Monica McWilliams

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Monica McWilliams
Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly
for Belfast South
In office
25 June 1998 – 26 November 2003
Preceded by New Creation
Succeeded by Alex Maskey
Personal details
Born (1954-04-28) 28 April 1954 (age 60)
Ballymoney, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Nationality British
Political party Northern Ireland Women's Coalition
Residence Belfast
Alma mater Queen's University Belfast

Monica Mary McWilliams (born 28 April 1954) is a Northern Irish academic and former politician.

McWilliams was born in Ballymoney, County Antrim,[1] grew up in Kilrea, County Londonderry and was educated at Loreto College, Coleraine. She is a graduate of Queen's University Belfast and the University of Michigan, and became Professor of Women's Studies and Social Policy at the University of Ulster.[2] She conducted ground breaking research into Domestic Violence in Northern Ireland and was an active member of the Northern Ireland Women's Rights Movement and the Northern Ireland Poverty Lobby in the 1980s. She was also the first Chairperson of the ATGWU (Amalgammated Transport & General Workers' Union) Women's Committee in Ireland and was elected to both the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of trade Unions (NIC-ICTU) and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICU).

McWilliams, a Catholic residing in south Belfast, was co-leader (with Pearl Sagar, a Protestant community activist from East Belfast) of the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition (NIWC), a political party drawn from the experience of the women's movement in Northern Ireland with the declared objective of increasing the representation of women in politics and influencing the peace negotiations that resulted in the Belfast- Good Friday Agreement. The party stood in the 1996 election and was returned 9th out of the top ten parties who took part in the negotiations. While not winning any constituency seats in the 1996 [Northern Ireland Forum]] elections, it held two seats under the 'top-up' mechanism designed to ensure the inclusion of smaller parties. McWilliams took one of these seats and was thus able to take an active part in the multi-party negotiations that led to the intergovernmental Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which her party supported.

She was elected as one of two NIWC Members of the Legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland (the other being Jane Morrice) on 25 June 1998, having secured 3,912 votes in South Belfast (9.6%). During the negotiations following the Agreement, she was the Chairperson of the Human Rights Sub-Committee until 2003. In 2001 she ran unsuccessfully for Parliament in South Belfast, and lost her Assembly seat in the 2003 Assembly election. The NIWC took the decision to revert to civil society activism in 2006 and voted itself out of existence.

McWilliams returned to her university post from 2003 until she was appointed by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland as full-time Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in June 2005, for a three-year term. She was reappointed, for four years, in September 2008, but announced in August 2010 that she would resign her appointment in August 2011, a year before its expiry. Under her six-year leadership the Commission prepared The Advice on the Contents of the Bill of Rights as provided for in the Belfast-Good Friday Agreement which was presented to the Secretary of State for Northe4rn Ireland in 2008. To date there has been no political agreement concerning the proposed Bill. McWilliams returned to the University of Ulster as Professor of Women's Studies and an Associate Researcher with the Transitional Justice Institute. She had also been associated with INCORE, a joint University of Ulster and United Nations University research centre for the study of conflict.

McWilliams was one of five persons appointed in December 2011 to a Prisons Reform Oversight Group advising the Northern Ireland Department of Justice.[3] In early 2012 she was named as a possible candidate for appointment as UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantee of non-recurrence, the post going instead to Pablo de Greiff.[1][4]

McWilliams has co-authored two government-published research studies: Bringing It Out in the Open: Domestic Violence in Northern Ireland (1993, with Joan McKiernan) and Taking Domestic Violence Seriously: Issues for the Civil and Criminal Justice System (1996, with Lynda Spence) and has published several articles on the impact of political conflict as well as on aspects of poverty and women's rights. She was one of nine politicians involved in the Northern Ireland peace process who were jointly awarded the John F. Kennedy Library Profile in Courage Award in 1998.[5] She was a joint recipient of the Frank Cousins Peace Award in 1999 (commemorating a British trade union official).[6] She has also received honorary doctorates from Lesley College (Massachusetts) and Mount Mary College (Milwaukee). McWilliams continues to provide expert advice and training to women who are interested in political representation in contested societies. She is a Board Member of the Irish Aid agency Trocaire and acted as Chairperson of an Expert Panel to a Women and Peacebuilding initiative (funded under EU PEACE 111 programme) with the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland. McWilliams is also a committee member of the David Ervine Fund that was established in memory of the leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), and is managed by the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland. (


  1. ^ a b [1] McWilliams' application for appointment as UN Special Rapporteur
  2. ^ [2] NIHRC biography
  3. ^ [3] Department of Justice press release on prison reform
  4. ^ [4] OHCHR communication concerning McWilliams' candidacy for a Special Rapporteur vacancy, 2012
  5. ^ "JFK Library announcement". 
  6. ^

External links[edit]

Northern Ireland Assembly
Preceded by
New creation
MLA for Belfast South
1998 - 2003
Succeeded by
Alex Maskey