Austin Currie described as one of 'three giants' of civil rights with John Hume and Seamus Mallon
Austin Currie was described alongside his colleagues John Hume and Seamus Mallon as one of 'three giants' of the civil rights movement Ireland has sadly lost over the past two and half years during tributes in the Dáil this week.
Fine Gael leader and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, leading expressions of sympathy in the Oireachtas, said: "In the past two and a half years, we have lost three giants of the civil rights movement in Ireland, namely, Seamus Mallon, John Hume and Austin Currie. They were three of the great pioneers of peace, change and non-violence on our island. Their legacy lives on all around us."
Mr. Currie passed away at the age of 82 last November but this week his wife Anita, children, Estelle, Caitríona, Dualta, Austin and Emer, and his grandchildren and extended family attended the Dáil for formal tributes.
Mr. Varadkar spoke of how the Dungannon-native had 'organised one of the first civil rights marches in Northern Ireland and went on to co-found the SDLP with John Hume and Gerry Fitt, and how he was a politician of remarkable physical and moral courage who refused to stay silent even when people tried to intimidate and silence him and when he was threatened and attacked'.
He stated: "He always stayed true to his belief – shared with John Hume - that two wrongs could never make a right. Like Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi, he knew that a people could be liberated without any need for recourse to violence, sectarianism or hatred."
The Taoiseach Micheál Martin spoke of how the late Mr. Currie had played a foundational role in the civil rights movement when he occupied a house with fellow activists in south Tyrone fifty-four years ago this week.
"His protest on housing rights in Caledon is widely recognised as the beginning of the civil rights movement. Then, along with those other great names, Hume, Cooper, Fitt, Devlin and O’Hanlon, and others, he founded the SDLP and developed the fundamental political philosophy that ultimately became the basis of peace and power-sharing across the board.
"We can imagine with complete confidence his impatience and dismay with the ongoing refusal to honour the mandate of the recent assembly elections and bring back the institutions," said the Taoiseach.
Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald also paid tribute. She stated: "Following the deaths of Seamus Mallon and John Hume in January and August 2020 respectively, Austin was the last surviving founder of the SDLP.
"Whether as a representative of the SDLP or Fine Gael, Austin was often a spirited and determined opponent of my party and we of his politics, but that is the nature of politics. Today as we reflect on his very considerable life and political career, we pay tribute to his service to his constituents and his country.
"On my behalf and that of Sinn Féin, I express our condolences to his wife Anita, his family, his children, his grandchildren, all his friends and to his political colleagues in the SDLP, Fine Gael and beyond. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam."
Ivana Bacik, the Labour Party leader, spoke of how after the Caledon protest 'Austin went on to form the SDLP along with his colleagues Seamus Mallon, Gerry Fitt and John and Pat Hume', adding that, 'like them, he was a man of peace who abhorred the violence of the Troubles and remained committed to non-violence, despite the enormous toll it took on his own family, with constant threats and over 30 attacks on his family home and family members, including on his beloved wife Anita'.