Inez McCormack, who died yesterday after a short illness, was a leading trade unionist and a champion of women’s rights who was well-known for her work in Northern Ireland and much further afield. She was 66.
She was a forceful character, who consistently sought to improve the working conditions of a wide range of people and she also campaigned successfully on many human rights issues.
She was the founder and an adviser to the Participation and the Practice of Rights organisation (PPR), which provided support to local disadvantaged communities and groups in using a rights-based approach.
Her local and international reputation was such that she was honoured by a portrayal of her career by Meryl Streep in a play on Broadway.
In 2011, she was named by Newsweek magazine, along with Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and others, as one of the “150 Women Who Shake the World.”
Inez McCormack was born in Belfast in 1946, and left school at 16. She later studied social work at Queen’s University, Belfast and at Trinity College, Dublin.
Her distinguished trade union career began in the late-1960s and she became the first female president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
She was a signatory to the MacBride Principles, a code of conduct for US companies investing in Northern Ireland, which stressed the importance of religious equality in employment.
She also played a pivotal role behind the scenes in gaining trade union support for the Good Friday Agreement and helping to shape its provisions on equality issues.
She also made a significant contribution to the implementation of equal opportunities and fair employment in the workplace.
McCormack played a major trade union role with NUPE and latterly with Unison.
Paying tribute, Patricia McKeown, of Unison, said: “She was held in the highest regard across the international trade union movement.
“Her vindication lies in the fact that many of the issues on which she broke the mould are now seen as safe ground for those who came later.
“She has left us, but only in the flesh. Inez will never leave us in spirit.”
Mark Durkan, the former SDLP leader and Foyle MP, said: “Inez was impressive and effective in all she did. She stood for workers’ rights, for women’s rights, for equality and public services.
“Her positive outlook, compelling analysis and valid stances won her international recognition as a standard-bearer for social justice and a role model for all who seek economic emancipation.”
She was a deeply committed person who formed strong personal relationships and she was a friend of many leading public figures, including Hillary Clinton and Irish presidents Mary Robinson and Michael D Higgins.
Her human rights work was recognised internationally and she won many awards, including the Eleanor Roosevelt Award from New York City in 1997, an honorary degree from Queen’s University in 2000, and the Aisling Person of the Year Community Award in 2001.
She was married for more than 40 years to Vinny, who survives her with their daughter Anne, son-in-law Mark and grandchildren Maisie and Jamie.