Kevin Boyle, 1943-2010

January 13, 2011

An academic who stood at the centre of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland has died.

Kevin Boyle, emeritus professor of international human rights law at the University of Essex, was a key player in early campaigns seeking democratic reform through peaceful means and an end to discrimination against Catholicism.

Originally from Newry, County Down, Professor Boyle was a young lecturer in law at Queen's University Belfast when he got involved in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. His interest and commitment to human rights developed from his experience of living in Northern Ireland during the early years of the Troubles.

He served on the executive of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and as a member of the solidarity group People's Democracy that took part in the 1969 Burntollet march. The march was attacked by loyalists and the event marked a turning point in the history of the conflict. He is reported to have described the event as "a foolhardy affair".

Professor Boyle spent the first decade of his career at Queen's, before joining the National University of Ireland, Galway in 1978 as dean of the Faculty of Law.

He wrote extensively on peaceful resolution of the Northern Ireland conflict, and set up a human rights centre at the institution.

Before taking up a new post at Essex in 1989, he was the founding director of the charity Article 19, which campaigns against censorship.

Arriving in England, he founded the University of Essex's Human Rights Centre in 1990, serving as its director until 2001, and again in 2006-07.

Maurice Manning, president of the Irish Human Rights Commission, described Professor Boyle as a "persuasive and tireless voice" for human rights, and said he was one of the first academic lawyers to consider the issue.

"From his work with the civil rights movement through to his engagement with a huge number of human rights causes of domestic and international concern, a common thread of a commitment to improving the lives of ordinary people is evident," Dr Manning said.

Irish politician Michael D. Higgins, TD for Galway West, said his work had "placed so many in Ireland in his debt. Those of us who knew him personally will feel the loss of a warm friend with a great sense of humour and enormous courage."

Professor Boyle died on Christmas Day following a long battle with cancer.

He is survived by his wife, Joan, and two sons.

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