By Kevin Devine
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 367

Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey

This article is over 10 years, 5 months old
Director: Lelia Doolan
Issue 367

Bernadette Devlin McAliskey is one of the most important political figures to have emerged from the late 1960s. This documentary shows why. Just imagine footage of your local MP using a megaphone to coordinate the building of barricades, or the same MP helping to break up paving slabs to be used as ammunition against armed police.

McAliskey was only 21 when she was elected to Westminster – still the youngest ever woman MP. She came to prominence as one of the leaders of the campaign for equal rights for Catholics in Northern Ireland. But while her youth and gender marked her out it was her politics that made her significant. Bernadette was a socialist as well as a republican.

This documentary is an account of a political life that has stretched over 40 years. It combines extensive archive footage with more recent interviews. A good portion of the film is devoted to the events of Bloody Sunday, when British paratroopers shot 13 civilians dead who were taking part in an anti-internment march in Derry on 30 January 1972.

Bernadette was speaking on the platform as the first shots rang out. Later, in the House of Commons, Tory home secretary Reginald Maudling claimed they had fired in self-defence. Bernadette tried to respond, and when she was prevented by the Speaker, she crossed the floor of the House and punched Maudling. Outside, TV interviewers asked her if she would apologise to the home secretary. The film captures her response, which I won’t spoil, but it was just one of the points when the cinema audience broke into applause and cheers.

As an MP she used her position to expose government policy. She supported equal rights and workers’ struggles. Later she was one of the leaders of the campaign in support of the IRA hunger strikers’ attempt to win political status. As a result she was targeted by Loyalists and narrowly survived an assassination attempt.

The picture that emerges from the film is of someone who has survived with her principles intact. Her criticism of the current power-sharing arrangements between Sinn Fein and the Unionists as bolstering sectarianism and segregation will find an echo with other socialists. This documentary is a must-see.

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