Austin Currie was a ‘titan of Civil Rights’ in Ireland

The family of Austin Currie - the man who helped bring fundamental change to the north of Ireland as a Civil Rights leader - have led tributes to him after his death yesterday at the age of 82.

By Brendan McDaid
Wednesday, 10th November 2021, 9:38 am
2008: L-R John Hume, Ivan Cooper and Austin Currie launch the 40th anniversary Civil Rights Conference in the Guildhall. (0710PG09)
2008: L-R John Hume, Ivan Cooper and Austin Currie launch the 40th anniversary Civil Rights Conference in the Guildhall. (0710PG09)

In a statement the family of the Tyrone native, who was a co-founder of the SDLP and a former Dublin West Fine Gael TD and said it had been “left heartbroken” by his passing.

Current SDLP Leader and Derry MP Colum Eastwood and the President of Ireland Michael D Higgins have also been among the many to pay tribute.

In a statement announcing his death on Tuesday night, Mr Currie’s family said: “After a long and eventful life, he died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Derrymullen, Co Kildare. He had just celebrated his 82nd birthday.

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PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. John Hume and Austin Currie talking at SDLP Conference in Newcastle. 9/11/80. 967/80/bw

“Austin was married to Annita for 53 years. They were a formidable team whose love for each other and their family saw them through some of the worst times in Northern Ireland’s recent history. He is survived by his children Estelle, Caitriona, Dualta, Austin and Emer, their partners and 13 grandchildren.

“Austin, who was born in Co Tyrone, was the eldest of eleven children. His decision to squat a council house in Caledon in June 1968 is widely seen as the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.

“One of the founding members of the SDLP along with John Hume and Gerry Fitt, Austin played a key role in the politics of that era.

“In 1989, he won a seat in Dublin West for Fine Gael and pursued a successful career as TD and minister until retirement in 2002.

“Our Daddy was wise, brave and loving and we thank him for the values that he lived by and instilled in us. He was our guiding star who put the principles of peace, social justice and equality first.

“From Edendork in county Tyrone to the bog of Allen, Daddy was most at home with his beloved Annita and his family, surrounded by newspapers and grandchildren. We will miss him deeply.”

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood paid tribute to civil rights veteran and founding SDLP member Austin Currie on the news of his passing this evening.

The Foyle MP said: “Austin Currie was a titan of the civil rights movement and one of the forefathers of our party. His housing protest in Caledon in 1968 was one of the key sparks for the civil rights campaign that followed and he spoke for a generation of young nationalists when he refused to allow his constituents to be treated as second class citizens anymore.

“His radical activism led him to join together with other young leaders and together they formed our party on the principles of a shared society where everyone got a fair shot at life, something so many of their contemporaries had been denied.

“Each time we lose a political giant like Austin we lose a piece of our history. While moments like this bring us great sadness, it also gives us the opportunity to celebrate the man and the huge contribution he made to politics in both the North and South of our island. It’s because of brave men and women like Austin who saw the way their community was being treated and refused to be silenced, that we all enjoy the freedoms and privileges we have today.

My thoughts and the thoughts of all the SDLP family are with Austin’s wife Annita, their children Estelle, Caitriona, Dualta, Austin Og and Emer, and their wide circle of family and friends at this difficult time.”

President Michael D. Higgins meanwhile has expressed ‘deep sadness’.

The President said, “Ireland has lost a dedicated, sincere and very committed politician who made such a significant contribution to the lives of so many people throughout the island of Ireland during a varied and challenging political career.

“He will remembered as a founding member of the SDLP and a courageous activist in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement at a critical time in our history.

“His outstanding service to the people of this country as an advocate and politician will stand as his proud legacy. It was pleasure and privilege to have worked with him as a colleague in politics.

“He will be remembered as a public representative who gave outstanding service to people of the island of Ireland over so many decades.

“Sabina and I express our deepest sympathy to Anita, his children, grandchildren and his extended family and many friends.”

Austin Currie was a member of the Advisory Council of the John & Pat Hume Foundation.

Dr Seán Farren, Chair of the Foundation, said: “Austin was a true giant of civil rights and constitutional politics. He was a courageous leader who dedicated his political life to non-violent peaceful change.

“He was a pioneer in the movement for civil rights. His decision to lead a sit-in at a house in Caledon to highlight discrimination in housing allocation by Dungannon Council was a key moment in the movement’s campaign to achieve fairness and civil rights for all.

“A founding member of the SDLP, Austin served as Minister for Local Government in the power-sharing Executive established by the Sunningdale Agreement.

“Austin was totally opposed to violence and suffered for his stand. His home came under attack on several occasions.

“The John & Pat Hume Foundation conveys its deep condolences to Austin’s wife Annita and his five children.”