Corkey, Robert (1881–1966), presbyterian minister and politician, was born 20 May 1881 at Glendermott Manse, Co. Londonderry, seventh son among eight sons and three daughters of Rev. Joseph Corkey, MA, LLD, presbyterian minister (d. 1910) of Ballylane, Co. Armagh, and Isabella Corkey (née Sloane) (d. 1905) of Hobart, Tasmania. Educated at Foyle College and Magee College, Derry, QCB, and Edinburgh University, he received a degree in mental and moral science from the RUI (1902), followed by an MA (1903) and D.Phil. (1909). He became a presbyterian minister, initially at Ballygawley (1906–7) and then Monaghan (1910–17). In October 1917 he was appointed professor of Christian ethics and practical theology in the Presbyterian College, Belfast. His publications included A philosophy of Christian morals for today, Can world peace be won?, and Social credit criticised.
Initially elected to the second of four QUB seats in the Northern Ireland parliament at the general election of 1929, he held the seat at two subsequent elections. He had been a junior government whip for a year when in 1943 he resigned from parliament to become the first clergyman to take a seat in the senate. With the elevation of Basil Brooke (qv) to the prime ministership, Corkey succeeded J. H. Robb (qv) to the positions of minister of education (1 June 1943) and leader of the senate (8 June 1943). He was allegedly hesitant about taking up tenure at the Ministry of Education; his misgivings proved prescient as he was removed from office in February 1944. The reason given was neglect of his duties, but it seems more likely that policy and personality clashes within the department prompted his fall. He remained a member of the NI senate and privy council until his death.
Corkey shared the views of his brother William, a leading advocate of protestant education and honorary secretary of the Ulster education committee of the protestant churches. Neither wished to see any secularisation of education or the rolling back of gains made by the protestant churches in 1925 and 1930, but rather believed that protestant children should receive a protestant education from protestant teachers. Corkey came into conflict with Dehra Parker (qv), the parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Education, and with ministry officials. It was she who convinced Brooke to sack him on the grounds that he had visited the ministry headquarters in Portrush on only three occasions. In June 1944 Corkey received a vote of support from the presbyterian general assembly, which shared the widespread view among protestants that he had been victimised for attempting to ensure that schools provided religious education. His election as moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (1945) was a further expression of their solidarity. He died 26 January 1966 at his home, Deramore Drive, Belfast. He married Nina Frances, daughter of the Rev. J. A. Allison of Monaghan; they had two daughters.