Inez McCormack, the internationally renowned human rights activist, has died (Monday 21 January 2013) following a short illness.
Inez was the founder and adviser to the pioneering, highly commended Participation and the Practice of Rights organization (PPR). PPR provides support to local disadvantaged communities and groups in using a rights based approach to change the social and economic inequalities and deprivation they face.
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and UN Human Rights Commissioner, has described PPR’s work as “groundbreaking.”
Last year (2011), Inez, along with Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Meryl Streep and Mu Sochua (the Nobel Peace Prize nominee from Cambodia), was named by US publication Newsweek as one of ‘150 Women Who Shake the World.’ She was recognized for her work in enabling women to improve the quality of their lives through spreading the values of human rights.
Inez was the first female President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and an unrelenting activist for the equality provisions of the Good Friday Agreement. In the 1980s, she was a signatory to the historic MacBride Principles, a corporate code of conduct for US companies investing in Northern Ireland which demanded outcomes to address religious inequality in employment.
Nicola Browne, Director (Policy) of PPR said, "We are devastated by the death of Inez, our founder, adviser and dear friend. 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.
Read more: Newsweek name Inez McCormack as one of the women who shake the world
“During her time as Regional Secretary of UNISON, Inez spearheaded campaigns for equal pay for low paid women workers. Local or international, the focus was always on supporting those who were disadvantaged. From families in north Belfast who were experiencing housing inequality, to street traders in Durban, South Africa who had been forced out of work by the Olympic games, right through to undervalued domestic workers in New York and many, many more.”
Nicola 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 organization is a thriving movement supporting a wide range of marginalized groups in order to create positive change and hold government to account.”
Award winning actress Meryl Streep chose to portray Inez's life in a reading of a documentary play “SEVEN” in New York in 2010. SEVEN tells the personal stories of Inez and six other women who triumphed over enormous obstacles to create major positive change in their home countries.
Nicola Browne added, "Following the production of Seven in New York, Inez was asked by Meryl Streep why she did her work - Inez replied saying: ‘At the heart of everything, I desire to see the glint in a woman's eye who thought she was nobody, when she realizes that she is somebody.’
“Inez's life revolved around recognizing the dignity of those who were more accustomed to being sidelined and ignored. It is because of this, that her death will be equally mourned by those with power and those without. It will come as no surprise to those who knew and loved her that her conversations in her last weeks were marked by warmth and much laughter."
President Michael D Higgins, Hillary Clinton, Meryl Streep and Mary Robinson were among the many friends and colleagues who contacted Inez in recent weeks.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about Inez McCormack during her visit to Belfast on Friday 6 December 2012: “One person who is not here is Inez McCormack. Inez stands out amongst the extraordinary people I have worked with over the last 17 years. She inspired and motivated me, challenged me often.”
Discussing her recent conversation with Inez, Hillary said: “She wanted to talk about how we had to keep working to bring people together so that they would recognize the common humanity and experience in the other; the fact that they want to be part of a family and a community; have a good job and a livelihood; a chance to learn and try to make sense of the world; to seek meaning and fulfillment in their choice of religious faith and practice.
“One of Inez’s comments will always remain with me: There are so many more ties that bind us than divide us.”
Meryl Streep said: “Inez is such a great inspiration to thousands of women around the world. We are so grateful for the model of her life as a call to action for others, and I send love from so many people in the US who are aware of the difference she has made, actually, and by the example she sets.”
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: the McBride Principles; her leadership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and her own Union, Unison; her championing of women's rights and combating gender based violence, at home and in countries of conflict.
“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.
“Inez had unique qualities of listening and affirming. They enabled her to encourage local communities - in Belfast initially, then throughout the island- to engage with the International Human Rights System and use it as a tool to empower them in addressing the quality and fairness of local authority services. This work was recognized recently by the Office of High Commissioner of Human Rights as a great example for other communities to follow.
“A life well lived. May she rest in peace.”
Among the honors awarded to Inez 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). Her writing has been widely published and was selected for inclusion in “The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing” (2002). More recently she published opinion editorials and articles on themes of peace building and social and economic progress.
Inez was married for over 40 years to Vincent (Vinny) and they have a daughter Anne, son-in-law Mark and grandchildren Maisie and Jamie. Originally from Belfast, Inez lived in Derry for the past 12 years. She had a deep and abiding affection for Derry and Donegal where her mother’s family originated and for the people of both places.