Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 15. August 4, 1971
Interview with Bernadette Devlin
Interview with Bernadette Devlin
"You let too many women into your movement who only want equality with their professional male counter? but who do not object at all to the class nature of society, The fiery young British MP comments on Women's Liberation, socialism, and Irish-Americans.
Bernadette Devlin, twenty-two, independent member of the British House of Commons from Northern Ireland, arrived in the United States for the first time on a sweltering day in late August 1969. Stepping off her Pan Am plane, clad in a pair of dungarees and a white sweater, tired, weary, Miss Devlin explained to the assembled New York pressmen that she had come to America to raise money for her beleaguered people and to explain to the world exactly what was going on in embattled Ulster. The situation she left behind was grim; for nearly two weeks previous to her visit. Catholics in the cities of Derry, Dungannon, and Belfast had barricaded their ghetttos against the all-Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary; Bernadette herself had fought on the Derry barricades. CS tear gas had reigned intermittently on the Catholic Bogside district of Derry for two days and two nights; and the British Army had been called to Ulster, ostensibly to protect the Catholics from what was abo 't to become a massacre. In kelly-green pubs in Dublin and Bayridge, Brooklyn shamrocked Irishmen were singing The Rising of the Moon" and preparing themselves for a rerun of Bloody Easter Sunday, 1917.
I found Bernadette that first night stirring up a hastily assembled gathering of Irish Americans crowded into a small fraternal club in the Inwood section of Manhattan. On everyone's lips were cheers and tributes to the new Saint Joan. The Irish of in wood expressed an almost hysterical love for the girl. It was as if Connolly had sent them a daughter.
Later that night, Miss Devlin was charming herself through a friendly interview on an all-night radio talk show. Between questions on the political situation in Ulster, the interviewer asked, "And what does the well dressed revolutionary wear to the barricades?" The MP rolled her eyes to the ceiling at the inanity of the question, and answered as politely as possible; "Dungarees, that's all I brought. My drycleaners, you see, burnt down."
For me, an enterprising reporter covering the story for New York's underground East Village Other, the sartorial remark was an opportunity. "You'll need some clothes for your tour. Dungarees won't do for 'Meet the Press'. Why don't you borrow some things from me?'
Several hours later, as Devlin rumaged through my closet in search of three dresses small enough for her, we talked about the situation in Ireland. There seemed something magnificent about Bernadette. She was young, but she lacked all the revolutionary jargon about "correct ideas, revolutionary struggle and people's wars. "She was a genuine human being fighting a revolution while still maintaining her humanity. I liked her, not because she was Saint Joan, nor because she was a romantic figure - a woman who defied the might of the British Empire - but because she was a mensch - open, frank, human, frail.
I continued covering much of Bernadette's American tour, which ended up becoming a full-scale disaster. The Irish-Americans, filled with much bravado when they sing of Bloody Easter Sunday, quickly abandoned their 1970s Constance Markievicz as soon as they found out what she was about Revolution is all right for folk songs, but real, live, flesh-andblood revolutions are too terrible a challenge for one's fantasies. So Bernadette left America in panic, not having collected much support. As for me, I developed an obsessive interest in the Irish Question. Three weeks after Devlin's departure with tape recorder and press credentials from New York's WBAI in hand, I touched down in Belfast.
Belfast was a horror I was the house guest of Frank Gogarty, a quiet spoken dentist and the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. Being Gogarty guest meant that I had to sit up every night and guard Frank's house from possible attack by followers of the Protestant Rev Ian Paisley. It meant that I would pick up a telephone and hear vile, obscene threats on the lives of Gogarty's six children. It meant being followed everywhere by plain clothes police, with my life in constant danger. Certain nightmare memories of Belfast persist in my mind police Stoner rifle bullet holes in the bedrooms of Catholic children, Bombay Street, a block of small working-class Catholic flats, whose residents had been burnt out by Protestant extremists and fired on by the Royal Ulster Constabulary as they fled their burning homes, the rogance of a middle-class Protestant woman who told me that "all of Ulster's troubles are being caused by outside agitators." The sense of constant siege that hung over Belfast was something akin to what my grandmother talks about when she speaks of Berlin, 1938. It was Krystallnacht every night.
