Austin Currie, a founding member of the SDLP and a key figure in the launch of Northern Ireland’s civil rights movement, has died at the age of 82.
Currie was the last surviving founder of the Social Democrats and the Labor Party, launched in 1970, following the death of John Hume in 2020 and Ivan Cooper in 2019.
The SDLP, the most popular Irish nationalist party until 2001, is in favor of Irish reunification, but differs in the midst of problems from Sinn Féin by rejecting political violence, such as that of the Provisional IRA.
The party was a key player in the 1990s negotiations, which eventually led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which paved the way for the conflict that had plagued Northern Ireland for decades.
“The Currie family is devastated to announce the death of Austin Curries,” his family said in a statement reported by Ireland’s TheJournal.ie. Currie died at home in Derrymullen, County Kildare, Ireland.
“After a long and eventful life, he died peacefully in his sleep,” the statement continued. “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.”
In 1974, Currie served as SDLP chief whip and Minister for Housing, Local Government and Planning in the Northern Ireland leadership.
But in 1989 he moved to the Republic of Ireland, where he became TD (MP) for Dublin West and ran in 1990 as a Fine Gael candidate for the presidency.
He finished a distant third place, but later, under the “Rainbow Coalition” from 1994 to 1997, he served as Prime Minister in the Departments of Education, Justice and Health
Currie leaves behind her children Estelle, Caitriona, Dualta, Austin and Emer, their partners and 13 grandchildren.
The family statement said: “Austin, who was born in County Tyrone, was the eldest of 11 children. His decision to squat a town hall 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.”
Ireland’s Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, described Currie as a “peacemaker”. He tweeted: “Sorry to hear about the death of Austin Curries, one of the founders of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement.
“He did so much for people, as peacemaker and in politics, served in Dáil and as foreign minister with distinction. My sympathy to his family.”