Bernadette Devlin (1947- ) is an Irish Republican politician, best known for her involvement in the civil rights movement and left wing political groups. From a middle-class Catholic family in County Tyrone, Devlin studied psychology at Queen’s University Belfast. She was expelled from the university for campaigning against Catholic discrimination. In October 1968 Devlin became a founding member of the civil rights-based party People’s Democracy. She was with People’s Democracy marchers in January 1969 when they were ambushed and assaulted by Loyalists in Burntollet. In April 1969 Devlin won a by-election for the Westminster seat of Mid-Ulster, defeating Unionist candidate Anna Forrest by 4,200 votes. She took the Oath of Allegiance at age 21, becoming the youngest member of the House of Commons and the youngest ever female MP (a record broken by Scottish candidate Mhairi Black in 2015).
Devlin’s maiden speech to the Commons was bold and fiery, taking aim at Unionists and the British government in equal measure. While sitting in parliament Devlin continued to champion the rights of Catholics in Bogside. A regular participant in protest marches, she was arrested in June 1970 for inciting civil unrest and briefly imprisoned. Devlin was in Bogside in January 1972 and preparing to deliver a speech when British paratroopers opened fire on protesters. Despite witnessing some of the events on Bloody Sunday Devlin was prevented from speaking about it in Parliament. When Home Secretary Reginald Maudling told the House of Commons that British soldiers had fired in self defence, Devlin called him a “murderous hypocrite”, crossed the floor of parliament and slapped his face. This act saw her excluded from the House for six months. Devlin later told journalists “I am just sorry I did not go for his throat”.
Devlin married schoolteacher Michael McAliskey in April 1973. Devlin McAliskey failed to hold her seat in the February 1974 general election. Later that year she became a founding member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP), the political wing of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). She remained active in socialist political groups but failed to win seats in the Irish and European parliaments. In the late 1970s and early 1980s Devlin McAliskey campaigned in support of striking Republican prisoners in HM Prison Maze. In January 1981 Devlin McAliskey and her husband survived an assassination attempt by members of the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF). Devlin McAliskey was shot 14 times in her home, despite the presence of a British military guard. Close to death, she eventually recovered and returned to political activism and social justice work.
This page was written by Rebekah Poole and Jennifer Llewellyn. To reference this page, use the following citation:
R. Poole & J. Llewellyn, “Bernadette Devlin”, Alpha History, accessed [today’s date], https://alphahistory.com/northernireland/bernadette-devlin/.