In the midst of all this Bernadette Devlin had disappeared. Rumours were that she was either in Belgium Italy or Donegal in a desperate search for peace, quiet, and anonymity. She wanted to recover from America and to be alone.
I left Ulster a month later, now a seasoned war correspondent totally horrified by what I had experienced. Somehow, I was certain I'd never see Bernadette Devlin alive again that Ireland, with its national habit of destroying its best leaders, would get to her too. It was morbid, but I expected that the next time I'd hear of her would be in glowing New York Times obituary: "Bernadette Devlin, Irish Revolutionary, Parliamentarian, Dead of Sniper's Bullet."
Fortunately, things didn't work out quite as grimly. A year and a half after her first visit, Bernadette returned to the States, quite alive and quite healthy. She had come this time not as Saint Joan of the Bogside, but as an Irish Socialist in search of some speaker's fees to finance an Irish Socialist Center in Belfast. Her shedule was grueling; two cities a day two campuses a day for thirty days. Catching up with her involved days of telephoning to faraway places on her tour: Tampa, Toronto, Washington. I finally found Devlin in the Hartford, Connecticut airport where, with luggage and hair dryer under arm, she looked at me mock seriously and said: "My God, Claudia, I've forgotten your dresses!"
Question: The last time you were here you seemed so disgruntled with the scene that you left rather quickly, leaving a joint session of Congress waiting for you. What made you come back?
Answer: Finances. I came back to try to earn some financing for a Socialist Study Center many of us would like to see get started in Belfast. America is still a good place to earn money. But I'm not here pleading for funds from the Irish-American community on this trip. I'm here rather as a lecturer earning money by speaking on cam puses. The funds will go to the Center, and I'm hoping I'll be paid a small fee to help take care of my overdraft.
Q: On your first trip, you were greeted as the Super Heroine Queen of the Bogside Barricades. Politicians, newsmen, and Irish-American fraternal organisations just seemed to tear at each other to get near you. That's not happening at all this trip. Your've come quite consciously as a socialist leader, and you seem more interested in talking with the Black Panthers and Angela Davis than the Hibernians and Mayor Yorty. Has there been a change in you?
A: No, there hasn't been any change in me. When I came here nearly two years ago, the Irish-American community greeted me with a hysterical reaction because of the fighting in Belfast and Derry. They reacted emotionally and as a result didn't listen to had I was saying, I was talking two years ago of socialism ...and I remember people remarking that nobody else in the Irish-American community could get away with the things I was saying. But it was because of the hysteria of the situation... because of the images it conjured up of 1917... that they even listened to me.
Q: Did they listen? I got the impression you did very well the first few days, but the minute you made it clear to the press that you were interested in the liberation of all people - Protestant, Catholic, black and white - the more con servative elements of the Irish-American community immediately turned off to you. Didn't you snub Mayor Daley in Chicargo and as a result only get a turnout of two-hundred people in the Windy City for your speech?
A: Yes, There were incidents, like one in Los Angeles, where a trio of very important people in the Irish American community came to see me. There was a woman, a priest, and a man, who was simultaneously head of three Catholic welfare organisations - including the Knights of something or other. They told me they'd get a lot of money for the relief fund - a million dollars minimum - if I would promise not to talk about "blacks, Portestants, or socialism". If I continued to talk about these unmentionables, they promised to take their money back...which is what they did. A lot of people did. When everyone had taken their cheques back, at the end of my tour, we had a total of forty-five thousand dollars.
Q: I thought you had done better than that. When James Connolly came to the United States in 1905 to raise money, the Irish-American community was horribly impoverished. Still, Connolly managed to raise five million dollars. Your couldn't even raise a million in 1969! That seems incredible!
A: We had hoped to raise a million. At first the ancient Hibernians had promised they could give us a million. But it turned out they didn't like my politics, so they reneged. We soon discovered we didn't like theirs either, so it didn't matter.
