Category Archives: Bernadette (Devlin) McAliskey

Revisiting People’s Democracy and the ‘Burntollet’ march

The January 1969 Belfast to Derry march, organised by People’s Democracy, modelled on the US civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery in 1965

Last week I watched a video of a public meeting at the CP’s Dublin headquarters marking the 50th anniversary of the explosion of the civil rights movement onto the streets of Derry and the wider six counties.  One of the speakers was Tommy McKearney, someone whom I respect a great deal.  To my unpleasant surprise, however, Tommy wheeled out the old Stickies and CP attacks on “ultralefts” going destructively ahead with activities which unnecessarily provoked violent clashes instead of listening to the advice of more seasoned folk like Betty Sinclair.


It’s hard to know where to start in responding to this, so I’m linking to two articles on the People’s Democracy organisation, the civil rights movement and Burntollet.  One is by Matt Collins, from SWN/People Before Profit looking back on the events as a Marxist today and the other is by John McAnulty, a veteran of PD and the movement back then and an active Marxist still.  John agrees with much in the Matt Collins article, which defends PD, while also noting a few things Matt got wrong.

Before linking to these, I just want to say something about Betty Sinclair and the question of ‘experience’.  Tommy is dead wrong to say Bernadette Devlin, Michael Farrell, John McAnulty and the “ultralefts” should have Read the rest of this entry

Seamus Costello on RTE, December 1975, about mini-split

Much as I admire Bernadette (Devlin) McAliskey she was totally wrong to leave the IRSP in late 1975 and she was wrong about the relationship of the armed and non-armed aspects of the struggle at that time.  She has great strengths, but her weakness is that she has never been a party-builder.


Rare photo of Mairin Keegan and Eamon McCann

Mairin Keegan and McCann 1970

Mairin Keegan and Eamon McCann

A front-page news story of the September 17, 1970 issue of the Irish Times informed readers of the disruption of the satirical review “A State of Chassis” at the Peacock Theatre.  The show was about the civil rights movement and growing conflict in the six counties and was written by John D. Stewart, Tomás MacAnna and Eugene Watters.

Protesters objected to what McCann called the “abysmally ignorant” portrayal of the north and its caricature of Bernadette Devlin.

Among those taking part was Mairin Keegan, a prominent figure in the Marxist-republican organisation Saor Eire.

Further reading:

Tribute to Mairin Keegan, 1932-1972 

Video of the 1997 commemoration to Mairin on the 25th anniversary of her tragic death

1916, 2016: them and us

This first went up on the site back on April 28 this year; I’m putting it back up on the home page because it remains relevant.  I’ll be highlighting it continuously as long as I need to!

indexOne of the products of the end of the Provisionals’ armed struggle in the six counties and their signing up to, and enthusiastic participation in, an internal settlement there is that the kind of historical revisionism that was officially-backed from about the mid-1970s until the end of the 1990s has become outmoded.  The kind of nonsense delivered up by the likes of a would-be Sebastian Flyte such as Roy Foster is now surplus to requirements.

Instead, there is a new war over ‘1916 and all that’.  The southern establishment is much more relaxed about recognising and celebrating the importance of 1916 than they have been at any time since the explosion in the six counties at the end of the 1960s and start of the 1970s.  On the other hand, the establishment is vitally keen on tying the 1916 rebellion and subsequent war for independence into its own history.  They want to present the events of 1916-21 as finding their natural and logical conclusion in the establishment and development of the 26-county state.

Moreover, they want to show that this state and its population, or certainly its ruling elite, have ‘matured’ to the level of putting the old ‘enmity’ with England behind them.  ‘We’ can now recognise the ‘sacrifices’ made by Orangemen in the First World War and also commemorate men from nationalist Ireland who joined the British imperialist army and died on the slaughter fields of that war.  It’s all just part of Ireland’s rich and diverse Read the rest of this entry

Irish Night at the Canterbury WEA (Christchurch, New Zealand)

Tonight’s Irish Night is the second part of a talk on “Constance Markievicz: countess and revolutionary”.  It marks the end of this term’s advertised Irish Nights.


