Maiden Speech in the House of Commons
April 22, 1969 — Maiden Speech, House of Commons, Westminster, London, UK
I understand that in making my maiden speech on the day of my arrival in Parliament and in making it on a controversial issue I flaunt the unwritten traditions of the House, but I think that the situation of my people merits the flaunting of such traditions.
I remind the honourable Member for Londonderry (James Chichester-Clark) that I too was in the Bogside area on the night that he was there. As the honourable gentleman rightly said, there never was born an Englishman who understands the Irish people. A man who is alien to the ordinary working Irish people cannot understand them, and I therefore respectfully suggest that the honourable gentleman has no understanding of my people, because Catholics and Protestants are the ordinary people, the oppressed people from whom I come and whom I represent. I stand here as the youngest woman in Parliament, in the same tradition as the first woman ever to be elected to this Parliament, Constance Markievicz, who was elected on behalf of the Irish people. . .
The honourable Member for Londonderry said that he stood in Bogside. I wonder whether he could name the streets through which he walked in the Bogside so that we might establish just how well acquainted he became with the area. I had never hoped to see the day when I might agree with someone who represents the bigoted and sectarian Unionist Party, which uses a deliberate policy of dividing the people in order to keep the ruling minority in power and to keep the oppressed people of Ulster oppressed. I never thought that I should see the day when I could agree with any phrase uttered by the representative of such a party, but the honourable Gentleman summed up the situation “to a t”. He referred to stark, human misery. That is what I saw in Bogside. It has not been there just for one night. It has been there for 50 years — and the same stark human misery is to be found in the Protestant Fountain area, which the honourable Gentleman would claim to represent . . .
The people in my country who do not wish to join the society which is represented by the honourable Member for Londonderry are by far the majority. There is no place in society for us, the ordinary “peasants” of Northern Ireland. There is no place for us in the society of landlords because we are the “have-nots” and they are the “haves”.
We came to the situation in Derry when the people had had enough. Since October 5th, it has been the unashamed and deliberate policy of the Unionist Government to try to force an image of the civil rights movement that it was nothing more than a Catholic uprising. The people in the movement have struggled desperately to overcome that image — but it is impossible when the ruling minority are the government, and control not only political matters but the so-called impartial forces of law and order. It is impossible then for us to state quite fairly where we stand.
How can we say that we are a non-sectarian movement and are for the rights of both Catholics and Protestants when, clearly, we are beaten into the Catholic areas? Never have we been beaten into the Protestant areas. When the students marched from Belfast to Derry, there was a predominant number 283 of Protestants. The number of non-Catholics was greater than the number of Catholics. Nevertheless we were still beaten into the Catholic area because it was in the interests of the minority and the Unionist Party to establish that we were nothing more than a Catholic uprising – just as it is in the interest of the honourable Member for Londonderry to come up with all this tripe about the IRA . . .
We, the people of Ulster, are no longer to be fooled . . .
I was in the Bogside on the same evening as the honourable Member for Londonderry. I assure you, Mr. Speaker — and I make no apology for the fact — that I was not strutting around with my hands behind my back examining the area and saying “tut-tut” every time a policemen had his head scratched. I was going around building barricades because I knew that it was not safe for the police to come in.
I saw with my own eyes 1,000 policemen come in military formation into an oppressed, and socially and economically depressed area — in formation of six abreast, joining up to form 12 abreast like wild Indians, screaming their heads off to terrorise the inhabitants of that area so that they could beat them off the streets and into their houses . . .
The honourable Member for Londonderry said that the situation has got out of hand under the “so-called civil rights people”. The one thing which saved Derry from possibly going up in flames was the fact that they had Jone Hume, Member of Parliament for Foyle, Eamonn McCann, and Ivan Cooper, Member of Parliament for Mid-Derry, there. . . .
Another solution which the Government may decide to adopt is do nothing but serve notice on the Unionist Government that they will impose economic sanctions on them if true reforms are not carried out. The interesting point is that the Unionist Government cannot carry out reforms. If they introduce the human rights Bill and outlaw sectarianism and discrimination, what will the party which is based, and survives on, discrimination do? By introducing the human rights Bill, it signs its own death warrant. Therefore, the Government can impose economic sanctions but the Unionist Party will not yield. I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that one cannot impose economic sanctions on the dead.
The Unionist policy has always been to divide the people who are dependent upon them. The question of voting is tied up mainly with the question of housing, and this is something which the House has failed to understand. The people of Northern Ireland want votes not for the sake of voting but for the sake of being able to exercise democratic rights over the controlling powers of their own areas. The present system operates in such a way that Unionist-controlled councils and even Nationalist-controlled councils discriminate against those in their areas who are in the minority…
There is no denying that the problem and the reason for this situation in Northern Ireland is social and economic, because the people of Northern Ireland are being oppressed not only by a Tory Government, a misruling Tory Government and an absolutely corrupt, bigoted and self interested Tory Government, but by a Tory Government of whom even the Tories in this House ought to be ashamed and from which they should dissociate themselves.
I should like in conclusion to take a brief look at the future. This is where the question of British troops arises. The question before this House — in view of the apathy, neglect and lack of understanding which this House has shown to these people in Ulster — is how in the shortest space it can make up for 50 years of neglect, apathy and lack of understanding. Short of producing miracles, such as factories overnight in Derry and homes overnight in practically every area, what can we do?
If British troops are sent in I should not like to be either the mother or sister of an unfortunate soldier stationed there. The honourable member . . . may talk ’till Domesday about “our boys in khaki”, but it has to be recognised that the one point in common among Ulstermen is that they are not very fond of Englishmen who tell them what to do.
Source: Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons Official Report (London: Hansard) 1969, pp. 281-282.