What happened with the Hibernians and with so many Irish Americans was that they identified hysterically with Northern Ireland, with the struggle for freedom there, and with the Catholics of the Bogside ghetto. But they didn't want to hear my sort of analysis of what exactly was going on in Ulster. They didn't like my saying that I thought the struggle in Ireland was between rich and poor, rather than Catholic and Protestant.
Most of all, they objected to my observing that the situation for the black man here is exactly the same as the situation for The Catholic in Ulster,
Q: During your first trip here, you swore you would not run for reelection to Parliament. But you did run. What made you change your mind?
A I hoped it would not be necessary to run for Parliament again. I don't like the place, personally. There is no "Parliamentary democracy". The system doesn't work for people. It sort of fiddles around within the limits the system lays down for it to play at being democratic. And there are times when it doesn't even pretend to do that!
You can experience a great deal of frustration in Parliament. The only thing you sometimes feel is that you ought to be outside doing something else. For example, take the issue of the current anti-trade union legislation. You're sitting there and you're an independent member of Parliament. Your hear the so-called "representatives of the labour movement" selling out the labour movement, selling out the working class! So you want to get up and say something - you want to say that no conservative government has the right to legislate against the trade unions. But you don't even get an opportunity to speak! They effectively prevent you from speaking in their democratic system!
Q: Has being gagged in the House Of Commons been much of a problem for you?
A: It's become much more of a problem since I've come out of prison. Even on the question of Northern Ireland, I've been excluded from the debate. Ulster always seems to arise on half-hour adjournment debates. That means that conservative MP's will talk on and on and on till the motion comes up. Then you've got to stop for a half hour and allow the Tory minister to reply for twenty minutes. But the minster refuses to take a point of [unclear: orc] or a point of information. So you just jump up and say to hell with the polite system of asking...and so you roar across the House at him. But still he refuses to stop talking or to even let you make a comment.
Q: How are you treated by you fellow Members of Parliament?
A: Some of them are embarrassingly friendly. Some of the people on the Labour-Left are actually quite decend people. But most of the conservatives prefer to pretend I'm not there. A lot of the Tories have this great British sense of "gentlemanly behaviour" where they'll hate your guts, but they'll open the door for you and stand back as you go through. You really have to laugh at the hypocrisy of the whole situation.
Q: Do you ever find that you're not taken seriously because you're young and a woman?
A: When I first was elected to Parliament there was quite a determined attempt by both Parliament and the press, because I was young and female, to make me The Child of Parliament They wanted to pat me on the head, be nice to me, and hope I would respond by being a good little girl who would accept her role as a woman member of Parliament. But they soon discovered I wasn't prepared to accept that role.
Q: When you first took office, the British and American press were quite anxious to characterize you as a freaky novelty. Because you were a young woman MP, they were constantly trying to get you to pose for cheesecake shots and pictures like that. Did you resent it?page break
A: O, Christ, yes! I resented it because I could see the deliberate policy behind it. I have always consciously tried to prevent the press from putting me in the position of The Female Scapegoat. The press has always tried to indentify me as proof that there is no need for Women's Liberation. You know the line: "Bernadette Devlin is a lone girl who made it, therefore, all women can make it. Women have an equal opportunity in society - it's just that they don't take it. Here's a woman who took it - here's Miss Bernadette Devlin. Now, will the rest of you kindly identify with her!' They want women to have the kind of mental identification with my being in Parliament that leaves them satisfied, that keeps them from struggling. But I've tried to work against this kind of label being pinned on me by the press. Frankly, I am proof there is a need for Women's Liberation.
Q: What do you mena Bernadette? Your life is freer, more liberated than the lives of most twenty-three-year-old Irish women.
A: That's exactly what I mean! Look at the whole attitude of the press toward me because I am a woman. They're constantly cooing: "Look at what this little woman has got" And if you look around Parliament there are just so few women there - even within the system. If you look at the difference between the way people are forced to treat me and the way they treat other women, then I am proof there is need for Women's Liberation.
