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Legendary human rights activist Inez McCormack dies

The veteran trade unionist and founder of the Participation and Practice of Rights organisation died following a short illness.

Inez McCormack
Inez McCormack
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

THE LEGENDARY TRADE unionist and human rights activist Inez McCormack has died.

The announcement was made last night, and came after news broke that the Belfast native was battling cancer.

An official press statement said that the internationally renowned activist died on 21 January following a short illness. The longtime activist had founded the Participation and the Practice of Rights organisation (PPR), which provides support to disadvantaged communities and groups in the North of Ireland, using a rights-based approach.

Last year, Mrs McCormack was named alongside Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton as one of 150 Women Who Shake the World, because of her role in enabling women to improve their lives through spreading the values of human rights. She was also the first female president of the Irish Congress Trade Unions and a signatory to the McBride Principles, a corporate code of conduct for US companies investing in Northern Ireland.

Extraordinary person

During US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to Belfast, she said:

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.

Nicola Browne, Director (Policy) of PPR said the organisation is devastated by the death of their colleague:

Inez believed in, and struggled for, the dignity of people at the hardest end of society, and this conviction fuelled her life’s work. In the trade union movement she supported the lowest paid women cleaners, and as a human rights campaigner, Inez used her formidable intelligence and warmth to bring about change on the ground for communities and groups that needed it most.

Browne continued:

Inez was driven by her conviction that challenging the status quo and working for change was a vital part of a healthy democracy. Thanks to Inez’s visionary and tireless leadership, the Participation and the Practice of Rights organisation is a thriving movement supporting a wide range of marginalised groups in order to create positive change and hold government to account.

President Michael D Higgins, Hillary Clinton, Meryl Streep (who portrayed Mrs McCormack in the play Seven in New York) and Mary Robinson were among the many friends and colleagues who contacted Inez in recent weeks.

Remarkable

Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and UN Human Rights Commissioner said:

Inez was a remarkable woman with a remarkable capacity for friendship. She would want us to remember the positive issues she embraced with a combination of lateral thinking and supportive warmth.

She also said that she had “unique qualities of listening and affirming”, and:

It was from Inez I learned that you can achieve much more if you don’t need the credit. Her support to me as a close advisor when I served as President was invaluable, but she never appeared in photographs or in the front row.

Among the honours awarded to Mrs McCormack in her lifetime were the Eleanor Roosevelt Award from New York City (1997); an Honorary Doctorate from Queen’s University Belfast (2000); and Aisling Person of the Year Community Award (2001).

Inez is survived by her husband of more than 40 years, Vincent (Vinny), their daughter Anne, son-in-law Mark and grandchildren Maisie and Jamie. Originally from Belfast, Inez lived in Derry for the past 12 years.

An event will be held in Belfast in the coming weeks to celebrate Inez’s life, the PPR said.

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