Civil rights activist Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey remains the youngest ever woman elected to parliament but punched above her weight
When people think of controversial political figures from the 1960s and 70s, names like Tony Benn and Enoch Powell usually spring to mind.
But for a brief period of time at the turn of those two decades, the politician who most put the wind up the political establishment and who caused the authorities the most vexation was Bernadette Devlin, a fiery Irish civil rights campaigner who remains the youngest person elected to the Commons in the last half-century, and at 21, is the youngest woman ever.
Her career in mainstream politics was brief, but she remains politically active and, unlike many whose views moderate as they get older, the woman now known as Bernadette McAliskey has never really counted the word ‘compromise' within her vocabulary.
Devlin first came to prominence as a 20-year-old psychology student at Queen's University Belfast in 1968 when she took a leading role in a student-led civil rights protest.
The following year, she stood in a byelection in Mid-Ulster caused by the death of the Unionist MP George Forrest, defeating Forrest's window Anna to take the seat.
‘Baby of the House' she may have been, but unlike some of the female MPs who came after her, no-one would ever have dared call Devlin a ‘babe'.
Soon after she was elected, she served a short jail term for incitement to riot after engaging in the Battle of the Bogside, which is widely seen as marking the start of the 30-year-long Troubles in Northern Ireland.
After being re-elected in the 1970 general election, Devlin declared that she would sit in Parliament as an Independent Socialist.
She so terrified the establishment that she was even denied the chance to speak in Parliament on the Bloody Sunday massacre, despite having personally witnessed it.
When the Home Secretary, Reggie Maudling, made a statement to MPs stating that the British Army had fired only in selfdefence, it was too much for Devlin to take.
She summarily punched him, earning herself a temporary suspension from Parliament as a result. By now married to Michael McAliskey, she helped form the Irish Republican Socialist Party in 1974, a breakaway from Sinn Féin.
But she left the party after a short time and, having lost her Westminster seat in 1974, drifted from one far-left group to another throughout the 1970s.
She survived an assassination attempt by Ulster Freedom Fighter paramilitaries in 1981, and since leaving Westminster has tried unsuccessfully to be elected for both the European Parliament and the Irish Parliament, the Dail. Civil rights activist Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey remains the youngest ever woman elected to parliament but punched above her weight
Although she had regularly travelled there in the past, heightened security concerns after 9/11 led to her being barred from entering the US in 2003, ostensibly because of her 1969 riot conviction.
Now in her 60s, McAliskey remains on the hardline fringes of Northern Irish politics, regularly expressing opposition to both the Good Friday Agreement and to Sinn Féin's entry into government.
Her life and career are now set to be immortalised on celluloid, - but even that has raised her ire.
McAliskey says the whole concept is "abhorrent" to her and has launched a legal challenge to stop the biopic seeing the light of day.
Paul Linford is a political blogger and former parliamentary lobby journalist. He is editor of holdthefrontpage.