1969 - Irish independence activist Bernadette Devlin speaks on UCB campus as part of a two-week US tour

US tour

 

During August, 1969, Irish Republican activist and Member of Parliament (for the United Kingdom) Bernadette Devlin conducted a two-week tour in the U.S. to raise support for the movement to make Northern Ireland a "free state."  She was invited to speak at the University of California at Berkeley.  I do not know who invited her.

Member of Parliament 1968-1970

 

In 1968, the twenty one year old Devlin became the youngest MP ever elected, representing Mid-Ulster.  She was a witness to the massacre called"Bloody Sunday,"  That day was October 29 1972, when British soldiers fired on a crowd of Irish civil rights demonstrators in Derry, wounding 26 and killing 14.  

As a Westminster MP, 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."  She was re-elected in 1970, declaring herself an "independent socialist."   She served in Parliament until 1974.  

 

Awkward statements during the US tour

 

During her US tour, she met with members of the Black Panther Party and gave them her support. She made an appearance on The Johnny Carson Show.  At a number of speaking events, she made parallels between the struggle in the U.S. by African-Americans seeking civil rights and Catholics in Northern Ireland, sometimes to the embarrassment of her audience.  In New York, Mayor John Lindsay arranged a ceremony where he would present her with a key to the city of New York. However, Devlin, frustrated with conservative elements of the Irish-American community, had already returned to Ireland.

Irish Republican Socialist Party

 

Devlin helped to form the Irish Republican Socialist Party in 1974.  This was a revolutionary socialist breakaway from Official Sinn Féin.  Devlin served on the party's national executive in 1975,  In 1977, she joined the Independent Socialist Party, but it disbanded the following year.

 

Bernadette Devlin stood as an independent candidate in support of the Irish Republican prisoners who were on hunger strikes: the "blanket protest" and the "dirty protest" at Long Kesh prison.  She ran in the 1979 elections to the European Parliament,  losing, with only 5.9% of the vote.  She was a leading spokesperson for the Smash H-Block Campaign, which supported the hunger strikes in 1980 and 1981.

Support for hunger-strikers

 

On 16 January 1981 she and her husband,  Michael McAliskey, were shot by members of the Loyalist (Protestant) Ulster Freedom Fighters, who broke into their home.  The gunmen shot Devlin nine times in front of her children.  Devlin and her husband survived.

She twice failed, in February and November 1982, in attempts to be elected to the Dublin North-Central constituency of Dáil Éireann (Irish Parliament.)

 

In 2003 she was barred from entering the United States and deported on the grounds that the United States Department of State had declared her to pose "a serious threat to the security of the United States." 

Current activities

 

McAliskey is currently chief executive of the South Tyrone Empowerment Programme (STEP) and was involved in its founding in 1997.  STEP provides a range of services and advocacy in areas including community development, training, support and advice for migrants, policy work and community enterprise.

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Bernadette Devlin speaks in front of a standing-only crowd at UC Berkeley

Devlin gestures to make a point

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Lawyer Michael ("Butch") Hallinan watches from the stage as Bernadette Devlin speaks.  He was one of several Irish-American activists in attendance.

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Surrounded by admirers

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Part of the large crowd eager to hear a feisty young "freedom fighter" from The emerald isle