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'He shall overcome': moving tribute paid by former MP Austin Currie to Ivan Cooper

Austin Currie played a central role in the civil rights movement Picture Bill Smyth.
Seanín Graham

FORMER Nationalist MP and leading civil rights figure Austin Currie last night paid a moving tribute to Ivan Cooper - describing him as the "symbolism of reconciliation".

Mr Currie, who played a central role in organising the first civil rights march more than 50 years ago, singled out Mr Cooper's courage as a leader.

The former MP for West Tyrone occupied a house in Caledon in protest at what he described as the discriminatory allocation of houses by the local council in 1968, after a single 19-year-old Protestant woman was allocated a house ahead of 250 others.

He and Mr Cooper were among the six founding members of the SDLP.

Mr Currie, who was also a TD in the Republic, contacted the Irish News yesterday evening, saying he wanted to remember his friend as a "courageous civil rights leader".

"As a member of the Protestant community, he suffered intimidation by loyalists but at the same time he fought sectarianism and bigotry and opposed it on all sides," he said.

"Ivan was the symbolism of the reconciliation which is the only solution to the problems of Northern Ireland and on the island.

"He said that he would have been proud to have on his gravestone, 'Ivan Cooper, civil rights leader. I would add to that inscription, 'he shall overcome'".

During last year's commemeration events to mark the 50th anniversary of the first civil rights march from Coalisland to Dungannon on August 24, 1968, Mr Currie described the movement as one of the most successful political exercises in Irish history.

He said it rivalled the campaign for Catholic emancipation in the 1820s led by Irish political leader Daniel O'Connell.

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