Bernadette Devlin – a name perhaps not easily recognized by many in the U.S. these days, but one of those voices who fit right into the upheaval nature of our world in the 1960s; one of those voices rebelling against the status quo, a voice of activism and of dissent. It wasn’t just America caught up in the social-political turmoil of the times. France had gone through a nationwide strike in 1968, Czechoslovakia had Prague Spring and a taste of open democracy – seemingly everywhere, all over the world, voices were coming together to question issues which were prevalent for so long.
In Ireland, the decades-old struggle for independence, the division of Northern Ireland from the South. Religious differences; the seeming perpetual state of war between Protestants and Catholics and a British determination to maintain control against a background of crushing poverty and discrimination.
Enter Bernadette Devlin – 22 year old Socialist, Republican political activist (Irish Republican, not GOP Republican) and in 1969, the youngest member of the British Parliament. Devlin was outspoken, a fierce fighter, a Catholic from Ulster who campaigned on the slogan “I will take my seat and fight for your rights”, which endeared her to her constituents, but made her a thorn in the side of her British counterparts. At one point, slapping Home Secretary Reginald Maulding in the face when he told the House of Commons that the British paratroops firing on Irish civilians during the Bloody Sunday riots had done so in “self-defense”.
This episode of Meet The Press features Bernadette Devlin during her six months as MP. Some of the questions from the panelists are cringeworthy, only because she’s a Woman, and a young Woman at that. But she is articulate, clear-headed and focused.
Even during this early stage of her Parliamentary career she had her fair share of support as well as disdain from the public and from colleagues alike. But she represented the wave of the future and one of the voices who were seeking change and a new path to that change. For those of you who remember her, you either liked her or hated her, but you weren’t going to ignore her.
Here is that episode of Meet The Press, as it was aired on August 24, 1969.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.