Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Her toughest fight yet... veteran trade unionist and human rights activist Inez battling cancer

Human rights activist Inez McCormack

Messages of support have been flooding in from across the world after it emerged that a legendary trade unionist is seriously ill.

Human rights activist Inez McCormack was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago.

She is currently being looked after by staff in the Foyle Hospice in her native Londonderry, where she has spent the last 10 days.

Since news of her illness spread, the founder of the Participation and Practice of Rights (PPR) has received support of wellwishers.

Her friend, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has had a number of warm conversations with her on the telephone recently.

Mrs McCormack was also said to be touched by comments made by Mrs Clinton during a speech last Friday.

“One person who is not here that I could not come to Northern Ireland and address any group without mentioning is Inez McCormack,” Mrs Clinton told those at a lunch in the Titanic Belfast building.

“Inez stands out amongst the extraordinary people I have met and worked with over the last 17 years.

“She inspired and motivated me, challenged me often, and we’re sending her our thoughts and our prayers and our best wishes as she fights a courageous battle against cancer.”

Mrs McCormack, who is now over 60 and a grandmother, initially had chemotherapy after she was first diagnosed with breast and colon cancer.

Dessie Donnelly, a director at PPR, said the organisation’s thoughts are with Inez and her family at this difficult time.

“The tributes paid to Inez McCormack by US Secretary of State Clinton last week are testament to the unique contribution she has made to peace and promoting equality in Northern Ireland,” Mr Donnelly said.

“Just the previous week, a group she inspired and supported — the Seven Towers Residents Group — were cited by the United Nations Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights as an international best practice example of holding government to account.

“This mix of vision and practical, effective solutions are what continues to mark Inez out as an extraordinary person of our times.

“Secretary Clinton’s remarks on the need to focus on peace-building at the community level and among the most excluded is a reflection of Inez’s values throughout her work, and her motivation for founding the Participation and the Practice of Rights organisation.”

Inez’s first encounter with anything radical was in 1968 when she took part in an anti-Vietnam War rally in Grosvenor Square in London.

She returned to Belfast just as the civil rights movement was taking off and she became involved through her then boyfriend — now her long-standing husband, Vincent, a psychology lecturer at the University of Ulster's Magee campus.

He is from Derry's Bogside and took part in the long march from Belfast to the Maiden City which was ambushed by loyalists at Burntollet.

Since then she has been deeply involved in trade unionism, mainly fighting the case of women members who were underpaid and unfairly treated.


Inez McCormack became the first female full-time official of the National Union of Public Employees where she worked from 1976 to 1990, the first female regional secretary of Unison in 1993, and the first woman to hold the office of President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions from 2000-2002. Her work was portrayed on stage in a play, Seven, that captured the life of Inez and six other women. She was played by the Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep. That production grew out of her involvement with the Vital Voices network, which was established by Hillary Clinton more than a decade ago.

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