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 byNew Creation
Succeeded byAlex Maskey
Personal details
Born (1954-04-28) 28 April 1954 (age 64)
Ballymoney, Northern Ireland
NationalityNorthern Irish
Political partyNorthern Ireland Women's Coalition
ResidenceBelfast, County Antrim
Alma materQueen's University Belfast
University of Michigan

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

Early life[edit]

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]


McWilliams, a Catholic residing in south Belfast, co-founded (with Pearl Sagar, a Protestant social worker from East Belfast) the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition (NIWC), a political party with a feminist platform in an era were civil liberties, let alone women's rights, were difficult to gain traction on. She was inspired by Martin Luther King and watched the civil rights movement grow under his leadership in North America, noting herself that Catholic rights in Northern Ireland were of real concern. Her focus for NI was on a broader vision of peace rather than taking any position on the principal unionist/nationalist dispute.

The party secured only 1.03% of the popular vote and failed to win any constituency seats in the 1996 Northern Ireland Forum elections, but was granted two seats under the 'top-up' mechanism designed to ensure the inclusion of minor parties. McWilliams took one of these seats and was thus able to attend the multi-party negotiations that led to the intergovernmental Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which her party supported (but did not, as frequently reported, 'sign'). Despite facing frequent sexism and ridicule in her daily work, she secured key outcomes such as restitution for victims and a inclusion of reconciliation, rather than a sole focus on decommissioning and disarmament. This was key to the success of the Good Friday agreement.

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, securing 2,968 votes (7.8%). In the 2003 Assembly election her vote fell further, to 2,150 (6.9%), and she lost her seat to Sinn Féin. (In 2006 the NIWC ceased to exist due to declining electoral fortunes.)

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 did not win the Parliamentary support for the enactment of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. In 2011 she returned to the University of Ulster as Professor of Women's Studies and an Associate Researcher with the Transitional Justice Institute which carries out research on gender, transition, human rights and conflict.[3] She had also been associated with INCORE, a joint Ulster University 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.[4] In early 2012 she lobbied unsuccessfully 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][5]

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.[6] She was a joint recipient of the Frank Cousins Peace Award in 1999 (commemorating a British trade union official).[7] She has also received honorary doctorates from Lesley College (Massachusetts) and Mount Mary College (Milwaukee).


  1. ^ a b [1] McWilliams' application for appointment as UN Special Rapporteur
  2. ^ [2] NIHRC biography
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 18 November 2015. Retrieved 11 April 2016.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) Ulster University staff profile
  4. ^ [3] Department of Justice press release on prison reform
  5. ^ [4] OHCHR communication concerning McWilliams' candidacy for a Special Rapporteur vacancy, 2012
  6. ^ "JFK Library announcement".
  7. ^ "PEACE AWARD FOR IRISH T & G MEMBERS - March 03,1999 /PR Newswire UK/". 1999-03-03. Retrieved 2015-08-27.

External links[edit]

Northern Ireland Forum
New forum Regional Member
Forum dissolved
Northern Ireland Assembly
New assembly MLA for Belfast South
Succeeded by
Alex Maskey