Bernadette McAliskey: ‘I Am Aware I’m Asking People To Go Up A Hill That I Wouldn’t Go Up Myself’

The second part of a Derry Journal feature where Eamon Sweeney ( with Bernadette Devlin McAliskey.

Bernadette McAliskey contends people must challenge the status quo

She believes Stormont is facilitating Tory cuts

Welfare cuts will have a drastic effect on people she warns

'I am aware that I am asking Eamonn McCann to go up a hill that I could not go up myself' - Bernadette McAliskey.

The first part of this interview concluded last week (May 13) with the Journal asking Bernadette McAliskey if she is shocked that some of the issues tackled by the Civil Rights Movement are still present in Northern Ireland today?

She said:

In the broader picture you can see where not only are however small the victories won by the Civil Rights Movement, and one of them was the Northern Ireland Housing Executive which was far from perfect and flawed and limited in its operation, but the concept of an independent public authority that provided social housing on the basis of need was a fundamentally sound proposition.

We have seen one of the key parts of the Stormont experiment has been to roll back many of the small gains that were won and housing is particular in that. That has been set in the context of the roll back of the broader politics, particularly in the United Kingdom by Thatcher’s children. Don’t forget Maggie Thatcher said there was no such thing as society-that’s a fundamental Conservative position. There is no such thing as society there is only the ‘market’.

The state should not have to look after the ‘burdens’ that should be done as a charity. The state should regulate the market to assist the able-bodied to make money and all of the rest of the conversation about social housing, social care about health care being free at the point of need are to them nonsense introduced by a post-war Labour government. The sooner they can rid of them, the better.

The role of Stormont has been to facilitate that development. If you want to make a comparison between here and Scotland where the Scots happen to have the SNP, who are by no means the most radical party in the world, but they have at least made better stands to protect people in Scotland against the Tory agenda than has happened at Stormont. Ask yourself why?

It is because there is a determination to maintain the peace process. Martin McGuinness has said it over and over again. There is nothing Martin wouldn’t do to hold that place together. So, his priority is not social housing, his priority is not mitigating against welfare reforms, it’s the maintenance of power. It’s a self-delusion, it’s a self-political delusion. It’s that mantra again. The most important thing is to maintain power because ‘I can do good things if I am in power.’ However, no you can’t-not if the power structure, and the price you pay to stay in it is if you have to accept those things. And they have now totally accepted that.

The 'small but hard won' gains of the Civil Rights Movement have been surrendered at Stormont according to Bernadette McAliskey.

So, based on that analysis, the Journal asked Bernadette McAliskey how she proposes that people change things?

Bernadette said:

I am great believer in, that if you want to know how you get out of this mess, then you have to know how you got into it. I tell this to my grandchildren when they can’t find something. I say ‘you know you sat it down somewhere, so instead of running about complaining stop and think backwards until you find the point where you sat it down.

How did we get into this mess? We got into this mess by telling lies. The whole narrative of the peace and the peace process is a lie. It is a lie that people allowed themselves to be deluded into. The IRA for example, which was the most demonised, vilified organisation-even if you were saying, hold on just because people are in the IRA doesn’t mean they don’t have rights, you were a terrorist or an apologist for terrorists.

Then you had the media saying that their republican representatives were the most sophisticated of people. But, flattery is not supposed to work so quickly. People were flattered into participating in a process. They are made to feel self-important and are very vulnerable to that. People bought into it and I would argue that if you tell lies to two different groups of people when you put them all in the same room the lie then becomes obvious.

"I’ll sit and bide my time until somebody does listen People were not in a war because they liked violence, they drifted into it and couldn’t get out of it"  Bernadette McAliskey

That’s how peace was created. And people would say, ‘but Bernadette we have to end the violence.’

It’s like people saying ‘the end justifies the means’, but I have learned over the course of my life that the means determine the end. How you do something, determines what the end product looks like. So if, you are involved in a process that is deceitful, that is based on ambiguity, that has elements of secrecy within it in so much as that you do not trust all of the people with all of the information then you have a process that cannot stand the scrutiny of democracy.

If we then say why did the majority of the people in Northern Ireland buy that? Not because the IRA had the Brits beat and forced them to the negotiating table, but because we had reached a military war of attrition that couldn’t be sustained by the IRA and could not be emotionally and culturally and ethically any longer by the people.

The war went on too long and the IRA needed to get out of it. There would have been nothing wrong with the IRA putting its hand up and saying that because people would have said ‘thank Christ you said that out loud’.

Bernadette McAliskey contends that Stormont is simply a facilitation point to implement Conservative financial cuts.

The loyalty of many people to that struggle over many years was not repaid in allowing the people who supported it any integrity of respect or recognition. People were not in a war because they liked violence, they drifted into it and couldn’t get out of it. We should have been open and honest about saying we needed out of it.

So we need to be open and honest and retrace our steps about what the peace process was, what exactly the war was about and how we came around from 1968 to 1998. Overall this was a 40 year circle of pain, loss, jail to come back round to the point of going back into Stormont.

If you want a society in which people have work, meaningful work and a decent standard of housing, a society that has a taxation system that will raise the funds for this you cannot take on a social project that protects the most vulnerable and at the same time reduce corporation tax to 10 or 12%. This is because it is the taxation of the wealthy pays for the social care of the poor. We are now involved in arguments about having almost defend the idea that for society to function in any coherent, cohesive manner, those who have the most must share with those who have the least.