[unclear: Nobody] expects me to be submissive anymore because I've got an image that's isolated from being a woman. I've got the image of the revolutionary, the firebrand.., which means I'm expected to tea; off airplanes and to kick airport cops as soon as I arrive. And you can see the difference. Everybody else who is not Bernadette Devlin, or who does not make the papers, is expected to step off the airplane in a ladylike fashion and smile. And when her husband says, "Come along, dear" she's expected to say, "Yes", and do all the things expected of a woman.
Q: Do you find that back home in Northern Ireland you're criticised and treated unfairly in a way a man would not be?
A: I don't find this among the people who vote for me or among the people who vote against me. They treat me very much on the basis of my politics - on the things I say. I think that some of this has to do with the enlightened nature of our own movement - the Independent Socialist of Mid-Ulster. We don't have a separate women's movement, but Women's Liberation is an integral part of our own struggle. Males and females within the group are equal.
But I do find that when people can't win an argument with me, when they run out of something better to complain about, they'll say something to me like: "You ought to be at home having children!" I tell them I oughtn't be at home having children. I ought to be fighting the revolution! Why should I be having children just because I am a women?
But the people who come up with these kinds of things usually don't argue very logically. Eventually, they just throw their hands in the air and declare that I really should be home having many, many children. They just stop there. There's a mental block.
Q: People in Ireland spend an awful lot of time discussing your private life. As you are kind of a national symbol, it is absolutely the most public of property. Gossiping about you has become a national sport - something like Gaelic football. And there is a kind of criticism leveled against you that wouldn't be leveled against the private life of a man in a similar positon. I mean, a man's private life would not be public property.
A: Oh, but in Ireland, a man's private life is very much public properly. We are, after all, the people who threw Charles Parnell out for his adultery with Kitty O'Shea. But the kinds of things people complain about are really more petty than that.
You take some of the male members of Parliament. They can be seen with as many women as they like. But if I'm seen with the same man twice, I've evidently got a steady boyfriend. If I'm seen with two different men, then I'm evidently flirting with the whole population. You just can't win.
The press photographs men with me in the most innocent of situations and immediately labels those men as "Bernadette Devlin's New Boyfriend". And in Ireland, a "boyfriend" is nothing as logical as a male companion or a male comrade. He is, instead, my prospective husband and master: "The Future Tamer of Bernadette Devlin."
That kind of thing would never happen to a man. Nor would anyone go through the pains the press did to find out about the previous engagement of a male MP. But when the newspapers found out I had been engaged once, they really went to no end of trouble to dig up all the details. It was nauseating. None of that would have happened to me if I hadn't been a woman.
Q: Whe I was in Belfast, I remember walking through the Shankill District, a working-class Protestant area, where the most obscene wall posters of you were painted on buildings. You seemed to incite a sexual hatred in those who opposed you - a sexual hatred that would never come out with a man. There was one mural, very ugly, labeled "Sexy Bernie," and it had, in bright red, outlines of what were supposed to be your genitals. I really can't imagine that kind of thing happening to a man.
A: I don't think that's quite true, they did some pretty rotten stuff to Eammon McCann, an Independent Socialist candidate in Derry who stood for Parliament. He didn't win. And part of his loss was due to ugly rumours about his private life.
But in my own case, it's hard to tell whether the wall posters appear because I am a woman, or because there is no other figure in Northern Ireland who arouses as much hatred as I do.
Q: What is your life like being simultaneously one of the most hated and loved persons in contemporary Ireland?
A; That's something I try not to get hung up about. The passionate flames of hatred or love soon flare down in the face of rationalism. Sometimes I am more annoyed by the passionate feeling of identification than by the passionate feeling of hatred. I see people identifying with me for the wrong reasons. I see people who clamour up, shake my hand touch the hem of my garment, and get my autograph but they don't know what I'm talking about! And they don't want to know. And when they do know, they go away!
Q: Is there a tendencey in Ireland for people to develop saints and idols?
A: Oh, Christ, yes! Martyrs! We have this very nasty habit of tearing the living apart. When they're dead, we build statues to them.
Let me qualify that...we honour our heroes if they are men. Our women heroines we forget.
