The Blindboy Podcast
Ulster Hall Belfast
6 October 2018
October 5th 2018 was the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland. To mark this anniversary, Blindboy Boatclub of the Rubber Bandits hosted one of his awesome podcasts at Ulster Hall in Belfast on October 6th 2018. Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey was his guest. The house was sold out. The podcast is over two hours long. The Transcripts will be publishing the entire session with Bernadette – beginning to end. This transcript is Part 4 of 5. In this part Blindboy asks Bernadette to discuss four subjects: 1) The government policy dealing with people who come to Ireland seeking refuge or asylum called ‘Direct Provision’ 2) the rise of the ‘Irish Right’ 3) the UFF (Ulster Freedom Fighters) attempt to assassinate her on 16 January 1981 and 4) Sinn Féin’s attempt to write itself into the Civil Rights Movement.
(begins time stamp ~1:33:51)
Blindboy: The way you’re kind of speaking about it – it’s kind of drawing parallels with – one thing that young people in Ireland are quite concerned with at the moment is that direct provision will be our Magdalene Laundries.
Blindboy: And like how do you feel about that? Are looking at direct provision? Are you – ’cause currently you’re working with STEP (South Tyrone Empowerment Programe) organisation which – you work with migrant populations.
Bernadette: You know, we don’t have direct provision in The North. We have many bad things – we don’t have direct provision. Direct provision, and many of the young people maybe here in The North, because I can’t see you in the dark – not that I call tell southerners from northerners in the daylight. (all laugh)
Blindboy: (asks the audience) But you know what direct provision is – yeah?
Yeah. No, direct provision in the south of Ireland is that people who come seeking refuge and seeking political asylum and seeking protection are all housed in what they call ‘direct provision’. So they’re all essentially interned. You know, if you’re looking at the Northern parallel it’s like being interned – in the early days of internment when you’re all put in the one place and hutments and whatever. And the biggest direct provision is in the former Butlin’s Mosney. And people are there for years. And they have so little control. It is a prison. And to describe it as anything other than prison – if it’s not a prison it’s a form of concentration camp…
Bernadette: …You know, it’s in there and thereabouts. People have no control over their own lives. They have no idea when they’re getting out. They have no capacity to earn. They have no real family life and their mental health is then destroyed by that, their self-worth is diminished by it. Having survived the things they survived to reach what they thought was protection they are being slowly tortured, destroyed and being dehumanised by direct provision. Why?
Blindboy: It’s the Irish government’s attempt to send them away and to not encourage other people to come.
Bernadette: Exactly. It’s so that other people won’t come. And I’ll tell you this: At the time of the famine, when you look at what the population was in 1845, and it was deciminated and destroyed by famine, there are not enough people on this island. There are room for more people on this island. There’s plenty of room for people here. (applause) We could take another million people and still – a million – you know, not five hundred Syrian refugees and two from here and four from there. The reason we don’t have the resources for a million is that about one percent of the population here have hoarded everything for their greedy, corrupt selves. (applause)
Bernadette: But direct provision is our Magdalene Laundry is our – worse even – even worse because it’s being done with the hindsight and knowledge that we now have, that we now have. You know, if there was any excuse – and there’s none – to say that in the ignorance and stupidity of what the clergy believe to be God’s Word caused that in the past we now know that it’s wrong. I mean, the most superstitious clergyman must know, by this stage, that the Magdalene Laundries and things that happened were wrong. So then how do you make an excuse, how does a secular government make an excuse for direct provision? It’s a fundamental breech of human rights that should not be tolerated. (applause)
Blindboy: Yeah. And one thing I’ll say: Like the fact that when I mentioned it to the room like there was genuinely people here who never heard of it, right?
It’s like there’s actual internment happening on this island and if you don’t know about it that means the state and the media are doing a brilliant job of hiding it away. So like, make it visible. Do whatever you can. There’s a lot of groups at the moment – what they’re trying to do is help kids in direct provision just have clothing for school and things like that, you know? Find out about your local direct provision group. Try and help through that way and make it an issue. Make it an issue. Even though we’re in The North of Ireland here – learn about it – it’s happening on the same island, you know? No one wants internment, like. (applause)
Bernadette: Yeah. Right.
Blindboy: When you said there, Bernadette, that like you know Ireland has got space for more people, which it does, if you said that on the internet like the Irish Right would go fucking ape shit.
Bernadette: I know. Oh, I know!
