US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed her deep sadness at news of the death of trade unionist and human rights activist Inez McCormack.
Mrs McCormack lost her battle against breast and colon cancer on Monday at the Foyle Hospice in her home city of Londonderry.
Describing Mrs McCormack as her “dear friend”, Mrs Clinton said: “For decades Inez promoted peace and reconciliation in her beloved Northern Ireland and around the world.
“She challenged women and men to find a way to put aside their differences, move past hurt and anger, and work together to end violence and build a fair and lasting peace.
“It was a tremendous challenge, but Inez met it with joy.”
Foyle MP Mark Durkan led local tributes to the Derry activist who was portrayed by Academy Award winning actress Meryl Streep in a play about her life, describing the 66-year-old activist as “articulate, compassionate and steadfast”.
He said: “Inez McCormack was impressive and effective in all she did.
“She stood for workers’ rights, for women’s rights, for equality and public services.
“As an organiser and as an advocate she championed the right of those serving others for lower pay than they deserved.
“Her contribution to public life went beyond her primary role as a worker’s defender as she helped to benchmark the values, principles and protections that were needed for a fair and stable society.”
Irish president Michael D Higgins said Mrs McCormack was a passionate and committed human rights activist who fought all her life for the creation of a fairer society.
“As the the first President of ICTU, the first woman full-time official of the National Union of Public Employees; the first woman Regional Secretary of UNISON the first woman elected to the Northern Ireland Committee of Congress and its first woman Chair, she left behind a great legacy,” he said.
Current ICTU president Eugene McGlone said her track record in women's and human rights was “unequalled”, while Unison regional secretary Patricia McKeown said she had “touched the lives of thousands of ordinary women and men”.
Liam Gallagher, secretary of the Derry Trades Union Council, added: “Inez fought her illness bravely and I am deeply saddened to learn that she has died.
“She was fearless and championed on behalf of public service workers not just in Derry but everywhere she could, and she will be so sadly missed.”
Activist and Belfast Telegraph columnist Eamonn McCann recalled that the first time he encountered Inez was when he was a young student at Queen’s University.
He said: “This was at a time when there would have been very few women with prominent positions with the trade unions so she was a trailblazer for those who have come behind her.
“She was a very engaging, strong-minded woman and while I didn't always agree with her and our opinions would have differed on certain things, we never fell out about it and I liked her for that.”
Inez McCormack was 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, capturing the lives of Inez and six other women. She was played by Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep. That production grew out of her involvement with Vital Voices, set up by Hillary Clinton.