Tributes paid in Dáil to man of ‘outstanding courage’ Austin Currie

SDLP co-founder cared about ‘bringing peace, reconciliation, unity to this island’

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the late Austin Currie was ‘one of that extraordinary generation of modern leaders’. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the late Austin Currie was ‘one of that extraordinary generation of modern leaders’. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

SDLP co-founder Austin Currie was a man of “outstanding courage and a shining example” to politicians north and south of the border, the Dáil has heard as tributes were paid to the former Fine Gael Minister of State.

Ceann Comhairle Sean Ó Fearghaíl also described Mr Currie, who died on Tuesday, as a pioneer of the civil rights movement and as somebody who “selflessly dedicated his life to the peaceful and respectful solution of intractable problems”.

Tánaiste and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar said he was “one of the outstanding politicians of his generation, exposing and highlighting discrimination against Catholics in Northern Ireland” and helping to organise “one of the first civil rights marches in Northern Ireland”.

Mr Varadkar, expressing sympathy to his family including his daughter Fine Gael Senator Emer Currie, said he got to know Mr Currie when he moved to Dublin and joined Fine Gael and became minister for children in the rainbow government.

“Above all, he cared about bringing peace, reconciliation and unity to this island. Something he worked towards throughout his political career. He was vehemently opposed to political violence.

“And while he and his family were subjected to it, they never contemplated resorting to it.”

Mr Varadkar added that he was “somebody who I knew personally and at the same time is somebody I read about in history. It was a strange experience to have a living icon as your colleague and local TD.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Mr Currie was “one of that extraordinary generation of modern leaders who in the face of appalling injustice and degradation of the northern state at that time, recognised the power of peaceful protest”.

Along with the other co-founders of the SDLP he “developed a fundamental political philosophy that ultimately became the basis of peace and power sharing across the board and underpinned the institutions we have today”.

Mr Martin said “our country owes him a great debt and many people are alive today and raising families of their own because of this assistance. We have peace in our country because of this assistance.”

The Taoiseach added that Mr Currie’s family would take “comfort and some pride from the fact that his was a life well lived and he was one of those who truly made Ireland a better place”.

‘Significant loss’

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she was very sad to hear of Mr Currie’s death. Expressing her sympathies to Fine Gael she said it was a “very, very sad and significant loss for you”.

Minister for Culture and Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin described Mr Currie as “fearless and courageous and a political giant” who dedicated his life to civil rights activism.

Labour leader Alan Kelly said “he will be remembered as a politician above all of conviction and somebody who stood up and was counted”and who “strived to bring peace to our island through his service to the people he represented uniquely both north and south”.

Social Democrats joint leader Róisín Shortall said the SDLP co-founder was a “pivotal figure in Irish politics” both in the North and latterly as a “distinguished minister of state”.

She said his outward political affiliation may have changed, necessitated by his move to Dublin “but his core decency, integrity, bravery and tireless advocacy for peace, social justice and human rights never did”.

Independent TD Carol Nolan commended Mr Currie for the courage he showed and everything thing he did in the North “when it was very difficult to stand up for Catholic and nationalist families”.

Independent TD Marian Harkin said she only knew Mr Currie by reputation but it was one any person would be proud of. “He was a man who had the strongest courage of his convictions, a man who took risks both personal and political” and she echoed the words of former SDLP leader Mark Durkan that Mr Currie was a man of “stubborn honour”.