Blindboy: Like how are you feeling about this emergence of the Irish Right or the alt-right or whatever they want to call themselves?
Bernadette: Well, going back to where we started the conversation and about ‘revolting young people’: When we were young and the civil rights movement here and things were rising we were part of and we were seeking justice in a world that, for a whole lot of different reasons had, at that time, the rise of new liberal, new progressive, new solidarity thinking. And I think what young people need to know now, because I think it’s much more difficult, is that you’re working for justice against the rise of the right…
Bernadette: And that’s happening the world over. I think we’re looking at, I think the period that you might want, you know, that’s most similar to, is that period from the ’28 crash, the Wall Street crash, right through to the ’30’s and the rise of fascism, not so much in Germany – it was rising everywhere – but the rise of fascism in Spain first because if we had finished it in Spain before it took hold everywhere else we’d have done the world a favour. But we’re looking at – and when we were young like we used to think everybody over the age of twenty-five was fascists…
Blindboy: …That hasn’t changed!…
Bernadette: … just a word that you used. But fascism is real and it’s raising it’s head again everywhere. And it’s more important, then, that young people speak out – and I don’t mean just young people – but you are the leadership of today and tomorrow. People like myself are old people who got wise very painfully and have some of that wisdom to share but the future’s not mine. The future belongs to you. I’m biding my time here ’til I pay for my sins – Ha! – no chance! No chance! (applause) But I think the rise of the right – and we’re it, we’re seeing it in – seeing the manipulation of ignorance and fear and unmet expectations. You know, there’s a world out there that’s being shown to people through the media and people are being asked to look like this and own this and have this and be this – and you can’t. Not because there’s anything wrong with you. All that imagery is about flogging you shit so that they can make money. And then they keep the money and you stay even poorer ’cause you just bought all their shit. (applause) But there’s no work. There’s no money.
And then, because ‘the dream’ can’t be lived, it’s the other person’s fault – it’s the black person’s fault, it’s the gay person’s fault, it’s the foreign person’s fault, it’s the person on benefits fault, it’s the person with mental health problems fault – it’s anybody-that-isn’t-you’s fault. And so you’re being twisted and turned against everybody else and your fear and your anger is being diverted towards other people and that’s happening. You know things don’t happen across the entire world at the same time by accident. That’s happening ’cause somebody’s feeding it and ideas are feeding it. And it’s not, you know, it’s not – you know, you see the stereotypes. You know the boy in the boots that hasn’t got his grammar right, that’s putting graffiti on the wall and breaking people’s windies – it’s not him. He’s the consequence of it. Not the cause of it. It’s the suited and booted up here who are feeding it because it’s keeping them up there while people here are turned against each other. And so you need to stop it. And you need to find ways of supporting each other to stop it. So when somebody thinks it’s funny to make misogynist remarks about women in your company and they’re your friend you have to say: You know, that’s not good enough. You have to stop it. Everywhere you see it – you have to stop it. (applause)
Blindboy: When we were backstage I was asking you about, we were discussing the nature of trauma and I was asking would it be okay if I asked you about the time you had an assassination attempt. And you said: Yes, that would be okay.
Bernadette: Uh-huh. Yep. That’s okay. That’s okay. Yeah.
Blindboy: Can we talk about that?
Bernadette: Yes, we can talk about that.
Blindboy: So – what was it like being shot nine times?
Bernadette: It was interesting. It was interesting. And it’s funny that I can talk about that much more easily than I can talk about that memory, you know, that memory of Bloody Sunday is more traumatic for me than the time that I was shot. And I think it was because, you know, as we were saying, it’s because I didn’t see Bloody Sunday coming. I didn’t see the 5th of October coming.
But by the time people came to our house and kicked the door in and held my two daughters, one at that time four and the other nine, at gunpoint while their parents were shot I knew they were coming, if you know what I mean?
I didn’t know they were coming then. But Miriam Daly had been shot. John Turnley had been shot. Noel (Lyttle) and Ronnie Bunting had been shot. And we knew that the penalty for defending the rights of prisoners, the human rights of prisoners, was putting civil rights and human rights campaigners in the firing line and we kept on doing it and that’s why I was saying to you the question is nearly not: What did it feel like to be shot? But was: Since you knew at some point the penalty for doing this was that we were going to be shot. And John McMichael went on television and said we would be shot.
