Civil rights leader Ivan Cooper left astonished by Ian Paisley's 'belated conversion'
A leading member of the civil rights campaign says he is shocked to hear Ian Paisley now supports its aims.
Lord Bannside revealed in a television interview with veteran journalist Eamonn Mallie, to be shown on BBC1 on Monday, that he felt the system which discriminated against Catholics was wrong.
Despite leading counter-protests to the civil rights marches at the time, he has now said: "The whole system was wrong, it was not one man, one vote – that's no way to run any country. It should be absolute freedom and absolute liberty."
But he said he had opposed the civil rights movement because he felt those behind it wanted a united Ireland, adding that "no decent law-abiding Protestant could associate themselves with it".
One of the leading members of the civil rights movement Ivan Cooper (70), a Protestant from Londonderry, expressed amazement at the sentiments.
"It's a big shock," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"There was never, ever, ever, any indication at any time (that Paisley supported the principles of the civil rights campaign)." Mr Cooper – a founding member of the SDLP – was terrorised by loyalists for backing civil rights and even saw his wife's car blown up outside his home.
He said he was intensely proud to have been a Protestant who was involved with the civil rights campaign in Northern Ireland.
"In my opinion he (Paisley) is all over the place," he said.
"I am proud to have supported the civil rights movement.
"His comments say to me that, rather belatedly, that it's a conversion, but he is all over the place."
Mr Cooper is also a member of the Bloody Sunday Trust and said he was equally shocked to hear of Mr Paisley's anger at the actions of the Paratroopers in killing 14 innocent people.
"I greatly welcome his comments on that, once again belatedly," he said.
"Never did Ian Paisley issue one word of compassion or one word of understanding for the civil rights movement.
And similarly with Bloody Sunday, it was exactly the same."