Ivan Cooper, left, pictured in June 2004 with fellow founding member of the SDLP John Hume when attending the funeral in Dublin of journalist Mary Holland. ROLLING NEWS.IE
By Anthony Neeson
Former Northern Ireland civil rights leader and politician Ivan Cooper has been remembered as a “towering figure,” after his death last week.
Cooper, 75, died in hospital after a long illness.
From a Protestant background, he took part in the civil rights march in Derry on Oct. 5, 1968, which was marred by police violence against those taking part.
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Cooper, who was a co-founder of the SDLP with John Hume and others in August 1970, was also present at the march in Derry in Jan. 30, 1972, which became known as Bloody Sunday after the British army’s Parachute Regiment shot dead 13 marchers. (He was played by actor James Nesbitt in the film “Bloody Sunday.”)
Initially a Young Unionist, Cooper first stood for election as a candidate of the Northern Ireland Labour Party when just 21 in 1965. He was elected to the Northern Ireland parliament as an independent in 1969 and a candidate for the SDLP on several occasions subsequently; he elected to the Assembly in 1973 and the Constitutional Convention in 1975.
Speaking to mourners at his funeral in St Peter’s Church on Culmore Road in Derry, Archdeacon Robert Miller described Cooper as “ahead of his time about breaking down barriers and building trust.
“Ivan was a man who was interested in people,” he added.
“He didn’t put them into groups. He didn’t see them as categories. He saw them as individuals, and those individuals had names and he knew their names. And he was interested in their particular needs and challenges.”
He added: “Ivan Cooper was a towering figure in Northern Ireland’s recent history. And the breadth of the political and religious opinion gathered here in this church in itself is a powerful testament to the impact that he made in life and an indication of how he touched so many lives.”
Among the mourners was Irish President Michael D. Higgins who said it was a “privilege” to attend the funeral and pay tribute.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Ivan Cooper was “born to break the mold.
“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 added: “Alongside his close friend John Hume, he helped blaze the trail on the path that led to the Good Friday Agreement.”