Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, Northern Ireland civil rights campaigner and former Westminster Member of Parliament (MP), is shot by members of the Ulster Freedom Fighters, a cover name of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), who burst into her home at Coalisland, County Tyrone on January 16, 1981. She survives the assassination attempt.
The three men shoot McAliskey nine times in the chest, arm and thigh as she goes to wake up one of her three children. Her husband, Michael, is also shot twice at point blank range. British soldiers are watching the McAliskey home at the time, but fail to prevent the assassination attempt. It is claimed that Devlin’s assassination was ordered by British authorities and that collusion was a factor. An army patrol of the 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment enter the house and wait for half an hour. McAliskey claims they are waiting for the couple to die.
Another group of soldiers then arrive and transport them by helicopter to a nearby Dungannon hospital for emergency treatment and then to the Musgrave Park Hospital, Military Wing, in Belfast, under intensive care. Their condition is initially said to be serious, but not life-threatening.
The attackers, Ray Smallwoods, Tom Graham, both from Lisburn, and Andrew Watson from Seymour Hill, Dunmurry, are captured by members of the Parachute Regiment, who are on patrol nearby when they hear the shots and are taken in for questioning by the police and subsequently jailed. All three are members of the South Belfast UDA. Smallwoods is the driver of the getaway car. Police say it is a professional attack. The gunmen cut the telephone wires to the house before breaking down the front door with a sledgehammer.
McAliskey had played a leading role in the campaign for Republican prisoners in the HM Prison Maze, who are demanding “prisoner of war” or political status. They want to be held separately from loyalist supporters in the Maze. Four other members of the campaign for the H-block inmates have been murdered.
Seven Maze prisoners went on hunger strike before Christmas in support of their demands for political status. The strike is called off on December 12 after Taoiseach Charles Haughey convinces the inmates their families want them to start eating again.