So when the people came to our door it was, for us, a day that was always coming and because you understood the context of what was happening I think, for us, the trauma was somewhat less – I mean the emotional trauma afterwards not the physical trauma of it – than for people who got caught up in a bomb or something and didn’t know what was going to happen to them. But what it was I was shot nine times.
And again, the real point of this is: The UDA (Ulster Defence Association) just didn’t decide to come to our house. It was part of a campaign that they had been involved in. The British Army and the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) knew they were coming, on the day they were coming and the time they were coming. And they let that happen. They let that go ahead. And after we were shot and left to die on the floor of our own house and our children there the soldiers that I spoke to going home, going into my house that night – and I know why I was shot: The hunger strike had ended after Christmas, the whatever deal was not done – and that’s a whole new story – but it was clear that within the prison itself Bobby Sands and others were unhappy with what had happened – this deal that was supposed to be done didn’t materialise and that there was going to be another hunger strike. And I, in fact, was coming from an H-Block meeting that was discussing this problem and fear and what we would do if it happened. And I almost knew that it was going to be my turn to be shot because I was the PR and I was good at what I was doing so the key person to take out of the equation before the next hunger strike started had to be me. And we were taking precautions at home because of that.
But when I came home from that meeting, and I live in the country, pulled my wee car up very close to the wall because it was a frosty night, I could see the soldiers and I spoke to them and I said: Have you no homes of your own to go to? That’s what I said to them. Have you no homes of your own to go to – lying out there outside decent people’s houses? And I can still see their wee eyes peeping up at me and their camouflaged faces but nobody spoke. And I went in, and you know it was about one o’clock in the morning, really cold night and I said to Michael: Soldiers are lying outside our house. Now we lived in, we live in the bog, we lived in the moss, it was up a long lane and an isolated place. And then I got into bed and went to sleep. And the next morning – and there are things, you know, there’s a touch of terrible humour in the midst of tragedies, but when we look back on it sometimes we have to laugh at the chaotic nature of it – but Michael heard the car coming and pulling up right behind mine and he looked out the window and he saw the three men getting out of the car and coming round the front of the house and one of them had the sledgehammer. So he’s shouting at me to get up, get up – they’re outside the house. I don’t like being wakened and I’m not really good at this and I’m saying: I know! (You know what it’s like?) I told you that last night! ‘Cause I thought he was talking about the soldiers. Because he was saying: Get up! Get up! They’re outside the house! He was talking about those men but I thought he was talking about the soldiers I saw.
So what really woke me up was the sound of the sledgehammer hitting the front door which bounced the door open and the first gunshots were fired then through the hall door at Michael who was trying to hold it shut and then they came – Smallwoods stood and held my two daughters, Róisín and Deirdre, in their bed at gunpoint. Róisín was the older of the two. She got the younger one into her bed with her and covered her head up so that she couldn’t see what was happening and she kept, I remember her saying in her statement, she kept watching the gunman so – the funny thing I did that myself, that kind of belief that if you’re looking the people in the face they’re not going to do anything to you – and then Smallwoods was doing that and watching them. Graham – it was like a firm of solicitors when you heard of them in the court: Watson, Smallwoods and Graham – they came on in and Michael tried to draw them into the kitchen and he was shot there. And then Watson came into the bedroom and I had just lifted Fintan, who was the youngest, and I realised when I lifted him:
If I’m shot he’ll be shot, too.
So then I had to throw him – he was only a toddler, he wasn’t two – and it was just as I threw the child away that Watson came in very close behind me and I think he was startled by the fact that I was standing up with my back to him so close to him because he fired straightaway – and I can still remember in slow-motion each place I was hit and how I fell back. And not that it’s a comfort to people but, you know, and I’ve told people who have had relatives killed and whatever little comfort that is that I was totally aware of the impact of being hit and I could smell the gunfire, I had a very strong sense of smell and vision – I could see the blue light of the flashes of the gun and I knew I was being hit – but I couldn’t feel the pain. And I didn’t feel any pain until I was actually being trundled across on a trolley from the helicopter to the military hospital and that was about, must have been about a good hour later. But while we were lying, they shot us and they walked – now they were roaring and shouting when they put the door in and came into the house – but they walked out casually like you’d walk out of a pub. And just when they walked out I heard the English voices saying: Put your hands against the wall. And at that minute I thought it was the soldiers who killed us. I’m still thinking, I saw these soldiers and I thought that a neighbour had heard the shooting and come over and I was waiting to hear more shots to hear the neighbour being killed. But I heard a gun drop and I knew a gun had been dropped on the bonnet of my car and a voice said:
Fuck this for a double-cross!
