Veteran dissident speaks for herself first, but also for Irish nationalism

November 11, 1990|By Susan Schoenberger

Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, longtime Northern Ireland political activist, says the only organization she belongs to has a membership of one.

"I'm a political dissident in every sense of the word," Ms. McAliskey told a friendly audience of about 150 Friday evening at St. Peter the Apostle Roman Catholic Church in West Baltimore.

But while she refuses to join any political groups, Ms. McAliskey aligns herself with the nationalist Sinn Fein party and its demand for the British army to end its occupation of Northern Ireland. Her stop in Baltimore was part of a two-week tour of the United States to publicize what she described as the British army's oppression of Sinn Fein's members and followers.

Ms. McAliskey said that the British government is able to stifle a political party with significant support by ignoring the views of Sinn Feinmembers elected to local government positions and funneling government money away from organizations the party supports,

The British army also targets Sinn Fein members for violence and sometimes death, she claimed. Her home and the homes of BTC some of her friends have been raided at night by British soldiers, she said.

"Our lives are in danger because we vote Sinn Fein," she said.

She was highly critical of Pope John Paul II's recent appointment ofArchbishop Cahal Daly, an outspoken opponent of the Irish Republican Army's methods, to head the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Ireland.

She called Archbishop Daly "a conservative, right-wing theologian who is devoid of compassion."

The group that sponsored Ms. McAliskey's visit, Committee for Free Speech in Ireland, claims that Sinn Fein's president, Gerry Adams, has been denied a visa to visit the United States.

Ms. McAliskey said that U.S. citizens are uninformed or misinformed about Sinn Fein's activities because news that comes out of Ireland is censored by the British government.

"Members of Sinn Fein are not allowed to be heard on television or radio," she said. "We find ourselves in a position that nobody knows and nobody seems to care."

Ms. McAliskey, 43, became the youngest member elected to the British Parliament in 1969. She has been jailed for radical activities, and she and her husband survived an assassination attempt in 1981.

A socialist, she believes that Ireland's fight for independence will continue because the nationalist community is self-sufficient.

"We survive because if I have money today and you have none, you can have half of mine," she said.

British involvement in the Persian Gulf may provide an opening for moves toward independence, she said. "Historically, they've always lost a little bit of Ireland when their backs were turned."

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