devlin’s tenure in Parliament was marked by significant events, including her involvement in the Battle of the Bogside and subsequent conviction for incitement to riot. She continued to champion civil rights, making waves internationally with her tour of the United States in 1969, where she met with the Black Panther Party and drew parallels between the struggles of African-Americans and Catholics in Northern Ireland.

Her most iconic moment came during the aftermath of Bloody Sunday in 1972, where she famously slapped Conservative Home Secretary Reginald Maudling in the House of Commons in response to his defence of the Parachute Regiment’s actions. Despite facing obstacles, including being consistently denied the floor in Parliament to address the massacre, Devlin remained resolute in her pursuit of justice.

In 1974, she played a role in forming the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) but distanced herself from the associated Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). Her support extended to various causes, including advocating for prisoners and participating in hunger strikes.

Tragedy struck in 1981 when Devlin and her husband were attacked by members of the Ulster Freedom Fighters, resulting in her being shot nine times. Allegations of collusion between the attackers and elements of the security forces surfaced, raising questions about the incident’s circumstances.

Despite setbacks, Devlin persisted in her activism, twice running for election to the Irish parliament, Dáil Éireann, and continuing her advocacy work through organizations like the South Tyrone Empowerment Programme (STEP).

Bernadette Devlin’s legacy is one of resilience and unwavering commitment to social justice and civil rights, inspiring generations with her courage and determination in the face of adversity.

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  • more of a ‘force for good’

  • Less of a ‘force for good’


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