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After playing role of civil rights stalwart, James Nesbitt honours him

By Donna Deeney

Published 06/07/2016

Ivan Cooper and James Nesbitt share a laugh during yesterday’s ceremony at the Magee campus
Ivan Cooper and James Nesbitt share a laugh during yesterday’s ceremony at the Magee campus

There were emotional scenes at a graduation ceremony as veteran civil rights campaigner Ivan Cooper was presented with an honorary degree by actor James Nesbitt, who portrayed him in the film Bloody Sunday.

Mr Nesbitt, who is also the chancellor of Ulster University, presented 72-year-old Mr Cooper with a Doctorate in Law in recognition of his distinguished services to peace and reconciliation at yesterday’s ceremony at the Magee campus in Londonderry.

Mr Cooper said he was overwhelmed by the honour, which he dedicated to his fellow Derry civil rights campaigner Claude Wilton, who died in 2008.

He was a key figure in the events which took place in the city leading up to Bloody Sunday.

Mr Cooper told the Belfast Telegraph: “Jimmy Nesbitt was really the only person who could have played me in the film because we both come from a Protestant background.

“I was overwhelmed to receive the award and to meet Jimmy Nesbitt for the first time since he played me in the film.

“I told him he did a good job, and it took a Prod to play a Prod.

“I am a contradiction in life because I am Church of Ireland and I was standing up for civil rights, which a lot of people in my community didn’t support, which was the same for Claude Wilton.

“I still believe in the ethos of what the civil rights movement stood for and I am most proud that we achieved what we did through non-violence.”

Mr Cooper was a major figure in the movement in the late 1960s, served as an independent Stormont MP, and went on to become a co-founder of the SDLP before being returned to Stormont in 1973.

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