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Ivan Cooper: Northern Ireland civil rights leader who led Bloody Sunday march dies aged 75

Tributes have been paid to the Northern Ireland politician, who led the march on Bloody Sunday.

Northern Ireland civil rights leader and politician Ivan Cooper has died aged 75.
Northern Ireland civil rights leader and politician Ivan Cooper has died aged 75.
Image: Niall Carson

CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER and Northern Irish politics veteran Ivan Cooper has died aged 75.

A co-founder of the SDLP, Cooper played a pivotal role in the Northern Irish civil rights movement – he was one of the leaders of the civil rights march on the day of Bloody Sunday and went on to become a consistent critic of sectarian violence during the Troubles.

He was elected as an independent MP in Stormont for Mid-Derry in 1969.

Born into a Protestant family in Killaloo, Co Derry in 1944, Cooper first became politically active in the 1960s just as the campaign for civil rights in Northern Ireland began to gain momentum. 

Politics - SDLP Members - London Cooper, second from right, with other SDLP members in 1972. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Tributes

Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D Higgins led the tributes to Cooper today.

“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.

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.

“As President of Ireland may I express my deepest sympathies to Ivan’s wife Francis, his daughters Sinead and Bronagh and his wide circle of family and friends.”

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood also paid tribute to Cooper.

“Ivan 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 in a statement. 

“Few have contributed as much to peace and equality on this island than Ivan,” Eastwood added. 

In a statement, former SDLP leader John Hume and his wife Pat Hume praised Cooper’s “commitment and courage”. Hume and Cooper worked closely together in the civil rights movement and later in the SDLP.

“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,” they said.

Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin described Cooper as a “giant of a man”. 

“He was a fierce critic of the sectarian violence that engulfed his beloved city of Derry over the following decades and 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,” he said. 

On Twitter, former SDLP leader Mark Durkan praised his “special voice for people and principles”. 

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