Leading trade unionist Inez McCormack dies
Trade union and women’s rights activist Inez McCormack has died aged 69.
Ms McCormack, who was the first woman president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions from 2000 to 2002, was diagnosed with cancer some months ago. She died yesterday at the Foyle Hospice in Derry.
President Michael D Higgins paid tribute to Ms McCormack whom he described as “a passionate and committed human rights activist who fought all her life and in so many settings for the creation of a fairer society for workers, for minorities, and for women”.
Born into a working class Protestant family in Derry, she left school aged 16 and studied social work at Queen’s University Belfast and Trinity College Dublin.
An unlikely campaigner for Catholic civil rights perhaps, she took part in a People’s Democracy march in 1969, with her boyfriend, Derry Catholic Vinny McCormack. From Belfast to Derry in 1969, the march was famously attacked by loyalists at Burntollet.
“I saw the police and thought they would act but they started chatting amicably to the counter-demonstrators. I was witnessing what later came to be called collusion,” she said in a 2008 interview. She became prominent in the movement and went on to campaign for low-paid workers’ rights first with the National Union of Public Employees (in which she was the first female official) and later with public sector union Unison. She played an important behind the scenes role in the run-up to the 1998 Belfast Agreement and became a close friend of outgoing US secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Mrs Clinton had a number of telephone conversations with her in recent weeks.
She was a founder member of the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Fair Employment Commission in Northern Ireland in 1976.
Most recently, in 2006 she founded the Belfast-based Participation and Practice of Rights, a grassroots, cross-community organisation working particularly in disadvantaged areas.
Orla O’Connor, chief executive of the National Women’s Council, described her death as a “huge loss to Irish women”.
Eugene McGlone, Ictu president, described her campaigning work for “forgotten” workers as “unstinting”.
Nicola Browne, policy director with PPR, said staff were “devastated”. “Inez used her formidable intelligence and warmth to bring about change on the ground for communities and groups that needed it most.”
She had lived in Derry for the past 12 years. She is survived by her husband Vinny, her daughter Anne, son-in-law Mark, grandchildren Maisie and Jamie and brother Terry.