We Irish have had our revolutionary women too. There was Constance Markievicz, who had her failures, but she was a great woman. She was the only uniformed woman officer in the Easter Rising. She organised the Irish Women's Army. In her own way, Constance Markievicz was page break quite a women's liberationist. In our history we have had many other revolutionary women who have fought as long and as hard as any man. Anne Devlin and Betsy Grey are two who come to mind. But they don't rank with the people as heroes. They are forgotten. Take Anne Devlin. What our history books have done is to change her role from that of a revolutionary woman to one that fits Irish conceptions of womanhood a little more snugly. History casts her as the housekeeper of Robert Emmet, a Protestant Irish hero who tried in 1803 to capture Dublin Castle and set up a republic. But that's not at all the truth! Anne Devlin was one of Emmet's circle. She went to work as his housekeeper only because Emmet could trust no one else in his household. She plotted. She planned. She assisted Emmet in escaping the British a number of times. Anne Devlin dis not play the women's role within the organisation! When Emmet was in fact captured and hanged, Anne Devlin was taken to prison where she was tortured and where she lived out her life under horrible conditions. She was kept in solitary confinement. She wasn't even allowed to walk around, so she developed diseases of the leg. And yet the people of Ireland think of this great woman as nothing more than a little handmaiden who knew nothing. She knew everything about the revolutionary movement1 The British tortured her for information. Many of the men in the group gave up and sent their comrades to the gallows. Not Anne Devlin!
Q: Why do you think Anne Devlin and so many other Irish revolutionary women have been erased from Gaelic history books?
A: Because they were women! It relates to the whole attitude about women in Ireland and what young girls are taught in school. We are taught feminine submission. From the cradle, we are taught an attitude toward our mothers. Girls are taught to expect society to treat us in a certain way because we are female. Our brothers must always defend us against those who don't treat us with feminine respect.
But as to why we forget Anne Devlin in our history books - or rather why we only learn of her as the handmaiden of a great man...You see, if we learned who she really was, why that might just breathe a different kind of spirit into our young women. And we don't want that. No...never.
Q: What role does Mother Church play in developing the docile view of Irish womankind?
A: The Catholic Church in Ireland has always been one of the most reactionary of establishments. It uses the woman's role in society to oppress the whole class.
The church teaches women to accept things within the system; you should accept that there are no day care centers for working mothers simply because the Church believes a woman's place is at home. You should accept that the purpose of getting married is to have children. And there's no way out of marriage with the Church, It's like Sinn Fein - once you're in, you can't get out. But Sinn Fein is a more noble organisation than marriage.
The Church plays a great part in establishing situations that are bad for women. I can give you some examples from my own experiences. As an MP, I handle many kinds of problems of people in the district. I had the "problem' family come to me. They had six children and they lived in a Council house (public housing). They had fallen behind on their debts and couldn't afford coal for heat. So they chopped down the wooden window fronts and used them for firewood. Well, the Council got quite upset and I went down to sort out the dispute. When I got there, the woman told me she was expecting a seventh child! She lived in a three room apartment. She had six children already. And she really couldn't cope with the six not physically, not emotionally. So I told her I could think of a number of economic solutions to her financial problems and that I could also think of another... I asked her what the hell she was going to do with another child? The woman had stated quite clearly after her fourth child that she wanted no more. She just couldn't cope with them all. Besides, the family wouldn't have gotten into financial trouble if they had only four children.
Shortly afterwards, the parish priest came around and told me I was corrupting the morals of the Church. All I had done was to suggest to the woman that she could have an alternative. Abortion is legal in England. I wasn't saying she must do it. It's the Church that tells people what they must and must not do. In the end, the woman did not have an abortion. But I consider it immoral of Mother Church to come along with all her money in the Chase Manhattan Bank and tell poor people they will burn in hell if they have four children instead of seven! When you consider the conditions poor people have to live in, it's positive obscenity.
As for birth control. I think it's immoral for priests to go around telling women it's a sin. They don't allow people to make that decision for themselves. Because of the Church hierarchy, birth control information is by and large unavailable in the Irish Free State.
