Civil Rights

Ivan Cooper: Tributes paid after death of civil rights leader

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

Tributes have been paid to civil rights leader Ivan Cooper who has died aged 75.

James Nesbitt

The actor played Mr Cooper in the 2002 film on Bloody Sunday and paid his own tribute.

"He will be remembered as a politician of startling courage and conviction who passionately believed in equality for all," he said.

"He was a protestant politician in the 1970s who loved where he came from, but was also brave enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with people of all faiths and convictions to fight for civil rights in Ireland.

Ivan Cooper meets James Nesbitt in 2002 as the actor was filming Bloody Sunday in Derry. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin 

"On a personal note his impact on my career was inestimable. Playing him in Bloody Sunday was a privilege and also a huge responsibility.

"Professionally it changed my life. It made me appreciate for the first time what could be achieved through my job, and for that I will always be thankful."

Pat Hume

The wife of former SDLP leader John, who is himself suffering ill health, paid tribute to Mr Cooper, saying: "Ivan and 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.

"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."

From our archives:

Colum Eastwood

The SDLP leader 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," he said.

“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 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."

Elisha McCallion 

The Sinn Féin MP said: "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."  

Micheál Martin

The Fianna Fáil leader 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," he said. "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."

Mark Durkan

The former SDLP leader said: "Physical frailty could not diminish his passion for justice, rights and peace. Even chat in weaker voice radiated strong conviction as he recalled or read events with both poignancy and wit - proving the natural oratory of his special voice for people & principles."

Michael D Higgins 

The president of Ireland said: "As one of the organisers behind the earliest and many of the initiatives of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland which were responding to the exclusion of so many from the most basic rights as housing, health and education, Ivan Cooper took inspiration from civic actions in the United States and became himself one of sources of inspiration for all those who took a stand against inequality and injustice," he said.

"With his unshakeable 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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