Northern Ireland news

Ivan Cooper broke the mould of Northern Ireland politics

Derry's founding civil rights leaders John Hume and Ivan Cooper attending the official unveiling of a new mural in Derry in 2015. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Seamus McKinney

 

IVAN Cooper was described last night as a man who was born to “break the mould” of Northern Ireland politics, following his death at the age of 75.

Tributes to the high profile civil rights leader flooded in from across the political divide after his death was announced yesterday morning.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr Cooper embodied the contrasting traditions of Ireland and had a driving ambition to deliver civil rights, equality and fairness for people regardless of their background.

“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,” the party leader said.

An early leader of the civil rights movement, few contributed so much to peace and equality, he said. Mr Cooper was instrumental in campaigns for housing, work and the right to vote.

The SDLP leader said Mr Cooper often put himself in the path of danger to secure justice for people in every community.

“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.”

The SDLP leader said anyone who knew Mr Cooper knew that a selfless passion for justice continued to burn within him into his later years.

“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,” Mr Eastwood said.

Mr Cooper’s fellow-civil rights’ campaigner, Fionnbarra O Dochartaigh said he had lost a close friend.

“We were complete opposites. When I first met Ivan I never thought we would become such friends but we did. We have lost a giant,” he said.

Hugh Logue, a former SDLP councillor and high-profile civil rights demonstrator who took part in key marches, said Mr Cooper was a "true embodiment of non sectarian civil rights".

"His influence cannot be overstated in those early days of the civil rights movement. He personally persuaded many republicans that there was another non violent path to justice."

Professor Paul Arthur, who worked as a civil rights campaigner with Mr Cooper, described him as a "fearless civil rights champion who fought for civil and human rights for all".

Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin said Mr Cooper stood out as a “giant of a man”. He said he had confounded the assumed position of his community background.

“He stood up and called out inequality and injustice wherever he saw it. His passion for fairness stayed with him throughout his entire life,” Mr Martin said.

Working closely with former SDLP leader, John Hume, Mr Cooper helped pave the way for the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement, he said.

Foyle Sinn Féin MP Elisha McCallion said Mr Cooper stood up with others to challenge “an unjust and unfair system of apartheid and discrimination”.

A book of condolences in memory of Mr Cooper has been opened at Derry’s Guildhall.

There were also tributes from unionist politicians. Ulster Unionist Party leader, Robin Swann said Mr Cooper made a major contribution to political life in Northern Ireland and said "his commitment to purely non-violent, peaceful and democratic methods was an example of how politics should be conducted."

“Had voices like his prevailed, we could perhaps have been spared the disaster and misery that was the Troubles,” Mr Swann said.

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