Northern Ireland civil rights leader Ivan Cooper dies

Northern Ireland civil rights leader Ivan Cooper dies

Ivan Cooper, one of the founders of Northern Ireland’s civil rights movement, has died.

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

The former Stormont MP, who helped found the SDLP, 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.

Ivan Cooper, second right, was a founding member of the SDLP (PA)
Ivan Cooper, second right, was a founding member of the SDLP (PA)

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.

President Michael D Higgins presented Mr Cooper with a special award to mark his role in civil rights at an event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Duke Street march last year.

Mr Cooper was one of few Protestants involved with the civil rights movement.

He said his involvement saw him ostracised by other Protestants, and even found people in his church refused to sit beside him on the pews.

President Michael D Higgins presents an award to Ivan Cooper at Derry’s Guildhall last year to recognise his role in the civil rights movement (Brian Lawless/PA)
President Michael D Higgins presents an award to Ivan Cooper at Derry’s Guildhall last year to recognise his role in the civil rights movement (Brian Lawless/PA)

Current SDLP leader Colum Eastwood paid tribute, hailing Mr Cooper as a man who “embodied the contrasting traditions of this island”.

“Ivan Cooper was born to break the mould,” he said.

“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.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described Ivan Cooper as a ‘giant’ (Brian Lawless/PA)
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described Ivan Cooper as a ‘giant’ (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr Eastwood added: “Alongside his close friend John Hume, he helped blaze the trail on the path that led to the Good Friday Agreement.

“Anyone who knew Ivan knows that his selfless passion for justice continued to burn brightly into his later years. 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.”

Sinn Fein MP for Foyle Elisha McCallion expressed her condolences.

“Ivan Cooper, along with others, played an important role in the civil rights campaign in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” she said.

“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.”

Mr Cooper is survived by wife Frances and daughters Sinead and Bronagh.

- Press Association

More on this topic

Man dies in crash between car and motorbike in Co CorkMan dies in crash between car and motorbike in Co Cork

Mutya Buena teases Sugababes reunion with studio photoMutya Buena teases Sugababes reunion with studio photo

British Airways suspends flights to Cairo as security ‘precaution’British Airways suspends flights to Cairo as security ‘precaution’

Kilkenny send message with 22-point defeat of LimerickKilkenny send message with 22-point defeat of Limerick

More in this Section

Gardaí seize guns and ammunition in raids in Drogheda, Dublin and LimerickGardaí seize guns and ammunition in raids in Drogheda, Dublin and Limerick

Meath Gardaí search for missing 15-year-old girlMeath Gardaí search for missing 15-year-old girl

Calls for Govt to pause naturalisation applications after court rulingCalls for Govt to pause naturalisation applications after court ruling

Gardaí continue to question man as Dublin stabbing victim named locallyGardaí continue to question man as Dublin stabbing victim named locally


Lifestyle

Celebrate the anniversary by finding lift off without even leaving the earth, at these stateside visitor centres and museums, says Sarah Marshall.America’s top space-age attractions to celebrate 50 years since the moon landing

For bookworms and classic movie buffs, the notion of a London park will forever conjure up images of Mary Poppins with the Banks children in tow.Inside/ Out: Park life is looking up in London by Eve Kelliher

“Does anyone want to be my friend?” roared my five year old as he walked into the playground at our French campsite on holidays.Learner Dad: 'It can be heartbreaking watching your kids try make friends on holiday'

These handy product edits are so useful for travelling, says Katie Wright.Palettes pack a punch: The travel must have

More From The Irish Examiner