Northern Ireland news

Ivan Cooper's mantra 'never give up the fight for justice' stayed with him until the end

Irish News journalist Seamus McKinney recalls Ivan Cooper as a generous and accommodating man who, despite his failing health, was determined to continue his campaign for justice.

Ivan Cooper was wingman to John Hume in the fight for equality and justice. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Seamus McKinney

IVAN Cooper’s philosophy was always keep going, no matter what the hardship, always keep going.

Even when his body was broken by illness in recent years, he stuck to his mantra. When others would fade gently into old age, Ivan refused. No matter how ill he was, he was always available, always pleasant and always accommodating.

Often bed-ridden and wheelchair bound and with his physical energy ebbing, he still made the effort. Even when his voice was barely audible, Ivan took the journalist’s phone call or addressed the political meeting.

He was determined to continue his campaign for justice when The Irish News came calling for help with coverage of last year’s 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement. Weak with illness, he responded to a request for an interview at his home in Culmore.

“The door will be open, ignore the dog and I’m up in the bed,” he said.

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Even as age and illness broke his body, Ivan Cooper's spirit refused to give up. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

Then, voice weak and struggling to move in bed, Ivan showed illness had not dulled his intellect. His razor-sharp memory recalled every detail and analysed every development.

President Michael D Higgins paid a poignant tribute when he addressed a major anniversary conference in Derry’s Guildhall last October.

To a background of the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome”, the president presented a civil rights award to Ivan.

Thanking him on behalf of a nation, President Higgins said: “May I add my own thanks to Ivan, as President of Ireland, for the courage, leadership and dedication to the cause of justice – just in all its forms – that he has demonstrated throughout his political career.”

Ivan was at the centre of every formative event in Northern Ireland in the last 50 years. Moving into the city from his native Claudy, he saw at first hand the gerrymander and poverty enforced by leaders from his own unionist background.

In pictures: The civil rights movement

President Michael D Higgins paid tribute to Ivan Cooper on behalf of the nation. Photograph by Margaret McLaughlin

He knew full well his decision to stand with his Catholic and nationalist neighbours for civil rights would bring him the unionist “Lundy” insult - reserved only for their own. But he realised that stand he must.

Over the next 20 years, Ivan stood again and again, regardless of insult or threat to personal safety. He was one of the organisers of the October 5 1968 civil rights march in Derry, demanding equal voting and an end to unionist discrimination. Faced with the injustice of internment without trial, he helped organise the January 30 1972 anti-internment march which was to become known as Bloody Sunday.

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In the years following Bloody Sunday, Ivan became a champion of the families of those killed and injured. Right up until the end, he was determined to stand for justice for the 14 men and boys killed on Bloody Sunday.

After the Museum Of Free Derry was officially opened in the Bogside, Derry, by American civil rights leader Rev Jesse Jackson and Fiachra McGuinness, son of the late Martin McGuinness, the Rev Jackson met Ivan Cooper who was one of the founding members of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin  

Ivan’s legacy in Derry was the delivery of fair voting, the end of the unionist gerrymander and discrimination against the nationalist majority. But most of all, it was his life as a shinning beacon for justice and equality.

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