Bernadette Devlin McAliskey didn’t really ‘fit’ with the Troubles, although she was a shooting star at the very start.
From a working class Catholic background, she was a socialist, and became involved while at university in the Civil Rights Movement which was hijacked by the Troubles. As such, she had perhaps more in common with the US civil rights activists and other student activists of the late 1960s than she did with Irish nationalism. She always claimed that, despite her sympathies for the republican movement in Northern Ireland, she was essentially non-sectarian and wanted to work for all the people of Northern Ireland.
Until Mhairi Black of the SNP became a Member of Parliament, McAliskey was the youngest woman to take a seat in Westminster, at only 22, as a republican-aligned Unity politician. Her maiden speech (for, unlike other nationalist MPs, she did not practice abstention) was considered one of the best since Disraeli’s in the 1830s. In it, she tried to explain the difficulties that Northern Irish Catholics faced. Interviewed recently, she said the speech came from her political naivety: “I didn’t think the government was bad. I genuinely thought they just didn’t know and if I just went to London to tell them, people would say, ‘Do you hear that young woman there? We need to do something about that.’ But then I realised: the bastards, they do know and not only do they know, they don’t see anything wrong with it.”
She later served a prison sentence for her part in organising the working class residents of Derry in the Battle of the Bogside, and witnessed the events of Bloody Sunday in the city. Then an independent socialist MP, she gained notoriety by slapping a fellow MP, Reginald Maudling, for comments he made about Bloody Sunday.
She gave birth to a daughter, Róisín, in 1971. This was a considerable scandal as she was unmarried, and it cost her some political support amongst Catholics.
By 1974, her public political life was over. She lost her seat in parliament in the general election, and has never held political office since, despite running for election to a number of bodies.
Later that year, she helped found the Irish Republican Socialist Party, a splinter group from Official Sinn Féin, but left after a failed attempt to co-opt the Irish Nationalist Liberation Army terrorist group. I’m not sure of the details – did she leave because the attempt failed, or because the attempt was made in the first place (given her claimed non-sectarian stance, it’s interesting that the INLA had some Protestant members). However, she later supported the blanket protest and the dirty protest, and was the main spokesperson for the Smash H-Blocks Campaign, which supported the republican prisoners’ hunger strike, all of which involved INLA prisoners.
In 1981, she and her husband were shot in their home by members of the Ulster Freedom Fighters.
Currently, she runs the South Tyrone Empowerment Project, which advocates for migrants.