McCormack (née Murphy), Inez Jane Mary (1943–2013), human rights activist and trade unionist, was born on 28 September 1943 in Belfast to Francis Cecil Murphy, a printer, and his wife, Margaret Murphy (née Sterritt), a nurse. She had one older brother, Terence (b. 1942). When Inez was two the family moved to Cultra, Co. Down. She was raised in the Church of Ireland and was educated at Glenlola Collegiate Grammar School in Bangor, Co. Down.
Leaving school at sixteen, she worked for a time in the office at her father's printing business. She then studied history and politics at Magee College in Derry (1964–5) and completed her degree at TCD (1966). While at Magee, McCormack was involved in the campaign for the non-denominational college, located in majority catholic Derry, to become a university. The unionist government in Belfast instead conferred this status on the University of Ulster in Coleraine (founded 1968), making it Northern Ireland's second university after QUB. The decision was seen as a partisan one, and was among the issues that spurred on the emerging civil rights movement of the late 1960s. (Magee was incorporated into the University of Ulster shortly after the latter was founded.)
She travelled to London in 1967 and there met Vincent McCormack, a psychology research assistant (later lecturer) who was a catholic from Derry's Bogside area. They moved back to Northern Ireland and became involved in the civil rights movement. They participated in the four-day People's Democracy march from Belfast to Derry, modelled on Martin Luther King's march from Selma to Montgomery. Inez received minor injuries when the marchers were attacked at Burntollet Bridge by a loyalist mob, including off-duty members of the Ulster Special Constabulary, an all-protestant reserve police force. Inez and Vincent married in St Colmcille's catholic church in Belfast shortly after this event in 1969. Her parents were initially opposed to her 'mixed marriage' to Vincent, but gradually 'came round, more or less, but they were never comfortable with it' (Independent (London), 23 January 2013).
McCormack studied for a diploma in social studies at QUB (1971) and then took up a role as a social worker for Ballymurphy in west Belfast, an area afflicted by poverty and high unemployment. It was also one of the Belfast neighbourhoods most effected by the 'troubles'. Her exposure to the suffering and discrimination experience by the people of Ballymurphy had a profound effect.
She joined the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE, later Unison), campaigning for improved conditions and earnings of workers in low-paid jobs, especially women working as hospital cleaners and as home helps. Her subsequent trade union career was a series of firsts. She became the first female official in the NUPE in 1976 and was the first northern woman to be elected to the executive committee of the ICTU in 1980, going on to become the first female to chair the Northern Ireland committee of the ICTU (1984–5). Always forthright, upon her appointment to the ICTU executive she stated: 'I hope that the election of a woman is not going to be used as an example that women have arrived. I can assure you I will not be a token woman' (Ir. Press, 4 July 1980). Her career in the ICTU culminated in her becoming its first female president from 1999 to 2001.
An outspoken champion of equality and human rights, McCormack helped establish the Fair Employment Agency in 1976 which sought to outlaw discrimination on grounds of religion or political opinion in employment practice. She was also a member of the Northern Ireland Women's Movement and a sponsor of the MacBride principles – a code of conduct for US companies investing in Northern Ireland, which stressed the importance of religious equality in employment.
McCormack cultivated relationships on both sides of the sectarian divide and was involved in cross-border reconciliation events with support from Mary Robinson, the president of Ireland. She also used her influence to shape human rights and equality provisions in the Good Friday Agreement (1998), as well as liaising with the wider trade union movement to ensure the agreement was implemented. In peace time she continued to advocate for the socially deprived communities that had been most affected during the years of conflict.
Through her involvement with the women's leadership initiative, Vital Voices Global Advisory Council, McCormack developed a close friendship with its founder, Hillary Clinton, and visited Vietnam, Cambodia, and Bangladesh to help promote respect for human rights and campaign to outlaw the trafficking of women.
In 2006 she established the Participation and the Practice of Rights project – a grassroots, cross-community initiative working particularly in disadvantaged areas in Belfast. Then in 2010 the Irish government asked her to chair a committee to develop an action plan to meet Ireland's obligations under the UN resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security. Also in 2010, McCormack was portrayed by Meryl Streep on the New York stage in 'Seven', a play telling the stories of seven women who contributed to significant changes in their communities.
She died of cancer at the Foyle Hospice, Co. Derry, on 21 January 2013. A funeral procession, attending by hundreds of people, travelled from her home in Belmont Crescent, Derry, to the City cemetery for the burial service on 25 January. McCormack was survived by her husband Vincent, their daughter Anne and two grandchildren. In a tribute to McCormack, her union colleague and friend Patricia McKeown shared the following anecdote: '… a tory secretary of state who once told her “I have worked out that you are loved in low places and loathed in high places. She took that as affirmation that she was doing the right thing.' (22 January 2013)