The late civil rights leader Ivan Cooper was “building a better community from the family out” whose “every step was informed and sustained by his Christian faith”, mourners were told at his funeral.
Mr Cooper, one of the founding members of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) who had played a major role in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, died on Wednesday at the age of 76 after a long period of ill health.
One of the few Protestants involved with the civil rights movement, he said his involvement saw him ostracised by other Protestants.
But speaking at his funeral at St Peter’s Church on the Culmore Road in Londonderry on Friday afternoon, the Venerable Robert Miller, Archdeacon of the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe, described the late civil rights leader as a “man way ahead of his time”.
“In life, Ivan was regarded as a controversial figure, even divisive in some people’s eyes,” he said.
“But that didn’t stop him. He believed – he was convinced – he had right on his side
“Equality for all? Power-sharing? One could argue that Ivan Cooper was a man way ahead of his time. And, lest we forget, he was always – always – adamant that there could be no place and no justification for violence.”
Archdeacon Miller, who conducted the funeral service along with Rev Katie McAteer, Pastoral Director of Christ Church, Culmore, Muff and St Peter’s, continued: “Ivan was building a better community from the family out; his every step was informed and sustained by his Christian faith.
“People were equal in God’s sight and were to be treated as such in any society that was to honour God.
“Ivan sought to build that society by meeting people, talking to them, breaking down barriers, developing relationships, building trust, fostering friendships, challenging attitudes, changing minds, working with others. This was the shape of his politics.”
He added a challenge to make “politics work” in Northern Ireland to celebrate the life of Ivan Cooper.
“Today we remember Ivan with affection and love, and we give thanks for his life,” he said. “But let’s not leave it at that.
“When we go from this church this afternoon, the best thing we can do – the best thing all of us can do – is finish the job that Ivan Cooper dedicated most of his life to: the task of building a better community.
“To celebrate his life, we must echo his voice, and be utterly, unequivocally committed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Northern Ireland.
“So, let’s make Ivan’s vision a reality. Let’s make politics work.”
Archdeacon Miller added: “Ivan will be greatly missed by this whole city and by his fellow parishioners here at St Peter’s.
“Most of all, though, he’ll be missed by Frances, by Sinéad and Bronagh, by his son-in-law Conor and the grandchildren, and by the wider family circle.”