first came to prominence as one of the most articulate and powerful Civil Rights activists in the Northern Ireland of the 1960s, where his most famous stand was the unheard-of occupation of a council house in Caledon, County Tyrone, in a protest against the sectarian bias in social housing allocations. Later, he was to become one of the founders of the SDLP, a key negotiator of the Sunningdale Agreement, Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government in the NI Power Sharing government of 1974, a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly of 1982 and of the New Ireland Forum.
Uniquely, he was also elected to Dublin's Dáil Éireann in 1989, and served as a Minister. He has withstood personal attack and violence and continued his political work in the face of many threats. His career has spanned the worst troubles of Northern Ireland’s history, and the most dramatic positive developments of recent years.