That comes before you even have an understanding of politics and economics, which is that people who have money didn’t print it themselves they made it out of the profit of the labour of the poor.

There is a political argument which says that if nothing works without work then how come the workers don’t get the money. All those discussions need to be had but they are currently being stifled. We have to break that logjam. I think we are beginning to.

I don’t look to anybody in the first instance but myself. For example there were things I tried to say at the outset of the peace process, which I am still saying now, to a point where I realised that nobody’s listening. You know what, not only is nobody listening, but the people whose rights I defended all my life are making the same accusations against me as the British made against me for defending their rights. So, I am going to get on with doing something else because I cannot go around on that circle again talking to people who are not listening. I’ll sit and bide my time until somebody does listen.

Bernadette pictured some years ago with her daughter Roisin.

Part of that is that people will say ‘why did you ask Eamonn McCann to go to Stormont and not go yourself?’. I have been honest about that. It’s not a politically pragmatic decision for me. It’s an emotional decision. I could not countenance standing for election and walking up that hill myself, because my own journey wouldn’t let me manage my own anger or my own pain if I went up that hill. So I am perfectly aware I am encouraging people to go up a hill I wouldn’t go up myself. But, I wouldn’t ask people who could not do it to do it and I am not saying it should not be done for good, bad or evil.

Stormont at the minute is the seat of power and that is where we have to make the challenges. Not only that, we have to make the challenge on the street and in our places of work, we have to make the challenge and hold people to account and we have to defend the things we believe in. But we cannot pretend that there wasn’t a peace process that the people of the whole island agreed with this, that Sinn Fein weren’t key architects of it and we have to set out what it is we actually want.

How are we going to save the NHS? How are we going to stop the unbelievable hardship that is coming down the line with welfare cuts?

It is my daily work, working with the poorest people in our society. I see just very small things never mind the big picture that take me back to my own childhood.

When we have welfare reform and universal credit there will be one welfare cheque coming into a house and it will be an amalgamation of all the bits and pieces that people are entitled to.

If anyone person in that house has a problem with money and has control of that cheque everyone in that house will suffer. And that is usually the male householder because the realities of life are not too different from when I was growing up.

If the man in the house has a gambling problem, a drink problem, a selfish problem or if it happens to be the woman in the house then everyone suffers because there’s no manoeuvrability between the bits and pieces for someone to keep it between the hedges. The system has also changed in that if there’s a problem with any part of it then all of it will stop until it is sorted out. So people in hardship will be left with no money at all.

Whereas under the old system you at least had what was called Family Allowance until your unemployment came in, but now since it’s all in the one packet people will be without money until the problems are sorted out.

On the issue of housing, the Housing Executive no longer has the authority to back date housing benefit by a single day.

Put all these little pieces together that people in high places do not see because they don’t live with, talk to people or understand that daily routine of life, the fall into destitution for large numbers of people in Northern Ireland will be a seven or fourteen day period between payments. And, people involved in the community in supporting that are also being turned into enforcers of government.

So, at some point we have to stand our ground and say no further.

I cannot stand here at this point and see this happen and I think we will see more organising and street campaigning coming in the very near future in Northern Ireland.

We have to because it is now crucifying the people who walked that road before.

Bernadette Devlin McAliskey chaired Eamonn McCann 's People Before Profit Foyle Assembly campaign launch in the City Hotel Derry earlier this year.

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

5 comments to ''Bernadette McAliskey: ‘I Am Aware I’m Asking People To Go Up A Hill That I Wouldn’t Go Up Myself’"

  1. I think the problem Bernadette has not accepted is that in Ireland when you start talking in heavy socialist rhetoric people switch off. This is not a socialist oriented nation. It is a cute hoor nation. Not the mother of democracy but the spawn-pool of Tamanny Hall and the 'machine' politics. SF spouted socialism during the troubles to glean support from the British and international left. Once the door of the Whitehouse was opened, just a crack, they were on their knees pleading for an invite. Civil rights are one thing, socialism and Marxism however are merely an exercise in Sado Masichism here. Give them the DLA and yer a hero. Mention a 5 year collective and they'll phone the RUC and have you shot. But, looking on the bright side 50 odd years ++ after the civil rights campaign, the SF 'tactic' is becoming clear for all to see now We are all British. OUT-BRITISH the huns!! Now there's a strategy.

  2. Interesting as always.
    I wonder how accurate her analysis that flattery of leadership is what brought them to capitulation in the peace process, they were lifting their skirts in that direction since at least '86 weren't they (or on inference, Ivor Bells court martial in '84)? Peter Mandleson certainly flattered Adams, praising his intellect, I thought this was more to placate the nationalist/republican audience rather than himself though.

  3. DaithiD

    The British always build up their allies. Especially their 'enemy-allies'. Once Adams hit the TV his feet of clay as it were, became obvious.

  4. True Larry, also some colleague whom I greatly admire made a good point on the distribution of housing, and why market forces could be dangerous in this area : the dr's the treat us, the police on the streets will need to travel 1.5 hrs to work if they are forced out of central areas of London, so its a matter of our own health and saftey that its not left to the market to distribute housing.

  5. I think Bernadette is very ambiguous in her message. She seems personally torne. I think she would like to say that Stormont won't work and it never will, but she just couldn't bare to see a re-ignition of the troubles. She's prepared to accept almost any apparatus, even if that does include cruel cuts, or the abolishment of the NIHE. She'll argue against those things, and would truly love to change them, but has accepted the human cost of poverty, for the greater good, as she might see it, of peace. She's on board.


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