I thought some of my fellow political anoraks might be interested in this appearance by a young Bernadette Devlin McAliskey on Firing Line, the long-running American current affairs show hosted from the mid 1960s to the late ’90s by the conservative journalist and author William F. Buckley Jr. This episode was recorded in March 1972 at a television studio in London, just weeks after the British Army carried out a murderous attack on a civil rights demonstration in the city of Derry, and is notable for the challenging answers and questions given by the then twenty-five year old working-class Tyrone woman to the condescending interview conducted by the affluent upper-class New Yorker.
Of course, throughout his career the well-travelled Buckley remained the very embodiment of that caste of Anglophile intellectual in the United States who preferred to view the Irish through partisan British eyes. A view aptly reflected in the explicitly racist contributions offered by another guest on the show, the future Conservative Party politician Roger Evans, as he attempted to ingratiate himself with the American host while insulting McAliskey – and the inferior non-Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of Ireland in general. While the latter spectacle is likely to make your skin crawl the ethno-classist nature of it does chime in well with Buckley’s own WASP patrician act, not to mention the ignorant heckles also thrown at McAliskey by the British newsman Peter Riddell*.
*Note: Riddell at least had the wit and the humanity to become slightly more nuanced in his formerly toxic views on the Irish-British conflict, writing in 2003:
If we English were to face the cost of the `colonial past’ in terms of lost and disrupted lives and livelihoods, we would be impelled to ask the forgiveness of those who have suffered, and seek ways of serving them. It would be both an appropriate response to our past and an inspiring way forward, laying a basis for partnership with some who presently consider us their enemy.
We should also ask ourselves whether we retain any attitudes that in previous times gave rise to brutal actions. Not so long ago I found myself arguing to an Irishman that over the centuries England had no choice but to occupy Ireland to ensure its own security. `What about the security of the Irish?’ was all he had to ask to make me shocked at my Anglo-centric view-point!
And what of our relationship with those who were instruments of our domination, the Protestants in Northern Ireland? It was convenient for us that three hundred years ago they were willing to settle in Ireland; now it seems that our convenience dictates that they abandon their British identity and privileged status.