Next term, Irish Night at the WEA will be continuing on a fortnightly basis, starting on Thursday, October 17.  Each session will run from 7.30-9pm, with an initial focus on women and the struggle for Irish freedom.

October 17: Bernadette Devlin: we’ll be showing a 1969 US television documentary on Bernadette Devlin, made shortly after she was elected to the British parliament.

October 31: Off Our Knees screening; this is a documentary about the civil rights movement in the north of Ireland in the 1960s and events there up to 1988, written and presented by Bernadette (Devlin) McAliskey.


November 14: Mna na IRA: Rose Dugdale: this is an episode of a series of Irish TV documentaries on women who were involved in the armed conflict against the British military presence in Ireland; this episode is on Rose Dugdale, an iconic revolutionary figure whose background was in the English upper class.

Each showing will be accompanied by a short introductory talk.

November 28: The Troops Out Movement in Britain: a talk on the campaign in Britain for the withdrawal of British troops from Ireland

December 12: Political prisoners in Ireland today

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Bloody Sunday commemoration, Derry




I know éirígí Dublin is organising a bus up to Derry.  The bus will be leaving Dublin at 10.45am.

Priority, naturally, is for members of éirígí and Clann éirígí.  But anyone else could try emailing:

Further reading:

Bloody Sunday – a very British atrocity

The Burning of the British embassy – 40 years on

Bernadette Devlin maiden speech, British House of Commons, April 22, 1969

I don't know what she'd think of it now, but I like this picture of her as it is so indicative of the period and I used to use it on the cover of the course guide of a 1960s course I used to teach

I don’t know what she’d think of it now, but I like this picture of her as it is so indicative of the period; I used it on the cover of the course guide of a 1960s course I taught a few years ago

The text is taken from Hansard; it is, of course, an historical document, a product of its time, thus the references to “Londonderry” and “Northern Ireland” and the use of male forms to denote both men and women:

I understand that in making my maiden speech on the day of my arrival in Parliament and in making it on a controversial issue I flaunt the unwritten traditions of the House, but I think that the situation of my people merits the flaunting of such traditions.

I remind the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) that I, too, was in the Bogside area on the night that he was there. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, there never was born an Englishman who understands the Irish people. Thus a man who is alien to the ordinary working Irish people cannot understand them, and I therefore respectfully suggest that the hon. Gentleman has no understanding of my people, because Catholics and Protestants are the ordinary people, the oppressed people from whom I come and whom I represent. I stand here as the youngest woman in Parliament, in the same tradition as the first woman ever to be elected to this Parliament, Constance Markievicz, who was elected on behalf of the Irish people.

This debate comes much too late for the people of Ireland, since it concerns itself particularly with the action in Derry last weekend. I will do my best to dwell on the action in Derry last weekend. However, it is impossible to consider the activity of one weekend in a city such as Derry without considering the reasons why these things happen.

The hon. Member for Londonderry said that he stood in Bogside. I wonder whether he could name the streets through which he walked in the Bogside so that we might establish just how well acquainted he became with the area. I had never hoped to see the day when I might agree with someone who represents the bigoted and sectarian Unionist Party, which uses a deliberate policy of dividing the people in order to keep the ruling minority in power and to keep the oppressed people of Ulster oppressed. I never thought that I should see the day when I should agree with any phrase uttered by the representative of such a party, but the hon. Gentleman summed up the situation “to a t”. He referred to stark, human misery. That is what I saw in Bogside. It has not been there just for one night. It has been there for 50 years—and that same stark human misery is to be found in the Protestant Fountain area, which the hon. Gentleman would claim to represent.

