Inez McCormack, Human Rights Activist and Trade Unionist (1943 – 2013)

"To enable the powerless, the invisible to be part of making change. That changes how they see themselves. 
And that changes everything”

Inez McCormack was an internationally renowned and hugely influential human rights and trade union activist. Her lifelong unrelenting campaign for equality changed the lives of countless disadvantaged individuals both within Northern Ireland and around the globe.

A pioneer of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland, Inez was the first woman in the United Kingdom to be appointed as a trade union organiser by the National Union of Public Employees. She was also the first female President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Inez successfully fought for the inclusion of strong equality and human rights provisions in the Good Friday Agreement.  Inez was a signatory to the MacBride Principles, a corporate code of conduct for US companies investing in Northern Ireland which required there to be outcomes in addressing religious inequality in employment. President Clinton signed the Principles into U.S. Federal law in 1998.

Decades of working with people who were ‘invisible’ to those with power, such as low-paid hospital cleaners, convinced Inez of the capacity of the most excluded people to shape and make social change. Inez always said that her greatest achievement was “seeing the glint in the eye of the woman who thought she was nobody, and now realises she’s somebody”.

Recognition and Accolades

Inez received wide recognition for her work internationally.  She was awarded the Eleanor Roosevelt Award from New York City in 1997.  She was a founding member of Vital Voices Global Advisory Council, and was honoured in 2002 at the Global Leadership Awards in recognition of her contributions as a human rights advocate.  In 2010 the story of her life was profiled in the documentary play, SEVEN with the role of Inez being played by triple Academy Award winner Meryl Streep. Inez was honoured in March 2011 alongside Michelle Obama, Meryl Streep and Mu Sochua (Nobel Prize nominee from Cambodia ) by U.S.-based publication Newsweek and U.S. news website The Daily Beast.  They were named in a list of the "150 Women Who Shake the World" and were recognised for their work in enabling women to improve the quality of their lives through spreading the values of human rights.

Closer to home, Inez was awarded an honorary doctorate from Queen’s University Belfast in 2000 for her services to human rights and the community. The following year she received the Aisling Person of the Year Community Award (2001). In 2008, Inez received the prestigious Irish Tatler Woman of the Year Award. In 2010, Inez was invited by the Irish Government to chair their consultation process on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 – Women, Peace and Security.

Inez McCormack’s writing has been widely published and was selected for inclusion in “The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing” (2002).

Foundation of Participation and the Practice of Rights

Participation and the Practice of Rights organisation (PPR) was founded by Inez McCormack in 2001. PPR represented for Inez the culmination of her life’s work as a human rights activist and campaigner. PPR’s distinctive approach to human rights work is soundly based on the principles and practice developed by Inez McCormack over 40 years of activism aimed at providing a voice for the rights of those who are most excluded in our society.

Inez advised and supported PPR up until her death in January 2013.  Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and UN Human Rights Commissioner, has described the work of the organisation as “groundbreaking," saying;

"They are not just challenging what is wrong, they are creating an inclusive sense of rights and dignity, they are engaged in pioneering work which will command much interest and application elsewhere."