Q: Beyond the obvious issues of birth control, abortion, and divorce, how does the Irish Church work to oppress women?
A: The Church works very subtly. It inculcates submissive attitudes in young girls during their schooling.
I went to a "young girls'" Catholic school in Northern Ireland. We were taught how we ought to sit and dress and walk and eat and behave "like young ladies". You should never raise your voice above a whispher or talk too much or disagree with people or appear too intelligent. You know, you might not get a husband or something. You might make Our Lady blush! I remember that as one of the more ridiculous elements of our education.
Q: Were you raised with the idea that your goal in life was to get a husband?
A: No, The School I went to was more reactionary than that. I was raised to enter a convent. Higher calling and all that stuff. But should I fail at that, a good second choice was to get a good husband who wore a pioneer pin and the Faine. The faine meant he was a native Irish speaker and that he didn't drink.
As a result of my education, I've always had a built-in prejudice against men who wore both the [unclear: aine] and the pioneer pin. I always saw it as a sign of the type of male to be avoided.
Q: You were sentenced to six months in prison for your role in the defense of the Bogside during August of 1969. What was prison like?
A: It was a good experience. I was the only political prisoner in jail and yet of the ten other women there, all were political criminals.
One old woman was accused of murdering another old woman during a phase of "temporary insanity." They were doing nothing to help her in this prison, just keeping her out of society so they could say justice was being done. But she had spent fifteen years there, locked up, with no help, and it was clear she was there because of society.
She'll be getting out soon, but she'll be so much less a complete human being when she's released. In small ways. She won't have mady a cup of tea in fifteen years. She won't have seen the new money... or felt the touch of a lot of new fabrics. She won't have walked in the rain and gotten wet. Just ordinary things people do. How is she going to cope with that when she gets out? She's had to live in a world no bigger than twleve people for the past fifteen years of her life.
We had prostitutes in prison who were there because they were offending the morals of the people who made them prostitutes. There's a very good story about one of them. She wasn't brought up on charges of prostitution, but rather for theft. She had stolen a biscuit barrel from a cafe. This biscuit barrel was worth thirty shillings, or about four dollars. When she was brought before the judge, it kept page break coming up that she was a prostitute - even though that wasn't what she was charged with.
The judge sentenced the woman to six months in prison for her crime - exactly what I had gotten for three charges of incitement to riot and three charges of actual riot. When the judge sentenced her he said: "Six months in prison. That will keep you away from the Albert Clock!" The Albert Clock, you see, is a place in Belfast where prostitutes congregate. So this prostitute, who really wasn't very smart, looked the judge clearly in the eye and said "Yes, Your Worship, but will it keep you?"
The woman hadn't meant her remark glibly. She actually had seen the magistrate quite often down by the Albert Clock. He was grateful for the services the women down there provide. But he was a judge for being a male prostitute and she was a prisoner for being a female prostitute.
Q: Privately, Bernadette, I've heard you bad-mouth the Women's Liberation Movement. But it sounds that when you get down to talking about issues, you are quite a committed feminist.
A: There are things Women's Liberation engages in that seem to me terribly petty. Like this business of objecting to someone holding a coat or opening a door for you because you are a woman. I don't like the way American feminists seem to identify with all women and do not recognise that there are some women who are the enemy.
Your movement seems too broad. You let in too many middle-class women who only want equality with their professional male counterparts, who do not object to the class nature of society. It's a woman like that, who wishes to enter society as it is presently constituted, who is your enemy. She produces the freak. As long as she gets her rights within the class-structure, she considers all women to be free. It's like the middle-class Catholic in Northern Ireland. As long as he gets his equal membership in the golf clubs, as long as he is allowed free association with the master on equal terms, as long as he joins the ruling class, he does not want an end to the system of ruler and ruled. He just wants to be one of the rulers.
Q: What about the IRA? In the papers here, one always reads that the IRA is behind all the "troubles" in Ulster. In the States, some weeks back, every paper in the country carried pictures of two young men who had been tarred and feathered by the IRA.
