Belfast Telegraph

Ivan Cooper, civil rights campaigner and SDLP founder, dies aged 75

Ivan Cooper
Ivan Cooper
Ivan Cooper (Brian Lawless/PA)
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

One of the founders of Northern Ireland’s civil rights movement Ivan Cooper has died at the age of 75.

He was celebrated as being among the few to have made an "enormous contribution" to peace and equality and "blazed a trail" toward what became the Good Friday Agreement.

The former MP and Stormont member was one of the organisers of the civil rights march in Derry's Duke Street in October 1968. He also organised the anti-internment march which led to the events of  Bloody Sunday in 1972. He said he was one of very few Protestants who led the civil rights movement and later went on to become a joint founder of the SDLP along with John Hume, Paddy Devlin and Gerry Fitt.

He said he was "totally obsessed" with civil rights.

Pat Hume said Mr Cooper and her husband John "walked side-by-side, hand-in-hand, in their shared desire for equality, justice and peace in Ireland".

“Ivan was the embodiment of the non-violent and non-sectarian movement for change that was the campaign for civil rights," she said.

“His commitment and courage and his desire and determination to tackle these issues never waned. Nor did his friendship and relationship with John and me. He was loyal friend and constant visitor to John in recent years even as both battled ill-health.

“Ivan Cooper will forever hold a special place, not only, in our hearts but in the history of this island and in the continuing of the fight for civil rights and social justice."

SDLP MPs Paddy Devlin, Austin Currie, John Hume and Ivan Cooper visiting internees at the prison in 1971

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood paid tribute saying Mr Cooper embodied the "contrasting traditions of this island but that his driving ambition was to deliver civil rights, equality and fairness for people regardless of their background".

He said: “Ivan Cooper was born to break the mould. A working class Protestant man who saw a common injustice and inequality that had taken root in Protestant and Catholic communities, he dedicated his life to fighting it.

Ivan Cooper, second right, was a founding member of the SDLP (PA)
Ivan Cooper, second right, was a founding member of the SDLP (PA)

“As an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement, few have contributed as much to peace and equality on this island than Ivan.

"Organising marches in Derry for the right to a home, the right to a job and the right to a vote, Ivan often put himself in the path of danger to secure justice for people in every community.

"And on many occasions that meant that he suffered vilification and violence for his convictions. It never stopped him.  Alongside his close friend John Hume, he helped blaze the trail on the path that led to the Good Friday Agreement."

Mr Cooper, who bowed out of politics in the 1980s, was also a member of the Bloody Sunday Trust and campaigned for prosecutions over the deaths of 14 innocent people following the events of January 1972. He once told the BBC he "always regretted" organising the march saying no political cause was worth a single life.

He once named those responsible for the Claudy bombing that same year always saying he rejected the IRA denials of its involvement.

He was honoured by Irish president Michael D Higgins when he was presented with a civil rights award last October. Mr Higgins said Mr Cooper demonstrated courage, leadership and dedication to the cause of justice throughout his political career.

Mr Eastwood continued: “Anyone who knew Ivan knows that his selfless passion for justice continued to burn brightly into his later years.

"His unwavering belief that people on this island should come together to fight for common ideals and in their common interest is a lesson for us all. Especially as we face political division today.

“A man of sharp contrasts, sharp intellect and, it must be said, sharp tongue, he stands as a giant in the story of this island. And he holds a special place in the hearts of SDLP members.

“I want to express my deepest sympathies to Ivan’s wife Frances, his daughters Sinead and Bronagh and his entire family circle at this difficult time."

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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