Civil Rights

Civil rights leader Ivan Cooper 'was born to break the mould'

 Civil rights leader Ivan Cooper
Digital Staff

IVAN Cooper has been remembered as "the embodiment of the non-violent and non-sectarian movement for change that was the campaign for civil rights" following his death.

Mr Cooper, 75, died in hospital this morning after a long period of ill health.

The former Stormont MP, who helped found the SDLP along with John Hume, Paddy Devlin and Gerry Fit, led the fateful civil rights march in Derry on Bloody Sunday when soldiers shot dead 13 protesters in January 1972.  

He was also at the forefront of another landmark civil rights march in Derry in October 1968.

Many point to the scenes of violence when police moved to break up the demonstration on the city's Duke Street as the effective beginning of the Northern Ireland Troubles.

In a statement on behalf of John and Pat Hume, Mrs Hume said she was deeply saddened by the death of "our dear friend" while SDLP leader Colum Eastwood paid tribute to Mr Cooper who he said had "often put himself in the path of danger to serve justice for people in every community".

Pat Hume said Mr Cooper and her husband "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.

“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.

“We send our condolences to Ivan’s wife Frances, daughters Sinead and Bronagh and wider family circle.”

A book of condolence will open at 3pm today at the Guildhall in Derry, Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Michaela Boyle has said.

 MPs Paddy Devlin and Gerry Fitt and civil rights leader Ivan Cooper at the head of the October 5 march in Derry in 1968. Image from RTÉ

'Born to break the mould'

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr 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.

“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."

 Ivan Cooper (right) and John Hume in front of a mural depicting a civil rights march. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin 

From our archives:

Mr Eastwood said Mr Cooper's "selfless passion for justice continued to burn brightly". 

"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."

 Civil rights protesters on the Bloody Sunday march in Derry in 1972


In pictures: The civil rights movement

How The Irish News reported the first Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march from Coalisland to Dungannon in August 1968 

'He stood up with others and challenged an unjust and unfair system' 

Sinn Féin Foyle MP Elisha McCallion extended her sympathies to Ivan Cooper's family.

"Ivan Cooper, along with others, played an important role in the Civil Rights campaign in the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

"He stood up with others and challenged an unjust and unfair system of apartheid and discrimination. 

"My thoughts and sympathies are with his family and friends at this time."  

UUP leader Robin Swann added his voice to the tributes.

“At a time when many were resorting to violence as a means of achieving political aims, 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.

Read more:

 Ivan Cooper receives an award from President Michael D Higgins in October 2018. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin TD said Mr Cooper "stands out as a giant of a man". 

"Confounding 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 Mr Cooper had been "a fierce critic of the sectarian violence that engulfed his beloved city of Derry" and had "worked closely and tirelessly with his good friend John Hume to keep the hope of peace and equality alive, helping to pave the way for the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement".

“His loss will be deeply felt by his family and by our partners in the SDLP."

In pictures: The civil rights movement

'An unshakable belief in the universality and indivisibility of human rights'

President Michael D Higgins said Mr Cooper had been inspired by civic actions in the US "and became himself one of sources of inspiration for all those who took a stand against inequality and injustice".

"With his unshakable belief in the universality and indivisibility of human rights, Ivan Cooper was a beacon of hope and the embodiment of the power of non-violent actions in pursuit of justice.

"His work as a campaigner in the 1960s was rewarded when he won the largest political mandate of any nationalist member of the Parliament of Northern Ireland and his legacy of personal courage, leadership and the dedication to the cause of justice continues to inspire activists and politicians alike."

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