Austin Currie (1939-2021) was a significant civil rights campaigner in the years prior to the Troubles. He later became a politician in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Currie was born to a large Catholic family in County Tyrone and educated at St Patrick’s Academy in Dungannon. He later completed a degree in history and politics at Queen’s University Belfast. In 1964 Currie was elected to the Northern Ireland Parliament as the Nationalist Party’s candidate for East Tyrone. Aged 24, he was the youngest person elected to the Stormont assembly. He would retain this seat until the imposition of Direct Rule in 1972.
In June 1968, Currie protested against discriminatory housing policies by squatting in a house in Caldeon, County Tyrone (the house had been allocated to a single Protestant woman, ahead of Catholic families that were higher on the waiting list). Currie became a prominent figure in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) and, in August 1970, a founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).
A frequent target for Loyalist attacks, Currie was threatened and menaced several times, while his wife Annita was severely beaten in November 1972. The following year Currie was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly as an SDLP candidate, later serving as Minister for Housing. In the late 1970s, Currie sought election to the British parliament but was twice defeated by Unionist candidates.
Frustrated with sectarianism in the North, Currie moved to the Republic of Ireland in 1989. He was elected to the Oireachtas (Irish parliament), representing the seat of Dublin West. In 1990, Currie contested the presidency of the Republic, finishing third with 17 per cent of the vote. He held ministerial portfolios in the Republic’s coalition government before losing his seat and retiring from politics in 2002.
Currie died at his home in Derrymullen, County Kildare, in November 2021.