A: Oh, that wasn't done by the IRA, but by the Provisional IRA, which is a breakaway group, very nationalistic and very primitive in its ideology. As for the official end of the IRA - I work very closely with Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein is the IRA's political arm. Contrary to what the British press says, the IRAs are political people. They don't run around carrying guns all day and shooting things up indiscriminately. They work politically in the trade unions, tennant organizations, and political organizations. We work with the Sin Fein organizations quite closely on specific projects essentially because the ideologies are quite similar. We consider them to be much more pragmatic than we are. And in the past and presumably again in the future, we will be glad that there are some people capable of protecting the community.
As for the tarring and feathers the Provisionals did, it was hardly anything. When I was a child in Cookstown during the IRA campaign in the 1950s there was a man who informed on his group. And he was tarred and feathered! He was lucky to be alive when they were through with him.
What happened in Belfast last month was nothing more than the dabbing of a little tar, on somebody's best Sunday suit.
But the problem with the Provisionals is not just that they tarred and feathered two young men for silly reasons "interfering with good Catholic girls" is, I think, the reason they gave. The problem with the Provisionals is that they are very militant Catholics, who identify only with the Catholic community and who have no politics which makes them ultimately reactionary by default. You can understand that if you believe no politics is right-wing politics. Well, the Provisionals engage in violent rhetoric as an overcompensation for their actual lack of numbers and ability. They are frustrated. They can only see terrorism as a means of escape. They don't believe they can beat the might of the British Army, but the situation is such that they might as well go down fighting. They feel that terrorism now is a more dignified thing to do than to go down without a fight.
Q: Are they really wrong about that?
A: I think it's wrong. They are isolating themselves from first the Protestant working-class community, and second from the very community they identify with, the Catholics.
Q: At what point do you think Northern Ireland will be ready for armed struggle?
A: There's no blueprint for armed struggle. The function of the people of Northern Ireland is to educate and organize themselves. You don't give a signal by counting the number of heads you have and then decide you are ready for armed struggle. Circumstances determine the realization of armed struggle, and in Northern Ireland you can never predict what those circumstances will be. The only thing you can say is when violence is used against us, we will assert Our right to defend ourselves against ihe violence of the State.
Q: You said something earlier about how the Irish love to make martyrs out of people they crucified when they were alive. I got the feeling after meeting you on the last trip and after going to Ireland a few weeks later that you were quickly on your way to becoming a martyr, a Saint Bernadette. Belfast was a nightmare, firebombings, sniping, murder, the most irrational kind of hatred. I really thought I would not see you alive again.
A: That's one thing I always ironically laugh at. I know that should my own people, the Irish, trample me to the ground, the day they bury me., oh, Christ, I'd hate to miss my funeral it really upsets me that I'd miss me own funeral. Because nothing I ever did in life will matter at that moment. I may, by the time they bury me, be denounced from every pulpit, from every street corner. But nobody will remember these things when I am dead. You know, even if they throw me out of the Church, popular opinion will demand that I be buried on consecrated ground. People will flock from miles around so they'll be able to say they were at Bernadette Devlin's funeral. And worse yet, they'll be sure to bury me in The Tricolour. Whatever it was they threw me out for, everyone will forget it. And the list of all the people who fought with me on the Bogside Barricades will immediately grow. Those fighters will fill the entire population of Derry, let alone Roswell Street.
Q: Do you every feel in danger?
A: I never really think of being in danger of my life. I'm a fatalist in the sense that when I die, I die...and that will be time enough.
Q: Maybe as an American, I'm too conscious of the use of assassination as a political weapon.
A: We haven't got many assassinations in Ireland these Days. It ruins a good fight, I suppose.
Q: When I was over in Ulster in 1969, most of the Irish revolutionaries I met didn't expect to live the year out.
A: We were all a little paranoid at that time. A lot of us didn't expect to live the week out. Some of us had visions of spending fifty years in prison for treason. We got over it. We quickly learned that ours would be a long fight and that most of us would live to see it through. We also learned that if we dared to struggle and dared to win, we could finally create in Ireland the kind of society that would reclaim the land of Ireland for all the people of Ireland. We know it won't be an easy fight. But we're determined to win this time.