Thursday, April 17, 2008

On this day

in 1969, Bernadette Devlin, 21, was voted in as Britain's youngest ever female MP and the country's third youngest ever.

Devlin was studying Psychology at Queen's University Belfast in 1968 when she took a prominent role in a student-led civil rights political party called People's Democracy. She opposed James Chichester-Clark in the Northern Ireland general election of 1969. When George Forrest, the MP for Mid Ulster, died, she fought the subsequent by-election on the "Unity" ticket, defeating a female Unionist candidate, Forrest's widow Anna, and was elected to the Westminster Parliament. At the age of 21, she was the youngest MP at the time. She stood on the slogan "I will take my seat and fight for your rights" – signalling her rejection of the traditional Irish republican tactic of abstentionism (being absent from Westminster). She made her maiden speech on her 22nd birthday, rather unconventionally within an hour of taking her seat.

People tend to forget that Catholics had a genuine civil rights grievance in NI as they were treated like second class citizens. Protestants had all the best jobs, especially in local Government and used their position to ensure Catholic housing and other services weren't as good as that for Protestants.

Under successive Unionist Prime Ministers from Sir James Craig (later Lord Craigavon) onwards, the unionist establishment practiced what is generally considered a policy of discrimination against the nationalist/Catholic minority.

A pattern of discrimination has most firmly and inarguably been established in the case of local government,[7] where gerrymandered ward boundaries rigged local government elections to ensure unionist control of local councils with nationalist majorities. In a number of cases, most prominently those of the Corporation of Londonderry, Omagh Urban District, and Fermanagh County Council, ward boundaries were drawn to place as many Catholics as possible into wards with overwhelming nationalist majorities while other wards were created where unionists had small but secure majorities, maximising unionist representation. This process was greatly facilitated by the use of bloc voting to elect local councillors in most areas outside Belfast.

Voting arrangements which gave commercial companies votes and restricted the vote to property owners, primary tenants and their spouses also helped achieve similar ends. Disputes over local government gerrymandering were at the heart of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

In addition, there was widespread discrimination in employment, particularly at senior levels of the public sector and in certain sectors of the economy, such as shipbuilding and heavy engineering. Emigration to seek employment was significantly more prevalent among the Catholic population. As a result, Northern Ireland's demography shifted further in favour of Protestants leaving their ascendancy seemingly impregnable by the late 1950s.

Yes I know this is a Wiki entry and open to dispute but there are other sources and Wiki does tend to write in an easily digestible style

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