These are the people the hon. Gentleman would claim do want to join society. Because they are equally poverty-stricken they are equally excluded from the society which the Unionist Party represents—the society of landlords who, by ancient charter of Charles II, still hold the rights of the ordinary people of Northern Ireland over such things as fishing and as paying the most ridiculous and exorbitant rents, although families have lived for generations on their land. But this is the ruling minority of landlords who, for generations, have claimed to represent one section of the people and, in order to maintain their claim, divide the people into two sections and stand up in this House and say that there are those who do not wish to join the society.

The people in my country who do not wish to join the society which is represented by the hon. Member for Londonderry are by far the majority. There is no place in society for us, the ordinary “peasants” of Read the rest of this entry

Bernadette McAliskey on the ‘peace process’ (2000 speech)

bernadetteThis is a transcript of a speech given by Bernadette in New York in April 2000 and downloaded from the internet. It was edited for reasons of space by the group Socialist Democracy.  The final draft was approved by her and SD had her permission to use the downloaded text.  I’ve had a request from Russia to try to get up more Bernadette stuff, so I’m reprinting it here.  It has certainly borne the test of time!

by Bernadette McAliskey

A great deal has been written about the peace process and I’ve not written a lot, but what I’ve written I think has mattered and you can read it if you like.  For where the peace process is, indeed what the peace process is, very much depends on yourselves and where you are.  Some people think the peace process is the successful culmination of the 30-year struggle for self-determination, sovereignty, social justice, equality – never mind socialism and all the hard bits – and that we are looking within the peace process at the culmination of the success, at the just achievements, won again through hard struggle and sacrifice.

Other people, and I’m talking about people on our side of the line (Republicans are the people I’m talking about) if you want to put that at its broadest point, other people within the broad civil rights, civil libertarian, progressive democratic movement will say that the peace process is the worst thing that has happened to us since we lost the 1798 Rebellion.

I think the real issue is about the process itself.  The real issue is to try and analyse and understand what exactly is happening here and whose peace it is we are currently processing.  And if you look at it from that point of view, I think some very serious questions have to be asked.

Decommissioning: A New Word

At the minute, within the peace process, we’re sort of at a point where the key issues appear to be things like ‘decommissioning’.  Decommissioning is very interesting because prior to the existence of the peace process, the word itself did not exist.   Not the process, not the strategy, but the word did not exist.  Decommissioning, like a whole lot of words, are themselves the product of the Irish peace process.  But at the minute, people get bogged down in it because it has been a consistent pattern from the beginning of this whole process to create a situation for the simple purpose of diffusing it. 

And many people, if they can move outside the complexities of the Irish situation will understand this better from the concept of their own lives.  How many people, for example, have been told in their working lives, that things aren’t going well, the workers will have to take a wage cut.  Now at somewhere in their heads they had been just about to ask for a wage rise; but before they got time to ask for it, the employers came along and Read the rest of this entry

Campaigning for the prisoners today

by Gary Keenan

On International Women’s Day 2012 a discussion was held in West Belfast’s Conway Mill about the on-going political internment of Marian Price.  Bernadette McAliskey emphasised the illusion of normalisation by stating that this sort of meeting should not be taking place in 2012 and that the Six County state was supposed to have embraced democracy.  Another of Bernadette’s salient points was that people who are appealing to Sinn Fein to exert their influence to release Marian Price were deluding themselves.  Sinn Fein, as part of the Stormont executive, are now administrators of so-called British justice in Ireland.

Although made with good intentions, the appeal for figures such as Raymond McCartney to act on this issue is made from a sentimental point of view and because of past injustices faced by McCartney as a political prisoner.  However Republicans will be aware of how former comrades have been quick to turn their back on revolutionary principles once part of the establishment.

Eamonn De Valera, who fought in Easter week and took the Republican side in the Irish Civil War, later as Taoiseach condemned Republican prisoners to death on hunger strike and execution.  As Bernadette said “There is no point in Read the rest of this entry

The function of sectarianism – an early Bernadette speech

Below is an excellent short clip of Bernadette Devlin (as she then was) speaking about the function religious sectarianism played in the six counties in dividing workers along religious lines to keep them all exploited: