Courage, integrity and passion for justice were the defining characteristics of Inez McCormack, President Michael D Higgins said in Belfast yesterday during a celebration of the life of the trade unionist and human rights activist who died in January.
President Higgins was joined by former president Mary Robinson, the North's director of public prosecutions Barra McGrory, writer and journalist Susan McKay and many others for the event in Elmwood Hall in Belfast.
They gathered with Ms McCormack’s husband Vincent and other members of her family for the launch of the Inez McCormack Fund which will support the work of the Participation and the Practice of Rights organisation, which she founded in 2006.
The organisation provides support to local disadvantaged communities. One of the first to make a "significant" contribution to the fund was the Oscar-winning actor Meryl Streep, who played Inez McCormack in a New York drama production three years ago. Ms McCormack subsequently was named by US publication Newsweek as one of "150 Women Who Shake the World".
Ms McCormack, who was 69 when she died, was a former civil rights activist, a promoter of the McBride Principles aimed at ensuring fair employment in Northern Ireland, the first woman president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and a leading feminist. President Higgins said Ms McCormack was a remarkable and inspirational woman.
“Inez McCormack once said that her greatest achievement in life was ‘seeing the glint in a woman’s eye who believed she was nobody and now knows she is somebody’. Inez was a woman who saw the ‘somebody’ in every person; a woman who possessed an innate belief in the dignity, worth and expertise of ordinary people; a tireless campaigner who fought passionately for the rights of the marginalised, the downtrodden, the excluded and the exploited,” he added.
“Her courage, integrity and passion for justice were her defining characteristics,” said President Higgins. “But Inez did not simply fight on behalf of those who were marginalised or oppressed within our society. She was with them, ensuring they were next to her in the campaign halls, beside her at the negotiating tables, walking alongside her on the long and difficult journey towards parity and equal opportunity.”
Former president Mrs Robinson said Ms McCormack’s defining characteristic was her innate sense and belief in the dignity and value of every human being. “She always challenged what was wrong and worked to secure the rights of people; on many occasions this was without any public recognition as Inez was a very private person,” she added.