MLAs paid tribute to SDLP founding member Austin Currie in the Assembly on Monday.
Mr Currie, who passed away last week, served at the old Stormont Parliament as MP for East Tyrone and in the 1973 and 1982 Assemblies as member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. He also served as Minister of Housing, Local Government and Planning in the short-lived 1974 Executive.
SDLP Deputy Leader Nichola Mallon led the tributes.
North Belfast MLA Ms Mallon said:
“Last week the SDLP lost one of our founding members and one of the most pivotal people in modern Irish history, Austin Currie. He served at Stormont in a number of roles, including as housing minister, an issue close to his heart.
“Austin grew up in a very different place than the one we call home today. In those days, Catholics were treated as second class citizens, unable to secure decent housing, jobs and education. Seeing the endemic discrimination Austin became part of a new generation of nationalists determined to change things for their community and armed only with a university education he went to work.
“His stand at Caledon in 1968 was a pivotal moment in the battle for civil rights. It was the spark that lit a fire within the nationalist community that refused to go out, no longer would people allow themselves to be treated as second best. He led marches and demonstrations and when it became clear a new political force would be required to further the movement, he co-founded the SDLP.
“Austin paid a heavy price for his bravery, both republicans and loyalists regularly attacked his family home and his wife Annita was subjected to a brutal assault, but his commitment to peace, democracy and civil rights never wavered and he continued working in earnest to further these aims.
“He has the distinction of becoming the only person to serve in government on both sides of the border, but remained a constant presence at SDLP events and conferences and his views on events in the North always carried significant weight.
“The outpouring of tributes following his passing last week shows the regard Austin Currie was held in right across the political spectrum. While perhaps never receiving the plaudits he deserved in life, his contribution was rightly lauded in death, he was a giant of the civil rights movement and his contribution will never be forgotten.
“Our thoughts go out to his wife Annita, his children Estelle, Caitriona, Dualta, Austin and Emer. For a man who achieved so much during his life, and who contributed so much to this place and our politics, I know nothing surpassed the pride and love he had for his family.”