Death of Inez McCormack
Tributes have been paid to Inez McCormack, a key supporter of the MacBride principles on fair employment, who died this week aged 69 following a battle with cancer.
Outgoing US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and former Irish president Mary Robinson have led tributes to the human rights activist and trade unionist.
Ms McCormack, from Belfast but living in Derry, was involved in the Six-County civil rights movement in the late 1960s.
A Belfast Protestant who left behind her family’s unionist background to become a lifelong activist in the fields of human rights, women’s rights and fair employment, and helped bring the campaign to end discrimination against Catholics to the US.
She rose to become a trade union leader in a highly male-dominated scene, immersed in issues such as equality, urban regeneration and representing low-paid workers. Her campaigning attracted praise from Hillary Clinton, who said of her: “Her efforts to promote human rights and social justice remain an inspiration to me.”
Brought up in a quiet Protestant area of County Down, McCormack attended an all-girl grammar school where one teacher described her as “a good brain but flighty.” She left at the age of 16 to work as a typist. She was twice beaten up at protests, once at a Six-County civil rights march and once at an anti-Vietnam war demonstration in London’s Grosvenor Square.
She was radicalised by her experiences on the streets. She recalled: “I was a puzzled young Prod - until I was 17 I hadn’t knowingly met a Catholic. I was a young Protestant girl who didn’t understand that there were grave issues of inequality, injustice and division in our society. It wasn’t that Protestants didn’t suffer deprivation, but there was systematic discrimination against Catholics.”
In 2011 Newsweek magazine named her as one of “150 women who shake the world,” the only one to come from the north of Ireland. More than a decade ago she was diagnosed with cancer which was treated by major surgery to remove what she described as “a tumour as big as a man’s fist from behind the heart.”
Among those who have paid tribute to her were the Irish president Michael D Higgins, the former president, Mary Robinson, and Hillary Clinton. Clinton said: “She travelled the world encouraging young women to be agents of change in their communities and countries. We have come so far in part because of her insistence on a seat at the table for women and others who have been marginalised.”