Now I believe that that voice was Andrew Watson’s. That’s that who said that. So the Army arrested people who did not expect to be arrested. And then the guys came in and they were Paratroopers and they ran away again, and they put up a flare and Argyll and Southern Highlanders came and administered first aid and then Hew Pike, the Chief of the Paras (Parachute Regiment), gave a press conference on our front street and we – you know, Hew Pike, head of the Paras, never went to give a press conference for anybody else that was shot in Northern Ireland – and Michael and myself were taken to Musgrave Military Hospital and we remain the only two non-combatants who weren’t British soldiers in the whole of The Troubles to have been taken directly to the military hospital. And the reason for that was because we didn’t die – and nobody knew what we knew or what anybody else knew – or what had happened and, much like Bloody Sunday, until the Army got its story straight everybody had to be controlled.
And we’re still looking for the truth of who ‘up there’ – you know, never mind Watson, Smallwoods and Graham were found guilty, pleaded guilty, and did their stint – but the real culprits, the same as Bloody Sunday, the same as the people who ran special agents, were ‘whoever’ – in British military and British politics and British Intelligence – were playing poker with the lives of people in this country for forty years.
For forty years it looks like British Intelligence were running the Provos (Provisional IRA), were running the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force), were running the UDA. I remember a wise man once said to me: Every time you see, you know, you’re looking at the armed organisations, there’ll be one working for the CIA, there’ll be one working for the Brits, there’ll be one working for Free State Intelligence, there’ll be one carrying on for himself and the fifth one’s in the coffin that they’re carrying. And it’s sad but when you look back and see what’s now coming out of what the government, the government who’s supposed to be responsible for the safety of all its citizens equally, whether it likes them or not, was paying people to join unlawful organisations, was letting those people plan and get away with murder. There are victims who can’t get justice because national security doesn’t allow us to know that the people involved in the killing of them were paid by the government. You know, where – where do you start to find the truth about all of that? And yet, until we do and until we see justice done – there’ll be no peace, there’ll be, you know – we’re managing the absence of war but there’ll never be progress until we are able to hold the government to account for whatever it thought it was doing here because it left four thousand people dead. (applause)
Blindboy: That’s heavy stuff, Bernadette.
Blindboy: Fucking hell!
Bernadette: The morale is, you see, when they say: Well, I have a good idea – let’s form an army! Say: No, thank you! Let’s just, let’s keep, as (Eamonn) McCann says, the sound of marching feet. Let’s keep our feet on the street and we’ll get where we’re going. (applause)
Female Audience Member: (shouts out to Bernadette) Please run for Parliament! Please!
Blindboy: ‘Run for Parliament’, she says.
Bernadette: And if anybody suggests you should run for Parliament I’d cut that short – just run! (applause)
Blindboy: Do you feel that Sinn Féin have written themselves into the civil rights movement?
Bernadette: Well, I have to say they made a good effort.
Blindboy: Gerry Adams is in the back wearing a hat.
Bernadette: It’s interesting.
Blindboy: He is!
Bernadette: I’ll tell you and I’ve said before: The Civil Rights Movement was started as a broad-based movement. As a child, I wasn’t really, but as a young person – I didn’t start it. I tried to say that to Lord Scarman and that’s when he said the bit about The Troubles – I didn’t start it. But those who would now claim bragging rights for it would want to reflect more on where it all went wrong and how much we still have to do than to be trying to position themselves as the leaders of something many of those claiming leadership of were in nappies when it was happening – because it wasn’t them. They didn’t exist. Did the Republican Movement exist? Yes, it did. Most of them weren’t in it.
Some of them were and those who then went on to be the present Sinn Féin and the Provisional Republican Movement were the people who walked away and started a whole new ballgame because they didn’t like the Republican Movement’s policy of civil rights and democratising Ulster. And that’s where you got the Officials and the ‘Stickies’ (Official IRA).
And there’s a wee bit of irony about the powerful Sinn Féin now that came out of the Provisional Republican Movement claiming the legacy of the organisation they left because they didn’t like what it was doing. But, you see when you get – see when you lose the run of yourself – anything’s possible. And Sinn Féin is losing the run of itself.
(ends time stamp ~ 2:04:12)