On 15th April, 1969, in a by-election to the Westminster parliament Bernadette Devlin, standing as a Unity candidate in Mid-Ulster, won the contest. At 21 years of age she became the youngest woman ever to be elected as a Member of Parliament (MP). “I will take your seat and fight for your rights” which alluded to her rejection of the abstentionism practised then and still continued to this day by Sinn Fein, who reject the legitimacy of the Westminster Parliament.
After participating in the Battle of the Bogside, she served a short jail term before travelling to the United States to join the Civil Rights movements that had inspired and continued to
parallel events in Northern Ireland. However, it was Bloody Sunday and its aftermath that would lead Devlin to infamy. She was infuriated that she was later consistently denied the floor in the House of Commons by the Speaker Selwyn Lloyd, despite the fact that parliamentary convention decreed that any MP witnessing an incident under discussion would be granted an opportunity to speak about it therein.
The day following Bloody Sunday, Devlin slapped Conservative Home Secretary Reginald Maudling across the face when he incorrectly asserted in the House of Commons that the
paratroopers had fired in self-defence on Bloody Sunday. Thirteen years later, Edward Heath recalled the event: “I remember very well when an hon. Lady rushed from the Opposition Benches and hit Mr. Maudling. I remember that vividly because I thought that she was going to hit me. She could not stretch as far as that, so she had to make do with him.” Devlin served in Parliament from 1969 until 1974 participating in various Independent, mainly Socialist roles, and in 1981 she was wounded by shots fired at her by members of the Ulster Freedom Fighters.
Presently she works with a number of civic and community development and support organisations.