Resolute and unassuming trade unionist
After she and Vincent married, their flat in Belfast became a hub for political discussions, though McCormack commented that “apart from Bernadette [Devlin]”, women were in the background. She got a job as a social worker in the impoverished Ballymurphy estate during the most violent early years of the NI conflict.
In 1976 she became the first female official in the National Union of Public Employees. She broke new ground by encouraging part-time women workers in low-paid jobs, including hospital cleaners and home helps, to join the union. Her efforts to raise issues of women’s inequality were discouraged by male leaders who called them divisive distractions. She found the women’s movement inhospitable to married women with children. McCormack was elected to the NI committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) in 1980 and became the first woman to chair it in 1984, and later the first woman president of Ictu in 1999.
She was a signatory to the MacBride principles to address employment discrimination against Catholics and lobbied hard in the US to persuade big investors in the NI economy to insist on their implementation, against fierce opposition by the British government.
Their adoption was one of her greatest achievements and paved the way for the involvement of the Clinton administration in the peace process.
McCormack and those she called the “securocrats” at Stormont were natural enemies. Patricia McKeown, regional secretary of Unison, noted that it was a Tory secretary of state who told McCormack: “I have worked out that you are loved in low places and loathed in high places”. McKeown said McCormack “took that as affirmation that she was doing the right thing”.
President Michael D Higgins praised her courage and “true grit”.
She described the marriage of their daughter Anne to Mark, last autumn, as “the happiest day of my life”.
She delighted in her grandchildren, Maisie and Jamie.
In 2011 her life story was included in Seven, a play which wove together the stories of international women activists. It has been translated into many languages and performed around the world. She was played in New York by Meryl Streep, who sent a message of solidarity to her at Derry’s hospice, quoting lines from Thornton Wilder: “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, the bridge is love, The only survival, the only meaning.”
She is survived by her husband Vinny, daughter Anne, son-in-law Mark and her grandchildren.